Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Top 10 tech trends for 2012

Wanna know what the next great things are going to be in tech? Pete Cashmore is founder and CEO of Mashable, a popular blog about tech news and digital culture. He writes regular columns about social media and tech for Today he prognosticates on the hottest in new tech for the New Year. Bendable tablets, voice commands, more touch computing, it is all here in Pete's entertaining article. Click here to read it!

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Designing A Family Law Firm Website

Harding & Associates has had a law firm website since the 1990’s. Initially it was designed, constructed, and maintained in house (that means by me). With time the importance of the website became obvious, and it became vital to the firm’s marketing plan. That importance helped us to realize that the self-help days were gone. We had to turn to a professional site designer.
My first steps in identifying a design firm were simple. I typed “law firm website design” into Google. Pages and pages of listings spewed forth. I then diligently clicked on the listings and viewed the portfolios of the different vendors. I saw sites and features that I definitely liked. I saw sites and features that I definitely disliked. Eventually I settled on a southern California design firm with a substantial portfolio of eye catching law firm sites.

Contact was made with the vendor. Attention was directed to our existing site. I asked for a new web site. A contract was signed, and a few weeks later our new site was live. There was very little input from us, other than specifying that we wanted our logo utilized, and we wanted a color scheme consistent with our logo and branding plan. Our contract with the design firm included web-hosting and a certain quantity of updates each month. These changes would essentially include new content on our News page, and updates to personal bio pages.

The design product that we got was great. The colors were vibrant, the layout was clean, and the site was filled with all of the content that we had written for our previous site. We had a great site that attracted viewers. The positive reviews flowed in! The search engines were finding us. The site was doing what it was supposed to do.

I never grew unhappy with that first professionally designed site. What I did learn is that there is much more to effective web site marketing than just looks. First I learned that content is king. Legal consumers really do turn to the internet for their legal education, and the more information we could give potential clients the better. A website must be able to grow with ever more, fresh, content. Second, I learned that appearances always count. Most self-designed sites are obviously homemade, and their deficiencies become obvious to the web savvy audience. They look cheap, and that hurts your marketing efforts. Third, I learned that change is good. Clean, modern layout and design reflect on the reputation and credibility of the firm. Corporations, universities, professional sports teams all redesign their logos, letterhead, and uniforms for create new buzz. Just like everything else in business, web site designs have a shelf life, and sites do grow stale (as do designers). Fourth, I learned that the ability to perform my own updates to the site, and to make little tweaks and improvements, is imperative. 

As I mentioned, by the contract I had signed, the design company that built the site was also hosting the site and had all of the control over it. Not only was I paying a lot of money for the hosting service, but I was also paying a lot of money for little updates and changes to the site. If I wanted to add a new page, the cost could run into hundreds of dollars. The site had been designed with the vendor’s proprietary software, so even if I could get into the site I would not have been able to change it.

After a few years with our first professionally designed website, I came to appreciate that I wanted more, while paying less. I wanted more control over the site. I did not want to be at the mercy of the design firm. I did not want the significant cost of having to pay the design firm every time I wanted to make a change. With the passage of time that site also began to grow stale. With all of the additional content that we had added, the site began to look cluttered and sloppy. I realized that the News page didn’t really do anything for us. I also realized that the offsite blogs I was publishing were not working in concert with our website. It was time for something new.

I did my homework, and began to learn of the different website publishing platforms. There were plenty to pick from: Dreamweaver, Joomla, Drupal, WordPress. With some the software was impressive, but I would still be tied to the developer. What I wanted was a site that a professional firm would design, but that I could then get into to tweak as I wanted. WordPress kept hitting my radar. CNN, Reuters, Sony, UPS, Volkswagen, EBay all have web sites driven by WordPress. If WordPress could get the job done for them, it could take care of!

Next I went back to Google and started identifying design firms. Again, plenty to choose from. I created a short list of a half dozen, all whom emphasized law firm web site design. A round of telephone interviews began. I quickly sensed a pattern.

One, the law firm specialists all cooked from the same recipe: law firm resume, heavy on the colleges and law schools attended, boring on the color and style. That does not work for a family law firm website. Of course the consumers want to learn about the lawyers. But those descriptions can be delivered in narrative style. Most family law firms have ten lawyers or less. The same type of lawyer roll call listing that appears on the websites for the thousand lawyer firms does not work. Pictures and the lawyer’s family law experience are what sell on a family law website.

Two, because they catered to law firms, and presumably because law firms have more money than they can ever spend, the law firm specialist design firms were way more expensive than other designers that I would eventually come across. Trust me when I say this, just because a design firm specializes in law firms does not mean it is any better than any other design firm. In fact, I began to think it could be a hindrance because what works for a thousand lawyer firm, or a two lawyer criminal defense firm, does not work for a family law firm. Getting away from law firm specialists opens the door to more creativity, and smaller price tags.

Three, the law firm design firms just did not seem all that hungry for my business. Like with my first professionally designed site, it was pretty much “thanks for calling. We will send you a contract. Sign it or forget it. We are the experts. You write the check and then stay out of our way.” The law firm design sites were also in lock-step with the idea that they would host the site, and I would pay them for maintenance and changes. That was an expense that I knew I could avoid, but the law firm designers weren’t budging. I wasn’t feeling the love. It seemed the law firm designers were just overpriced salesman, and not visionaries.

I had an epiphany! How about a design firm that doesn’t specialize in law firms? I broadened my search, and came across scores of talented designers. Another round of interviews, and pouring over portfolios. I started to appreciate that the web designer I wanted to work with should be a salesman, engineer, and artist. Looking at portfolios I also began to appreciate that web designers have their own styles and patterns. Much like certain singers have the same baseline, actors have the same delivery, painters have the same themes, web designers work with the same lines, colors, and looks.

Through diligence and a bit of luck I got in contact with Rodney Warner at Boulder, Colorado based Connective Web Design. From the first phone call it all seemed right. Rodney listened as much as he spoke. He spoke with me, not at me. He was patient, and willing to teach (what a coincidence, all the same things that my legal clients want from me!). The firm’s portfolio was light on law firms, but heavy on other great sites with impressive designs. His clients may not have been companies I had heard of, but that did not mean their sites didn’t have impact. We talked concept, we talked design, we talked process. Working with me, CWD would build the site and get it online. I would host it, and because of WordPress I could manage it and grow it.

Working with Rodney and CWD was great. The work was done in stages. We started with brainstorming. The project then evolved to outlines, and prototypes. Eventually we got to a rough site design, and then took on the heavy work of creating keywords and content, and finalizing the layout. A rhythm developed between designer and client that made the process flow. I was encouraged to ask questions, and make changes to their work. We kept some of the elements from our old site (like our logo and green color scheme), but really rebuilt from the ground up. After a couple of months, a new baby was born. The new went live in December, 2011. It is a dramatic change from our old site. Some visitors might say that it is “simpler” than our old site. That is a misleading first impression. The lines are cleaner. The layout is better. The navigation is easier. These improvements make the site look simpler. I can assure you that the new site is much more sophisticated than its predecessor. All the content is there and more. Plus, it has the room and technology to grow. Our California Divorce Blawg is now part of, rather than a standalone Typepad site. The navigation has new order and forethought. There is much, much, more to this new site. Because it is so well done, it seems more relaxed. A more is less type of effect. Every bit of technology from our old site is there and more, it’s just more subtle and soothing, kind of like Miles Davis rather than the high school marching band. The site is a beauty. But rather than trying to tell you about, I invite you to visit:

More on Rodney and Connective Web Design. Getting away from a law-firm only design firm helped us to think beyond the stale law firm template. We gained insight into broader marketing ideas. For a family law firm that is key. We are not selling to the general counsel for a Fortune 500 company. We are selling to our friends and neighbors who fit into the class of general consumers. That is a much different audience than a huge Wall Street law firm would target. Also, by thinking beyond the law firm bubble Rodney gave us invaluable search engine optimization advice. You don’t have to think like a law firm when making good marketing. Thanks to CWD we were able to get a WordPress site that we can manage, and tweak. If we need help Rodney is available on a consulting basis, but we are not held hostage. We can make the changes we want to make when we want to make them. There is a bit of a programming learning curve, but it hasn’t been overwhelming. By getting away from the Los Angeles, Chicago, New York designer addresses we were also able to find a firm that was willing to compete for our business, and that could be more cost competitive. However, none of that came at the expense of customer service. Finally Rodney set things up so that we host the site through a web hosting vendor, and it costs us $6 per month rather than the hundreds of dollars per month that we had been paying. The service we got from Rodney and CWD far exceeded expectations! They earned my glowing endorsement.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Lexis Launches New Research Service

Lexis has launched its new Lexis Advance research service. Following in the wake of Westlaw's innovative Westlaw Next product, Lexis asserts that Advance will transform the way you conduct your research. Its new natural search algorithm and intuitive interface access the LexisNexis® services and open Web content to deliver a comprehensive set of results faster. You can navigate quickly around the site with the new My Workspace carousel, and get key insights into relationships between legal issues with Legal Issue Trail.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

OneNote for iPad

OneNote is Microsoft's note taking, and note organization program. Is was created by the Microsoft engineers as part of the tablet computing platform that Bill Gates was promoting at the end of the 1990's and in the early 2000's (yes, that's right there were tablets before the ipad -- think Motion Computing and Toshiba). The OneNote program was innovative, functional, and attractive. Unfortunately, it withered like the aforementioned tablets.

Than came the iPad! Tablet computing was reborn, and so was OneNote. Similar to Penultimate, Notebook, and Evernote, OneNote should been a worthy addition to the App roster.

Early review of the app are mixed. However, the original product was a personal favorite of Gates, and Microsoft spent a lot of money developing the original tablet version. A successful iPad version could help Microsoft crack the vital app market. I am expecting the program will get better, and better. I am going to make the investment.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Lawyers Holiday Gift List

Still looking for the perfect lawyer gift? From Greg Pinnington and Reid Trautz offer their lawyer gift list. How about a gas powered blender? Some artwork for the office? A good book? The list is fun and intriguing. Click here for a visit.

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Monday, December 5, 2011

New Wireless Mount and Charger for iPad

Here comes a blatant commercial for a new product. But, it is a really cool product. A wireless charging and mounting system for the iPad!

LaunchPort is a revolutionary a way to mount and charge your iPad, virtually anywhere. The LaunchPort system consists of a PowerShuttle and any number of Stations. A PowerShuttle is a sleeve-style case that fits onto your iPad. A Station is the mount and charging unit that interacts with a PowerShuttle. A system requires a PowerShuttle and a Station.

LaunchPort uses induction which means as soon as a PowerShuttle mounted to a Station, charging begins immediately- without a 30-pin cable or conductive elements. Magnets are used to mount and affix your iPad in its PowerShuttle to a Station. The tabletop BaseStation only uses some of the magnets in the LaunchPort system, making it easier to grab and go. The WallStation uses all magnets in the system for secure and safe mounting. The magnets are located on the PowerShuttle case which means you can also mount it to any metallic surface like a refrigerator or work bench.

LaunchPort changes how you can use your iPad in your home. To learn more about each product, click on the product image below.


AP.2 PowerShuttle Black
For iPad 2 - $149
AP.2 PowerShuttle White
For iPad 2 - $149


Tabletop mount and charger - $199
Wall mount and charger - $199

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Great Tech Blog For Lawyers

During my morning surf I came across a brilliant lawyer focused tech blog. Lawyer Tech Book reviews, software reviews, app reviews, and more. The layout is clean and vibrant. The information is timely and useful. The 12 Gadgets for the Holidays post has all kinds of fun stuff for us lawyers! Bonus: the blog is published in English and Spanish.

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Solo nets Supreme Court win!

I know this has nothing to do with technology, but I think it is pretty cool. Andrew Simpson is a sole practitioner in the U.S. Virgin Is...