The practice of law is both a profession and a business. This is hardly a surprising revelation, but many of us who went to law school and have been admitted to the bar tend to focus on the more high-minded ideal of operating in a profession rather than the less-rarified world of being in business. A business person, after all, deals with unpleasant matters such as profit and loss, management of people, and (horrifyingly!) marketing and sales.

But a business it is, and both new and established practices must operate in ways that other businesses do, complete with advertising and marketing materials. So, if you are starting a practice, you will need, at a minimum, business cards and a website. But which should come first?

There are, of course, different qualities, benefits, and uses of each. A business card is typically exchanged in person and can be a tangible mnemonic device to the recipient of an interaction with someone in real time and to aid in follow-up. A lawyer’s business card can sit on a prospective client’s desk or kitchen table. As many people are visual learners, this physical object will remind them of an action to be taken or matters to further address.

The website, on the other hand, with its global reach and constantly available nature, can touch far more people in a single day than a lawyer can reasonably meet in person in a year. It can be dynamic, entertaining, and memorable in ways that a business card rarely is.

Among consultants who advise law firms on marketing, there are different opinions on which—business card or website—should be developed first. “As close to Day 1 as possible, you should have a business card and an email signature,” according to Jim Staples, who advises small and mid-sized firms. He adds, “Include your web address on the card, even if the site is ‘under construction’ for the first few days.”

Other experts argue for a new practice to start with the website because it can convey much more information. “Websites and other social media allow the lawyer to demonstrate far more robust credentials than a printed product like a brochure or a business card,” says Elizabeth Mell, a law firm marketing consultant with large firm and corporate experience.

“I may get handed a business card, but if I can’t go back and look up someone’s photo and bio on a useful firm website, I immediately assume that the firm is antiquated and the lawyer is out of touch.”

Another law firm consultant believes that the business card and the website should be created nearly at the same time as part of a uniform business message.

“Ideally the two should be ‘born’ only minutes apart,” says Stacy Clark, Esq., a lawyer turned marketing consultant to law firms. “A lawyer’s website and business card should bear the same visual identity brand and thus should be conceived and executed at precisely the same time.”

Regardless of which comes first, each should be developed with care and support the marketing message of the law practice.

Some tips for business cards:

  • Get a logo. Make sure you have your law firm’s name developed by a graphic designer who can help you with fonts and colors, which convey information about the brand of the firm. Whether graphics should be part of the logo is a personal choice, but most law firms have done away with including the scales of justice or columns appearing in logos.
  • Get nice card stock. As one of the only tangible representations of your firm, a business card can express so much beyond the information printed on it. Flimsy bargain card stock or printed-at-home cards with perforated edges will probably not give the professional impression you want. Heavy card stock, while more expensive, feels good in the hand and makes the recipient think “stability” and “established.” A good option to consider is the Luxe Business Card stock from Moo.com, where you even have a choice of colors on the business card’s edges.
  • Two-sided with space for writing. Most higher-end business cards have printing on both sides (a common practice for many years in the tech industry). The front is generally the name and contact information; the back many times contains only the firm logo. A thoughtful consideration is to have your cards designed with space (preferably the back) where the receiver can write a note after meeting you at an event—a frequent tactic among experienced networkers.

Some ideas for websites:

  • Get it done. As the founder of a website agency for law firms, I have experienced clients laboring over each website page, word, and image in hopes of achieving a flawless outcome on launch day. But a website is not an unchangeable physical brochure that will be printed in the thousands—it is a fluid, ever-evolving, and easily updated marketing piece. Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good—get online and then perfect it from there.
  • Say what’s important—to your audience. Yes, as lawyers we are all proud of our education, our experience, and our skills. But the audience, especially if they are not lawyers themselves, don’t care that much about where you went to school or the number of years of practice. The audience cares about what problems you will solve for them—reducing their estate taxes, helping them get a divorce less painfully, or getting the most money in an injury settlement. Instead of relying on your practice areas to tell the prospective clients what you do, explain in concrete, real-life terms what problems you will remove from their lives.
  • Get a website designer that gets you. A law firm’s work is sometimes not easily understood by people without a legal education or background. If your graphic designer does not have a firm grasp on what you do in your practice, you may find that he or she chooses photographs or images that don’t match what you do, such as a gavel and courtroom representing an estate-planning practice. Worse yet, the website designer may create issues that could be ethical violations in your jurisdiction, such as referring to you as an “expert” or “specialist.” Find a website designer with either a legal background or one with many law firms as clients, and you will likely spend much less time explaining what you do.

The practice of law is indeed a business, and successful, modern practices need to take on the qualities of successful companies in other lines of work. This means, at a minimum, a well-designed, well-printed business card and a comprehensive, coherent website. Together, these can represent you to those you meet in person and those who visit your business on the Internet.

©2018. Published in The Business Lawyer, Vol. 7, No. 9, Winter 2018, by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American BarAssociation or the copyright holder.