Why Webinar?

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A few years ago, Kevin O’Keefe was trying to get his new legal technology business off the ground by traveling around the country to give presentations to potential clients. Then a friend in the pharmaceutical business showed him that he could give presentations on the Internet.

O’Keefe, who was a plaintiffs attorney for 17 years, still travels to give presentations one or more times a month, but he’s found that giving online seminars is a more effective way to reach people, especially potential clients.

“It’s just easier to announce on the Internet that you are doing a ‘webinar’ than doing a live program, which involves coordinating, flying across the country and speaking to a few people,” says O’Keefe, president and founder of LexBlog, which builds Web logs for law firms.

Web seminars, or webinars, have begun to be used for lawyers to learn and even to earn continuing legal education credits. But some legal marketing professionals believe Web seminars could also be a way for law firms to advertise their services, attract new clients and keep old ones. Web seminars are also convenient for lawyers who bill their time, since they eliminate travel time.

Old Hat?

Some, however, think web seminars are neither new nor terribly exciting to lawyers. Gregory Siskind, founding partner of the Memphis, Tenn.-based immigration law firm Siskind Susser, is the author of The Lawyer’s Guide to Marketing on the Internet. He says he has not found much interest in them, perhaps because they are more work than a conference call, both for listeners and presenters.

“The Web’s been around for 11 or 12 years and there were companies whose whole business plan was built around webinars as early as ’95 or ’96, and it has yet to take off,” he says.

However, Siskind does note that phone presentations can easily be enhanced by e-mailing materials or taking questions online. He also thinks that since digital video has become easy to produce, firms should put filmed events online, which greatly increases viewership. “A lot of presentations get filmed anyway, so why not put them online?” he asks.

O’Keefe thinks Web seminars should not be dismissed. He uses WebEx, a Web-based conferencing tool that is familiar to many lawyers. It allows people to call into a conference number to hear a speaker while watching a PowerPoint presentation online. Participants can communicate on the phone or send questions through WebEx. O’Keefe doesn’t usually charge for his presen­tations, though sometimes he bills for the cost of put­ting one on, which he says is about $30 per person.

Companies like WebEx and Infinite Conferencing also offer services with live video, at an increased fee. Firms can also build their own systems, hosting video on their Web site and setting up a conference bridge with their phone company for the audio. Another alternative for firms is to leave presentations and even full video of an event online. Many Web conferencing systems include features like the ability to poll or quiz the participants, making a program livelier. A typical Web con­fer­ence will cost about $400 for 90 minutes, depending on the number of participants.

Web seminars can increase a firm’s contact with clients past, present and prospective. When a new issue is roiling a practice area, lawyers can send out announcements that they’d like to explain the issue to interested parties. After putting on the presentation, lawyers can leave materials like PowerPoint slides with people who logged on to the program, which leaves those resources (and the firm’s contact information) in the viewers’ hands.

The biggest challenge to hosting such a seminar is coordination. Some services will help with that part too, though O’Keefe says he has one person who can handle e-mailing announcements and coordinating schedules.

O’Keefe has done fewer such seminars of late, but he plans to do more in the near future. “There are some hot topics I’d like to try to tell people about,” he says.

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