Drupal: A New Word in Law Firm Marketing

Drupal content magagement system, law firm websites, lawyer marketingThere's a new word for lawyers and law firm marketing professionals to know when they are working on their websites: Drupal.  While in Dutch it means "droplet," it also means good news for law firm websites.

When you update your website, chances are you use a content management system (CMS).  They can be very expensive.  Web developers have been licensing or selling their proprietary systems to law firms for $10,000 to $60,000.  (I know, because law firms have hired me to read through all developers' proposals to rebuild websites.)

No More. Websites are beginning to use the FREE, open-source Drupal CMS. With open source software, a global community of 900 developers is working on refinement of the code to make it better. With proprietary software, only the owner such as Microsoft or a website developer is permitted to modify the source code. Use of an open source CMS should create savings for law firm websites everywhere.

I learned at the Drupal Business summit held last week in Chicago that 7.2 million sites switched to Drupal as of July 2010.  They include major companies like Turner Broadcasting and The Cartoon Network, and even the White House and House of Representatives.

Drupal was invented in 2005 by Dries Buytaert, and version 7 is coming out in early 2011.“Drupal is unstoppable,” he said. It's getting so popular that 3,000 developers at DrupalCon in San Francisco last April. Web engineers love Drupal because it's easy and fast to work with.  It's simple to add modules and work with Flash.

Joel Hughes of Scranton Gillette Communications worked with Fred Salchli of DUO Consulting in Chicago to get the Construction Equipment website built in 24 days. “It's B2B market impact at the speed of light!” Hughes said. The company created several other websites for its magazines in weeks, instead of months. Housing Zone, an umbrella site with over 5 microsites with news, articles and blog went from a collection of articles to a live website in 63 days.

Remember this when you send out an RFP to rebuild your website: don't buy any proprietary content management systems.  There's no reason to when there's a free, open source alternative that works.

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Ari Kuchinsky - December 7, 2010 7:07 AM


Using an established CMS should save people money and get a better result since it is standardized. However, Drupal, Joomla or Wordpress out of the box still requires a lot of cosmetic work and technical work to get a high quality custom looking site. I built the website for my law firm using Drupal.

People should know that they are not going to get a custom look site using Drupal for $500-1000. If you want something professional, it will require a lot of man hours. Still, a small site could be built for a four digit number.

The problem with websites is that people compare professionally done sites with canned Lexis/Westlaw/GoDaddy products. It is apples and oranges.

Ricardo Barrera - December 8, 2010 8:17 AM

Ari is correct. My clients are not happy with open source, including Drupal, until after many hours of customization to satisfy the individual lawyer/law firm's needs, especially the desire to be unique. A proprietary system can be the best choice, and affordable too, if the developer delivers precisely what the client needs. Nothing lasts forever, and technology advances means a complete web presence overhaul every 4 to 5 years. The more firms use standard Drupal, the more their websites all start to look and feel the same - cookie cutter stuff that merely repeats the phenomena of the (ugly 90s) lexis and thomson marketing sites.

Joel Hughes - December 8, 2010 8:57 AM

Good point made by Ari, which I'll extend by saying ANY website will require professional skills to customize to a certain extent. The Drupal community does offer hundreds of contributed themes and modules which can minimize this to a point for an out-of-the-boxer.

People have searched for a silver bullet in web development for years, and it just doesn't exist. However, I can't imagine what the timeline and billable hours would have been to create these rich, deep, taxonomy-driven multimedia sites (and the associated backend controls) had we NOT started with a robust Open-Source CMS like Drupal.That's why Drupal has gotten my attention. As an IT pro and a businessman, I've seen this CMS from all angles, and it never fails to put a smile on my face.

One thing that Larry didn't mention was Drupal Gardens (http://www.drupalgardens.com/) which is a pretty good shot at that silver bullet. Pretty amazing stuff.

Nice meeting you at the talk, Larry.

Lee Vodra - December 8, 2010 1:47 PM

No matter what CMS you use, you will still need to do all of the branding, design and coding that you'd require to do a straight html site. Those costs haven't changed. A great design alone can still run into 4-5 figures, more if you're looking at a very large firm that wants to convey prestige. Drupal can be customized to fit any design. This customization is called theming. If you want to look like an out-of-the-box law firm, you can get away with using a free or low cost theme. If you're just starting up, go to a local Drupal meetup and find a Drupal developer to help you out. You can find them at http://groups.drupal.org . It's likely that you can get something done very reasonably.

What Drupal can deliver is a powerful back-end at a very low cost. I would further argue that Drupal core is more stable than proprietary CMSes because of the level of organization and coordination of the core developers - they're not just randomly committing code. Not even Microsoft can afford to support that many people on a CMS project. Development firms like ours have it in our business models that a portion of our time goes into the community, so the cost of development is distributed.

Drupal has a solid security team and will notify your admins when a security update is needed. This has been important for the law firms we've spoken with.

Now if Drupal developers could only get lawyers to understand the GPL ...

Elizabeth - December 8, 2010 2:34 PM

I agree with all comments above. Security is imperative for law firms with using their websites as a service tool as well and open source doesn't offer the high standard of security and support that proprietary systems do.

Ari Kuchinsky - December 8, 2010 5:30 PM

I think the key to not having a canned looking site is having your developer start with a base theme and build a customized theme off of that base.

If your developer uses a stock theme, the site is going to be canned no matter how great the back end of the CMS is. The good news is that this means you can have a great looking site with Drupal, Wordpress, Joomla, etc. The bad news is that having someone design and build out a theme costs more $$$.

But if you are serious about an online presence, the site has to look good. Clients are not going to care about how fancy the backend is.

Steve - March 23, 2011 7:33 PM

I think it's important to point out that Elizabeth, who throws FUD about the security and support of open source CMSs, apparently works for a company that sells a proprietary CMS aimed at lawyers. Those who have looked at the evidence have found no great security advantage of proprietary software over open source. Both have seen security issues--usually more in number for open source systems, but the fewer reported security holes in proprietary systems tend to be more severe.

If Drupal is secure enough to run whitehouse.gov--and it is--it is probably secure enough to run your firm's site.

Dan Jaffe - April 12, 2011 4:25 PM

I agree that there is no reason to pay for the use of a custom CMS on top of a custom design when the CMS does nothing that can't be done on an open source format. I'm not that familiar with Drupal, but I built duiattorney(dot)com, which has thousands of pages of unique content, on Joomla 1.5. Both Joomla and Drupal have an extensive range of free pre-built components. There are also some very good looking professional themes that designers often use as starting points. The templates for Joomla and Drupal can be modified to look unique.

There is a fairly steep learning curve to using both open source systems, and something as routine as SEF URLs must be specially configured to work properly... but the learning curve is worth it if the attorney is willing to invest the time and/or can find somebody to do it for them who is cost-effective.

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