Handling staff departures in professional services firms: the digital perspective

Leaving a lawfirm: the digital perspective when one of your partners moves to another firm

When one of your partners leaves your law firm in a lateral hire there are some standard procedures firms typically follow, for example joint communication with clients (after the lawyer has announced their departure to your firm).

But what’s the best way to handle departing partners or lawyers from a website and email perspective? Lawyer profile pages are important and account for around 6% of total pageviews where the firm also has articles on its site (and more when it doesn’t)  in Magnifirm’s lawfirm website benchmarking.

So firstly here’s what not to do: don’t simply remove the lawyer’s profile from your website, and don’t remove the lawyer’s byline from articles they’ve previously written.

You shouldn’t remove lawyer profiles because those pages on your website have search rankings and in addition will be linked to from external websites (like Mondaq’s). Those inbound links contribute to your website’s authority and therefore its ranking in search and you’ll lose visits and authority when you don’t have to.

Instead, do the following:

  1. Simple version: Redirect the lawyer’s profile page to the appropriate practice group page or the bio for the head of the practice group. This is simply an instruction on the webserver that says that the old page that used to be at lawyers/james-smith-banking-finance-lawyer is now at lawyers/sue-brown-banking-finance-lawyer. Search engines (and people coming from old links) will not be sent to a 404 page and this will help conserve the web of inbound links to your site as well as traffic.
  2. Advanced version: Leave the lawyer’s profile page in place but insert a paragraph at the top of the page saying something along the lines of “James Smith’s work for Bloggs and Co is now being handled by Sue Brown who is available at http://www.bloggsco.com/lawyers/sue-brown-banking-finance-lawyer” (insert a link to Sue’s bio).  Ideally you want to leave the previous text for James in place under the Sue Brown para as that will contain keywords the page ranks for, but if that it is not palatable internally remove the bio text for James.
  3. More advanced version: Insert a redirect but add a parameter to the redirect that all your profile pages will understand is a lawyer departure like this http://www.bloggsco.com/lawyers/james-smith-banking-finance-lawyer?forename=Sue&surname=Brown. Have your web developer include on your fee-earner profile pages a couple of lines of code that read the forename parameter and dynamically insert that name at the top of the page with an appropriately bolded sentence e.g. “This person’s work is now being handled by Sue Brown” (the website knows that if there’s no forename and surname parameter indicating someone’s left then the fee-earner’s profile should display as normal).
  4. Route the email james.smith@bloggsco.com to Sue Brown’s mailbox. Don’t simply remove James’ email address from your email system so that the prospect or client gets an email bounce message or equally bad an out-of-office message that simply says “James Smith has left the firm” (something we often come across).
  5. Leave James’ byline on his articles on your site (which should incidentally be hyperlinked, with an underline, to James’ profile which of course is then handled using options 1-3).  There are two reasons for doing this. Firstly we think it is important to give credit to authors where it’s due (and moral rights that an author has in their article cannot be assigned in some jurisdictions). Sure, James has left, but Sue and other people are still at the firm, and you don’t want to be sending them a message that you will erase their attribution on articles after they’ve left. Secondly, we know from analytics work we’ve done that properly formatted hyperlinked bylines are followed by readers – after all if they’ve just read something they think is important they are more likely to want to know something about the person that wrote it. People do that more often where there is a name than if the article is bylined ‘Banking and Finance Group‘ or no byline (you can if you wish always change the person’s name to ‘James Smith (formerly with Bloggs & Co).
  6. Edit key articles written by James. Copyright in articles typically belongs to the firm (or at least it should). But articles age and may need to be updated. Get someone to gradually edit key articles and then change the byline to add the person who did the update as a co-author.

Departure of a key member of your professional services firm can be a blow but you don’t have to lose everything that person brought to the firm from a digital perspective.

Photo by Yuya Tamai