Jul 02, 2013

    Law firm grew by giving away advice

    When it comes to making use of the Web, law firms have generally not been pioneers. The Murthy Law Firm, which handles immigration matters, is an exception. Founded in 1994 by India-born Sheela Murthy, the Maryland-based firm created a website that provided legal information that same year.

    Today, by at least one ranking, is the world's most-visited law-firm site.

    Ms Murthy, 51, tells why she decided to give away legal information online, and how she's grown as a business owner.

    What got you interested in immigration law?

    The process of becoming a United States citizen was painful, stressful, and took 12 years. I was struck by my attorney's lack of sensitivity.

    What led you to create a website in 1994?

    My husband, who built our site, insisted that the Internet was the wave of the future. He suggested that I grow the business by offering free legal information online. I thought: "If I didn't love this man, I'd think he wants to bankrupt me."

    I started the website partly to make people feel empowered and respected.

    How did your early website do that?

    I answered about 100 questions from immigrants each day. It helped me become familiar with real-life issues.

    I also started the weekly Murthy Bulletin. Today, it has about 43,000 subscribers.

    What resources are available on your site?

    It's aimed at building an online immigrant community. There's no hard sell - its priority is not to bring in clients. It shows that we care and know our stuff.

    We clarify the most complicated laws, using tools like teleconferencing, podcasts and blogging.

    How's business?

    Clients are banging down the door. They throw themselves at our feet asking us to take them on. The feeling is "if they give this much away for free, what must it be like if you pay them?"

    What has been your biggest challenge as a business owner?

    I'm intense. I work 12 to 18 hours a day with no lunch break, and take bathroom breaks of less than 30 seconds.

    In the beginning, I assumed that my staff shared my vision and passion, and expected them to be excited because I was...I expected them to be my slaves.

    I still expect a lot from people, but I've had a reality check. I understand how important it is that they understand my vision and feel like partners.

    Now, all new employees meet me for an hour. I share my background... I explain that clients don't care about how much you know, clients care about how much you care.

    Today, 50 per cent of my employees have been with the firm for more than five years.

    Why do you think they stay?

    During interviews, I ask how I can create their dream job. If someone says he would rather write all day instead of talk to clients, I work it so that he can.

    I try to capitalise on my attorneys' strengths. If I can create that ideal job, they'll stay until they're dead or retired.