It may be a small law firm with revenues of only $10 million and just over 100 employees, including 20 in India, but what makes the immigration law practise of Murthy & Co is the world’s most-visited website, at least according to LawFirmSearchEngine.com?
The New York Times spoke with Sheela Murthy of Murthy Law Firm about how she did it.
Q. How did you end up in Maryland?
A. I was born in Baroda, India, and attended University Law College in Bangalore. There, I met my husband, Vasant Nayak, a photographer and digital artist. He was studying in the United States and encouraged me to apply to law school here. I graduated from Harvard Law in 1987, worked for big firms in New York and Baltimore and started my own firm in 1994.
Q. What got you interested in immigration law?
A. I went through hell to get my green card. The process of becoming a citizen was painful, stressful and took 12 years. I’d wake up in a cold sweat panicking about my life. I was struck by my attorney’s lack of sensitivity and how little he cared. He only called when he wanted to tell me he was raising his fees.
Q. What led you to create a Web site back in 1994?
A. My husband, who built our site and today serves as a technology, marketing and operations consultant to the firm, insisted the Internet was the wave of the future. He suggested 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.” But I was so frustrated by my own immigrant experience that I decided to start a Web site partly to make people feel empowered and respected.
Q. How did your early site do that?
A. Each day, I answered about 100 questions from immigrants. It helped familiarize me with real-life issues. I also started the weekly Murthy Bulletin soon after starting the firm. It’s an e-mail newsletter, which lawyers weren’t really doing then. Today, it has about 43,000 subscribers. Around 1995, we started accepting credit card payments — another thing almost no law firms were doing. But it was the only way I could help a client in California. There was no time to wait for a check in the mail.
Q. What type of reception did the Web site get?
A. It was like, build it and they will come — it caught on like wildfire.
Q. What resources are available on your current site?
A. It’s aimed at building an online immigrant community. There’s no hard sell — its priority is not to bring in clients but to help and show we care and know our stuff. We clarify the most complicated laws, using tools like teleconferences, podcasts and blogging.
Our moderated bulletin board has over 165,000 members who share information and knowledge about visa processing trends and related matters. On Monday nights, we have a real-time chat where one of our senior attorneys explains immigration law and processes. Every two or three years, we redo the site from scratch, working with a Web development firm.
Q. How’s business?
A. 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?”
Q. Given your site’s popularity, have you tried to generate income from its visitors?
A. No. We’ve kept it very pristine. We’ve been approached by insurance companies, travel agencies and airlines about doing ads. While we like the idea of getting $5,000 a month with no effort, we don’t want clients wasting time looking at a bunch of ads before they get the information they need.
Read more at the NY Times