In this instalment of Words that Bite, I outline the main problems with law firm websites and make some suggestions as to what can be done to solve them.
The main problems I see with law firm websites are:
One of the most obvious problems with law firm websites is that they tend to be bland and boring. This is understandable. Law is a conservative profession and lawyers aren’t exactly known for their creativity. A lot of lawyers don’t feel comfortable trying to be hip and groovy. In addition, there is nothing worse than a law firm website full of kitschy gimmicks. Therefore, there is a tendency for lawyers to want to play it safe when they showcase their firms on the web.
What is the problem with playing it safe?
If advertising is all about distinguishing yourself from the competition, then how do you stand out as offering something different if you simply do what everyone else is doing?
Therefore, it may be time for you to think outside the square and come up with a website that reflects your law firm’s brand and shows what you can offer that the other firms don’t.
Most law firms don’t seem to have much of a sense of brand; it is almost as if they haven’t even thought about it. Once again, I think most lawyers feel better taking the safe road when it comes to branding. Perhaps this is because they don’t want to offend anyone. The important thing to remember, though, is that a unique brand is crucial if you want to distinguish yourself from your competition.
For larger firms and/or firms with an international presence, organisation is always going to be a challenge, with their websites tending to be large and unwieldy.
From what I’ve seen, it is pretty clear that most firms don’t spend enough time thinking about how to organise the information on their websites or how to make it easy for clients to find what they are looking for.
I’ve hinted at this before, but the truth is that most law firm websites tend to be very narcissistic. By that, I mean that there is a tendency to focus on the firm itself rather than on what it can offer. When preparing copy for a law firm, the focus needs to be on what the firm can do for its clients.
Here’s a great way to check how narcissistic your law firm’s website is – count the number of times you use the word ‘we’.
I believe that the most common trap law firms fall into when they think about setting up a website is focusing on how it will act as a showcase for the firm. While this is important to an extent, it is even more important to think about not only the message the law firm is trying to communicate to clients but how clients might use the website.
One of the biggest problems with law firm websites is what I call the dead ‘Home’ page. By this, I am referring to the way a lot of law firms don’t seem to have a clear idea about the purpose of the ‘Home’ page.
As a result, there are generally two traps law firms fall into with the ‘Home’ page:
The current trend in web design is for the ‘Home’ page to contain very little text. While a ‘Home’ page with minimal text is going to look great and can work well for certain types of products, for service industries this might not be such an effective approach. Basically, reducing the text on a ‘Home’ page to the absolute minimum is a lost opportunity to communicate with clients about what your firm can do for them.
On a website, you have eight seconds to catch a browser’s attention. As a result, if your ‘Home’ page is nothing but a meaningless philosophical statement or glib slogan, then you may be missing an opportunity to win a client. On your ‘Home’ page, you need to communicate what your firm can offer its clients. In addition, you need to come up with an interesting way to do it
Another trap law firms fall into (and this is especially true for larger firms) in relation to their ‘Home’ page, is to throw a few random items onto it in the desperate hope that something will attract a potential client’s attention. This might be a link to a recent publication, a partner profile or a news item. Unfortunately, this tactic rarely works. Instead, it tends to confuse clients and make the ‘Home’ page look messy. The risk is that people browsing become confused and move on to a site where the message is clearer.
There is no doubt that the most important page on any law firm’s website is the ‘Home’ page. Therefore, it is the one that requires the most attention, so you need to do two things:
First, you need to explain to potential clients what your firm offers that your competitors don’t, in a way that doesn’t make you sound like a used car salesman or real estate agent. That message should be representative of your brand.
Second, you need to tell potential clients what you want them to do when they land on your ‘Home’ page. In the advertising world, this is called the ‘call to action’ and it could involve:
The ‘About’ page on law firms’ websites is one where most firms find themselves in trouble because:
First, the page focuses too much on ‘us’ and on not enough on what the firm can do for the client.
Second, the page, more often than not, becomes a history of the firm. As an historian, I hate to say this, but no one is interested in the history of your firm. Even if the history of a firm is interesting, it does little to help a client searching for a solution to a pressing legal problem or objective.
Ultimately, the ‘About’ page offers the chance for a law firm to go into more detail about what distinguishes it from other firms. The challenge is to do this in an interesting, and even entertaining, way.
One of the problems with law firms’ ‘Practice Areas’ pages is that, usually, they rely on dry description, rather than offering something that is informative. Like the ‘About’ page, there is usually too much focus on ‘us’ and not enough emphasis on how the particular team can help clients. In short, the focus needs to shift back to the client.
Some firms get around this by not having a ‘Practice Areas’ page. However, this can be a problem if you omit to include an outline of the areas your firm practises in. It is important to remember that the website is for existing and potential clients, and that it is crucial to state the obvious. After all, what might be obvious to you might not be so obvious to your potential clients.
‘Industries’ pages are useful to demonstrate that your lawyers won’t just come up with narrow legal solutions that lack an understanding of the commercial environment. Once again, these pages mustn’t be dry descriptions. Instead, they need to show clients that you have an understanding of their particular industry and that your legal solutions will help them achieve their business goals.
The most common problems with bios on law firm websites are:
A lack of consistency on a website makes it look unprofessional, and out-of-date bios mean that the profiles aren’t doing as much as they could be to bring in clients. Finally, depending on your law firm’s brand, you might want to think about making your lawyers appear more like human beings. The stuffed-shirt image of lawyers is wearing thin and, in recent years, there have been some attempts by firms to make their lawyers’ bios more interesting. Still, there is a fine line between an interesting bio and one that makes the lawyer appear ridiculous.
The ‘Publications’ pages are often one of the biggest headache areas for law firms when it comes to their websites. Here’s a link to my detailed discussion on how to improve your ‘Publications’ pages.
I have to be honest and say that I am not sure how much weight law firms should give to the ‘Media’ page. Personally, I don’t think any client is all that interested in the mentions you’ve received in the press. Once again, most ‘Media’ pages make firms look narcissistic.
Writing for the web is very different from drafting a legal advice or an affidavit. On the web, you need to ensure that the sentences are snappy and engaging. There is nothing worse than endless chunks of dense prose on a website.
I suggest you avoid:
And remember: your job is too persuade any visitor to your website to read to the next sentence.
One of the most obvious ways to make your law firm’s website more client-friendly is to spend time thinking about how the material will be organised. This is obviously even more crucial for large law firms and/or law firms with a global presence. The larger the law firm, the more difficult it is to get the information architecture right.
When it comes to law firm websites, the most important thing to remember is that they are not something that can be thrown together overnight. Making your website stand out in an increasingly competitive market requires both preparation and thought. In addition, you need to stop looking at the website from a lawyer’s perspective, and instead think about what your client might be interested in reading and what might attract them to your firm. Ultimately, it is about making sure that you create a site that looks professional and is also something people find useful and informative.
In short, it’s time for law firms to move beyond using websites as a mirror where they simply tell the world that they really are the ‘fairest of them all’.
Are you a law firm whose website is falling flat? The Pink Rottweiler likes nothing more than injecting life into a law firm’s website. It’s her passion. If you want to chat about your law firm’s website, call the Pink Rottweiler on +61 (0)409 609 903 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.