Recently, I was approached by a law firm in the United States looking for someone to write copy for their new website. They knew exactly what they wanted:
‘Great,’ I thought to myself. ‘A client who knows exactly what it wants.’
However, my heart sank when the client gave me a few more details.
On the ‘Home’ page, it wanted a brief overview of its firm. On the ‘About’ page, it wanted a 1,500-word essay on the history of the firm. On the ‘Services’ page, it wanted an outline of its practice areas. Finally, it wanted me to come up with the kind of copy it couldn’t.
What was wrong with the client’s approach? What made me sigh?
Most law firms fall into the same trap, and I don’t blame them. Writing copy for law firm websites is difficult. For both legal and marketing reasons, the more traditional copywriting methods such as the ‘hard sell’ or the ‘alluring offer’ don’t work for law firms. If you’re a law firm, you can’t be too aggressive or pushy. Even if it was legal to sell your professional services the way someone might sell discount clothing, it sounds unprofessional.
As a law firm, you need to come up with copy that not only shows the firm in the best possible light, but explains to a potential client why it should select you to handle its legal matter.
No client is interested in the history of your firm; it is only interested in one thing – are you the right law firm to help solve its problem or achieve its goal?
It is the old ‘what’s in it for me?’ factor coming into play.
Here are some guidelines to help you write the kind of copy for your law firm website that will persuade clients to pick up the phone and call you instead of your competitor.
Law firms tend to be partnerships. Although most firms appoint a Chief Executive Partner or a Managing Partner, the nature of partnership is egalitarian – everyone has the right to have their say.
A partnership structure can be problematic when it comes to formulating a vision for the firm, because each partner ends up having a slightly different idea about what the firm should be doing or where it should be heading.
This can become a particular issue when creating the firm’s online brochure – the website.
So before you approach someone to design or draft copy for your law firm’s website, the partners should agree on a unified approach.
Once you have worked out your vision for your website, you need to decide whether you are going to write the copy in-house or outsource it. In either case, the process will be:
One of the most important things you need to do as a firm is to work out exactly what is the purpose of your website.
Quite often lawyers will call me to enquire if I can re-work the copy on their website, but they can’t tell me what the purpose of their website is.
More often than not, the conversation goes something like this:
Lawyer: Look, we’re pretty happy with what our website is doing for us; we just need some help with the copy.
The Pink Rottweiler: And what exactly is your website doing for your business?
Then there is usually a long pause.
Most law firms know they need a website. The sad truth, however, is that most law firms don’t know what their website is doing for their business. They don’t know whether it is operating merely as a resource or reference point for clients, or if it is actually working to get clients through the door.
Every law firm needs to work out the purpose of its website for its business, and work steadily towards that goal.
I’ve already mentioned that there is a tendency for law firm websites to concentrate on the firm, rather than on its clients.
The problem is that this does nothing to explain to clients why they should choose your firm over your competitor’s.
As a law firm, you need to shift the focus away from the history of your firm and what you specialise in, to what your particular set of skills can do for your clients. At the same time, you obviously can’t engage in misleading and deceptive conduct.
Basically, you need to come up with copy that maps out how your firm can help its clients. You need to outline your strengths as a firm in a way that the average person can understand.
When preparing copy for your law firm’s website, a useful exercise is to stop thinking like a lawyer and start thinking like a client.
It helps to ask:
Then ask what your typical client will want to know when they visit your website, looking for assistance.
As lawyers become more expert in their fields, they can have a tendency to forget how little a client might know about their particular area of the law. Therefore, it is important to be as clear as possible on your website about the services you offer.
It is also important to remember that when clients are looking for a lawyer they are often stressed, so make life easy for them by making the content on your website crystal clear.
Recently I was looking at a small firm’s website; it was very well-designed. However, it was almost impossible to work out what kind of law they were practising because, clearly, the firm had assumed it was obvious. Trust me, it wasn’t. I had to dig for that information and that annoyed me.
It is also important to outline what makes your law firm different. To most clients, all law firms look and smell the same.
A client doesn’t necessarily understand that, with the erosion of the suburban general practitioner, there has been a tendency for law firms to become larger and to specialise in particular areas of law.
For example, if you are a law firm specialising in family law, you need to state that clearly. In addition, you need to explain to potential clients the advantages of using a specialist family law firm instead of a general practitioner to handle their divorce or property settlement.
One of the most glaring problems I see with law firm websites is their failure to ensure that the copywriting style is consistent across the site.
Often the individual lawyers write their own biographies, which are loaded onto their firm’s website without any editing or understanding that there should be a coherent style. I have even observed this on websites of quite large law firms.
It is vital to standardise the style of copy on your website. This should apply not just to the top levels of the website, but to every single page.
Law firms have a tendency to fill their websites with pages and pages of dense copy.
This is a mistake, because most people only scan websites and don’t have time to read large slabs of copy. A lot of people find pages and pages of copy intimidating.
I always suggest that law firms keep the amount of copy on the individual pages of websites to a minimum. Ideally, you should restrict yourself to between 250 and 400 words per page.
Make your copy lively. Make it relevant. Make it easily digestible.
Generally, lawyers are good at breaking up text with bullet points and numbering.
This is an excellent technique to use on a website to make it easier for those browsing to scan the copy. It works particularly well when describing the services that a particular law firm offers its clients. However, it is something that is often overlooked.
It is also important to make sure your website copy matches the personality of your law firm. This involves finding the right tone.
For example, if you are a boutique firm specialising in intellectual property, you need to make sure the words you use on your website match your brand.
In contrast, if you are a venerable firm focusing on drafting wills and handling divorces for people of a certain social status, you need to concentrate on communicating that message to potential clients.
In short, your website is a useful platform to let clients know what to expect when they arrive at your office for their first meeting.
Finally, you need to make sure that the copy you draft for your website is of a very high standard. Ultimately, you need to come up with the most concise, most interesting, way of communicating why a potential client should choose your firm.
Writing copy for law firms is always a challenge. After all, there usually isn’t anything flashy to sell.
At the end of the day, you need to concentrate on the quality of the copy and focus on:
In the next instalment of Words that Bite, I investigate how to work out whether your business needs a blog and, if so, how to write a blog that catches the attention of your target audience.
Are your lawyers too busy to think about your firm’s website? Would you like someone with a legal background to look after it for you? If so, call the Pink Rottweiler on +61 (0)409 609 903 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who is the Pink Rottweiler? The Pink Rottweiler is Genevieve Burnett – a copywriter with a legal background who will take the time to research your business and come up with the smart words to sell your product or service.