This is not a commercial. It will sound like one and for that I apologize. But so be it.
Law Firm Websites
The issue of law firm websites is on my mind because I have been working on a lot of websites lately.
In several cases the firm just went through a redesign, paid good money for it, and hated the results. I think that is just terrible.
Now, if you are representing a client in court you cannot guarantee results. That’s the reality of the practice of law. But if you are designing a website you can sure do everything within reason and within the budget to make sure your client is happy with the end result. What is the point of doing this kind of work if it doesn’t put a smile on your client’s face?
Does a Website Need to be Complicated?
There are a lot of views on what a law firm or lawyer website should look like. Some people believe a website simply has to be complicated to be good. Complicated does not equal cheap and normally this means the website will easily cost $5,000, $10,000 or more. With due respect, I don’t agree that a law firm website always needs to be complicated. I believe the website should be designed to meet the needs of the firm.
As my AP English teacher used to say, form fits function, not the other way around.
What is your Website’s Function?
If you plan to design a website, think about your goals. Do some research; look at what similarly situated firms are doing. By similarly situated I mean firms in the same area of law and in the same market, also on the same side. Based on what you discover, create a list identifying what you want. Then start talking to companies to get quotes.
If you are uncertain what you want/need your website to accomplish, talk with your colleagues and/or some consultants who your trust about that concept. Heck, drop me a line. I’ll talk to you for a few minutes.
Think about the Design
It is extremely common for a law firm to have no idea what it wants in terms of the look of its website. If that is the case, have a brain storming session with your designer. Tell her some general concepts about your firm. A creative and understanding designer will be able to work with you to connect your website to your firm. As a result, the website will reflect your firm, and if you are a solo, it will reflect you as an individual and attorney. This is where the originality comes in, even on an inexpensive website.
Relate your Site to your Firm
Do you have a particular item that you relate to your firm? Have you always used a certain logo or color? Are you happy with those items? Tell the designer so she knows about it and ask her to find a way to work those items into the theme of your new site. Are you unhappy with your logo or other items? Looking to start fresh? Tell the designer. At least then she will know what doesn’t work for you.
Use Good Images
Spend the money for good pictures of the attorney(s). Try to avoid using common images. If you need to go the stock photo route, spend some money and some time to find good photos that mean something to you and don’t look the same as what everyone else is using.
Think about Ethics
Make certain that the designer understands legal ethics and the rules appropriate to all jurisdictions in which you plan to advertise. If she doesn’t, make sure you explain necessary disclaimers and wording to the designer. Remember, you are responsible for what your website has on it, not the designer.
Make Sure the Copy Works
Watch out for grammar, spelling, and content. Make sure bios are correct. Check any legal explanations on the site to make sure they are correct. Have a good amount of content on the site that is well written and explains your firm and its attorneys properly.
A badly written website is a disaster. People will doubt your ability to handle their cases if you don’t have proper spelling and grammar on your site. Think of how you respond when someone sends you a resume with a typo. Your website is your resume. It should be as close to perfect as possible.
Make Sure the Website Works
All links should work. Any items on the site, blogs, calendars, etc., should work properly and be up-to-date. As with bad copy, a website that doesn’t function properly is a disaster. People won’t trust you to function properly as an attorney if your website doesn’t work.
Inexpensive Does Not Equal Ugly
There is no excuse for a firm to have an ugly website. Don’t let some design company hand you a piece of you know what and tell you it is gold. Make certain the website is pleasing to the eye. Make sure the site is welcoming, even if it is inexpensive. Make sure the design fits what you want to say about yourself and your firm.
If the designer gives you a design that is downright hideous don’t be afraid to say so. You are paying for your website; don’t let someone give you something that puts you in a bad light. You should be proud to show people your website, not embarrassed.
My Design Process
I am surprised at how many design companies barely speak with the law firm, design a website, send it off and wipe their hands of it. Sometimes they are willing to make minimal changes. This is not what I do. And I do things the way I do because I think it makes sense and is the best way to design a site. So I am going to share my process with you.
I work with a coder, Beth, who is excellent at both coding and design. I feel extremely fortunate to work with such a talented individual. But I am the attorney. Attorneys simply get other attorneys better than anybody else. Face it, law school warped our minds.
1. I review the current website (if any) and share it with Beth. I also look for any other materials I can find online or that are provided to me by the firm. This includes old fashioned advertisements, pamphlets, newsletters, and anything else I can get my hands on.
2. If at all possible I meet with the attorney(s) myself before the design process begins. If it isn’t possible I spend time on the phone with the attorney(s) or on video chat. I ask the questions you would expect, but I also ask surprisingly touchy feely questions. This is how I get to the bottom of what the firm wants in terms of looks and function.
2(a). I like to go to the office and look around. I look at the pictures on the walls, the colors of the offices, how conservatively or informally the attorneys and staff dress. All of this tells me something about the firm and its presence.
3. I email Beth what I want. I tell her about any colors the firm and I have discussed (positive or negative,) any images I want her to use, any ideas that I want to be sure are represented. I explain any history of past websites and I give her as much information as I can. Then we chat about our plans on the phone.
4. Beth and I get to work on the site itself. I begin working on the copy, making sure to address any and all ethical considerations. When I am done with the copy, I email it to the attorney(s) for review.
4(a). Beth gets to work on the physical site. But here’s the thing. Beth doesn’t go ahead and design the entire site. Instead she designs the front page for me. We go back and forth until we are both happy.
5. I give the copy to the attorney(s) for review.
5(a). I give the mockup of the site to the attorney(s) for review. The attorney(s), Beth and I go back and forth until we are all happy with the design.
6. Now we design the website in full. As before, Beth and I go back and forth until we are happy with the end result.
7. I give the attorney(s) access to the new site, discuss it with the attorney(s) and make any final changes. Then Beth uploads the new site and makes sure everything is working.
8. New site up and running. Everybody is happy.
Why do I design websites this way? Because by preparing as I do early on, by making sure that the attorney(s) is/are happy with the mock-up of the front page, I actually move the process along faster. What is the point of creating an entire website only to unveil a site the client has had no input on and absolutely hates? Why create copy that the client only sees when it is on the site instead of still being in an easily editable form? What a waste of time and money. I hate wasting time and money.
Your website is a crucial marketing tool as well as a resource for your clients. Make sure it represents you the way you want to be represented. You should be certain your website works properly, shows you and your firm in a positive light and helps clients decide to hire you. Never allow an ugly, nonworking, badly written or unethical website to be the impression people have of you on the web. And last, but not least, don’t let your design company take advantage of you. You are paying, make sure you get good and fair value for your money. This means you cannot expect a top of the line site for $2,000. But it also means that what you should get is a good, solid site that you are proud to share with your clients, potential clients, and the legal community at large.