How to Choose a Law Firm Website Design Firm

law firm website design

Law firm website design cliches

To a greater or lesser extent, all law firm website design firms are Template Jockeys. By that I mean they spin out variations on basic page layouts, site structure and imagery favored by law firms.

Think about it for a minute. Nine out of 10 law firm website home pages have a strong banner across the top featuring:

  • A cityscape
  • Lady Justice
  • The scales of justice
  • Lawyers with their arms crossed and/or leaning against a table
  • A gavel
  • Shelves of “law books”
  • An upset person  next to a car wreck (personal injury law)
  • The American flag
  • Any combination of the above

Why Are All Law Firm Website Designs Basically the Same?

Because 1) that’s what law firms expect and request and 2) budgets for law firm website design aren’t sufficient to support bespoke, coded-from-the-ground-up development. Therefore, adapting standard frameworks and templates is the only way they can make money with law firm clients.

Take for example the homepage boast of web design agency The Modern Firm:

We have worked with over 700 small law firm website design clients since 2000. Most of our clients choose us because we know what to do without being told.

I don’t know about you, but predictability and sameness aren’t qualities that I look for when I’m trying to differentiate my brand.

Spoiler Alert: It’s All WordPress

No matter how much law firm website design firms extol their ability to deliver “customized designmobile-friendly responsive coding, easy editing controls, comprehensive content review and on-page search engine optimization,” the fact is those capabilities are all built into WordPressWordPress is web software that can be used to build fully featured, attractive sites websites, blogs and apps. And there’s no learning curve. It’s as easy as following the recipe on a box of cake mix. Anyone can do it.

6 Most Important Factors When Choosing a Law Firm Website Design Firm

As we’ve discussed, the number of law firms sites that they’ve built has very little bearing on the abilities of a law firm website design firm — the bar is set very low. So what are the best selection criteria?

  • They return your calls
  • They are candid
  • They challenge and surprise you, and make you think about your assumptions
  • They don’t specialize in law firm websites; they have a breadth of experience across industries
  • They delve deeply into your content and SEO strategies as much as the design

The Takeaway

The best law firm website design firms are not the ones that have designed the most law firm websites. Look for a design firm that knows how to build your business, not just web pages.

 

 

 

 

Is It an Ethics Violation for a Law Firm to Exaggerate Its Size?

Zoologists call it “agonistic” behavior — when animals try to look bigger than they are in order to compete. While exaggerated displays are perfectly normal for frill-necked lizards and gray catbirds, does misleading content about a law firm’s size on its website constitute an ethics violation for false advertising?

law firm false advertising

One lawyer or several?

I recently came across the website of the Law Office of Janet McCullar, P.C., an Austin divorce and family law firm. Although only one lawyer is mentioned by name, the site’s copy and images try to tell a different story.

The dissonance starts on the homepage. The first image in the carousel at the top of the page features a group shot of five unidentified women. Beneath the image area is a static copy block with the heading “Austin Divorce Attorneys.” The body copy reads, in part:

“When you meet with one of our attorneys, we will review your situation and make recommendations about strategies we believe will serve you best and will guide your expectations about results.  We will assess your case and let you know whether you need immediate action or a plan for the future.  We will give you guidance on how to best manage your situation, and we will let you know whether we think the time is right to take action, or wait.  We will break down a complex process and let you know whether you have any red flags that need immediate attention.

Janet McCullar is a Board Certified Family Law attorney who is respected nationwide for her skill and experience in representing clients in complex divorce and custody matters for over 20 years.”

Likewise, the “Attorneys” — plural — tab in the homepage navigation bar links to a single attorney bio, McCullar’s.

Is it all right to refer to “one of our attorneys” when there is only one?

I get it. The other women pictured on the site could be administrative staff and/or paraprofessionals. The clearer — and arguably the more ethical — approach would have been to write the copy in the first person, making it clear that “we” refers to McCullar and her team. As it is, the juxtaposition of group photos and copy written in the first person plural might mislead.

Don’t risk it

Even if it passes your state bar’s advertising review, remember that even a whiff of exaggeration can alienate prospective clients and sully your reputation with peers. Tell it like it is. Whether there used to be more attorneys or you expect to be adding more soon, your website copy should accurately reflect your firm’s current composition. And if you’re going to promote your firm using your colleagues’/employees’ images, show them — and prospective clients — the courtesy of identifying them by name and role.

 

 

 

 

 

Law Firm Website Redesign: Move Your Standalone Blog to Your Website

Judging from lunch and happy hour conversations at the LMA 2012 annual conference, we’re in for a wave of law firm website refreshes and redesigns. There was a lot of discussion about incorporating features to increase website traffic and visitor engagement, but no one was talking about the single most effective way to do that: moving their standalone blog to their website.

Maintaining a blog separately from your website just doesn’t make business or practical sense.

  • Websites that incorporate a blog component typically perform better and require less time and expense than maintaining two or more content management systems.
  • Your blog allows you to easily publish new content your site on a regular basis, it is built to be search engine friendly, and it is simply easier (and cheaper) to manage one site instead of two!buy
  • It is much easier and less confusing for your prospects and leads to find and engage with you when you are directing them to just one site.
  • You typically don’t change most content on your main website pages, like your attorney bio and practice description pages. By keeping your blog as part of your main website, the static pages of your site benefit from the optimization and fresh content published on your blog.

Don’t Believe Your Website Developer. It Absolutely Can Be Done.

On the Inkling Media blog, Ken Mueller noted:

” Businesses get a website, and then they get a blog….Usually this is done because they don’t know how to add a blog to their site, or their web CMS isn’t blog friendly. If that’s the case, you might want to think about a complete redesign of your site to something that includes a blog, and again, I’ll put in a big plug for self-hosted WordPress sites.

“So why is it a problem if your blog doesn’t reside on your domain? Because you’re sending all the traffic to another domain: your blog. A blog will get heavier traffic than your site, and it’s more likely to have regularly changing content and important keywords, as well as attract inbound links. If that happens on your blog, your website is getting none of the credit.

“And don’t think that URL masking, redirecting, or even pulling the blog in via frames will help. The SEO credit will still go to the blog domain, not your website domain. The goal is to drive traffic to your site and get the SEO credit for it. This is a bit harder to remedy than the first three, but a quick chat with your web designer will let you know what your blogging options are for your site. And don’t take “No” for an answer. I’ve spoken to several businesses whose web team told them it couldn’t be done. If that’s the case, and SEO is important to you, it might be time for a new site (and a new web designer).”

Get Off on the Right Foot

Don’t forget, you don’t even need a “website.” A blog IS a website — a dynamic website. You can have pages on a blog and, with some of the great WordPress themes on the StudioPress Genesis Framework, you can create an attractive, high-impact website with full blog integration.

 

 

Endeavor to Be Useful: Legal Marketing Tips 02.24.12

A digest of social media “how-to” advice and tips for legal marketing.

Websites for Law Firms: A Graphic Argument for Hosting Your Blog on Your Website

For the typical small or solo law firm, it does not make sense to host a standalone blog and a website. Websites that include a blog component typically perform better and require less time and expense.

As Jennifer Bourn succinctly framed it last year:

  • Your blog allows you to easily publish new content your site on a regular basis, it is built to be search engine friendly, and it is simply easier (and cheaper) to manage one site instead of two!
  • It is much easier and less confusing for your prospects and leads to find you, contact you, interact with you, and buy from you when you are directing them to just one website.
  • You typically don’t change the sales content on your main website pages like your about page and your services pages, so by keeping your blog as part of your main website, the static pages of your site benefit from the optimization and fresh content published on your blog.

A new infographic from IMPACT Branding & Design breaks that argument down step by step, and adds an exclamation point:

A blog on your website generates 400 percent more indexed pages (opportunities to be found through SEO) and 55 percent more traffic.

 

The Inbound Marketing Process Infographic

Straight Talk from General Counsels on How to Win Their Business

Far too much of corporate law practice marketing is predicated on what the firm wants potential clients to know, rather than what general counsels are actually looking for and how they conduct their searches. I came across a gem of a video on the Corporate Counsel section of Law.com that provides a glimpse of what general counsels actually care about when identifying and vetting outside firms.

  • Strong word-of-mouth is a great equalizer; gets you on the short list.

“Be good at what you do. We tend to interview the people we’ve heard about a lot, and we’ve heard about them a lot because they’ve had success in the past. And it doesn’t mean that we’re the kind of company that defers to the absolutely “blue chip” [or] “name brand” in a certain area because that’s an attorney the board will be comfortable with…If you are good at what you’re doing, whether you’re small, new emerging, well-known, we tend to be able to find you.”

Eric Whitaker, General Counsel, Tesla Motors

 

  • It doesn’t matter how good you are if you’re also an ass.

“Can I get along with this person, will they get along with my [internal] clients? Getting along with me is important, but it’s much more important to get along with the clients, because the clients are going to see you in the long term, every day basis. If the people who have to work with you on a daily basis in that transaction can’t stand you, that’s not going to reflect well on me nor is it going to get you repeat business.”

Robert Shives, Senior Director & Associate General Counsel, Fujitsu

 

  • Forget quirky videos and personal narratives; make website attorney bios more search-friendly.

“I absolutely check out bios, because we are frequently vetting new counsel. I look at representative clients, I look at representative matters. One of the things that makes me crazy is when the sites aren’t easy to maneuver. So how you’ve coded your website to be able to sort. Try and do it yourself, as if you’re an outside counsel trying to get to a person with this expertise in this location.”

Renee Lawson, Associate General Counsel, Zynga

 

  • Think rifle, not shotgun.

“One of the things that’s sort of interesting is that a lot of firms describe [themselves] as the everything to everyone. I’m usually looking for something very specific, so if you are an IP/anti-trust/transactional/product liability/labor and employment/estates and trust lawyer – which I have seen – you’re probably not the attorney I’m going to hire. So think about how you’re portraying yourself to the outside world.”

Renee Lawson, Associate General Counsel, Zynga

 

“It’s a credibility issue as well. When one sees that long list of “you’re an expert in every field,” you just pass. You take a pass on that person.”

Megan Pierson, Senior University Counsel, Stanford University

 

  • You’re competing against in-sourcing.

“I hire a lawyer and expect that they’re going to give me 2,000 hours a year for a $200,000 salary — I’m paying them $100 an hour. In reality, if you’re working with me at a high growth company you’re working 3,000 hours a year, so it’s even less [per hour]. My blended rate from law firms for the most part — big law firms — is still $400-$500 an hour.

“It’s simply a situation where, for the most part, law firms have priced themselves out of a whole bunch of work I used to have them do. It’s that simple. When I started in ’99 I would send contracts to law firms, I’d send license agreements to law firms, I’d send some employment issues to law firms. I just don’t do it anymore.”

“If work is going to repeat at all, I’ll bring the expertise  in-house. My in-house teams have simply gotten much bigger, and my outside counsel use has gone down, and it’s a direct result of the economics of it.”

Eric Whitaker, General Counsel, Tesla Motors

  • Billing reviews can be moments of truth.

“I don’t bring everything up with my outside counsel, but I do bring certain things up because we are early in a relationship and I want to set expectations. If I ask you to look at something on a bill, I expect you to look at it, and I expect you to get back to me promptly. And frankly if it even has the slightest appearance of being inflated, wrong, I expect you to say, “I’ve taken care of it,” and I expect you to do it right away.

“If I have to battle for a write-off with you, after I’ve given you the courtesy to bring it to your attention and reviewed your bills that you should have reviewed, you’re not on my list anymore.”

Renee Lawson, Associate General Counsel, Zynga

 

SEO for Law Firms: What Legal Marketers Need to Know About Google’s Panda

In the search engine optimization world, “quality” content doesn’t mean what you might immediately think. It’s not breakthrough ideas compellingly expressed (although that’s part of it, in an indirect way).

From an SEO perspective, quality derives in part from structural elements and patterns within your content (frequency, amount of original content on a site, duplication, unnatural overuse of a word) and the way visitors interact with your content (time on page, bounce rate).

In other words, Google’s Panda search algorithm evaluates the “quality” of your content by how long visitors spend on a page (presumably reading) and whether they visit other pages on your site during the same session. Quality content = high average time on page + low bounce rate.

Digital marketing agency Single Grain created a useful infographic that chronicles Panda’s evolution (so to speak) and highlights what law firm site designers and managers can do to build essential inbound links to their blogs and websites.

 

What are your SEO for law firms tips? Have you made any changes to your website or blog(s) to accommodate the new content paradigm Panda has created?

Law Firm Websites Need to Master Inbound Marketing Basics

If the primary objective of your next website is to “inspire and present the right firm image,” then don’t be surprised if it doesn’t perform much better than your former site.

While law firm websites are getting more visually interesting, they will not generate more inquiries that lead to new business until the primary focus is on helping clients easily find the information they are looking for.

Think Like a Potential Client

Before you get carried away with the aesthetic sweep of your website, heed the guidance of “Chicago School” of architecture progenitor Louis Sullivan — “Form ever follows function.” As Jessica Meher notes, that dictum starts with your site’s homepage. “A homepage needs to wear many hats and serve many audiences who come from many different places….In order for a homepage to work, it needs to meet its purpose and contain key elements that attract traffic, educate your visitors, and convert browsers into buyers.”

The following HubSpot annotation illustrates how to build a functional framework for a law firm website homepage. Once you build this, you can overlay it with “strong, compelling, and emotional images” that animate your brand.

 

 

 

 

Endeavor to Be Useful: Legal Marketing Tips 01.11.12

A digest of social media “how-to” advice and tips for legal marketing.

 

Endeavor to Be Useful: Legal Marketing Tips 01.04.12

A digest of social media “how-to” advice and tips for legal marketing.