Stock Images for Law Firm Websites: Dos and Don’ts

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Bad stock images can ruin an otherwise great website by making it look generic, while creative and customized stock images can evoke emotion and support your messaging and branding. Whenever possible the best solution for website imagery is to use custom photography to present unique visuals of your office, your employees and the geographic region. However, stock images are a great solution because they are readily available and inexpensive. Avoid clichés and stay within your budget by considering these “dos and don’ts”.

Do Not Use the Most Popular Search Results

When searching through stock image websites (my favorites are iStockPhoto or Shutterstock) they will often indicate which images are popular. Avoid these images at all costs. A wise man once told me, “Your first idea is probably the most generic.” This really holds true to stock images. Find a different way to represent your idea in a fairly unique way. Certain stock imagery has been so overused that they have become meaningless. It conveys no information of value and carry no positive emotional message.

Do Not Use the Most Popular Legal Stock Images

The images used in the most law firm websites are so poor in imagination that when a firm uses anything out of the ordinary it is seen as a revolution. The gavel and images of columns have been beaten to death. Certain stock photos are so overused that the only message they reflect is generic. These are the most cliché images and should be avoided at all costs:

  • Gavels
  • Courthouse Steps
  • Handshakes
  • Customer service rep (lady with a headset)

Your firm’s website needs to convey professionalism and creativity, and even more importantly they need to tie the into the firm’s message. Using images with unexpected subjects like the oranges and apples used in this site convey a unique and fresh expression of the firm. Finding one or two unique images similar to this can be the catalyst for the rest of the images on your website.

Do Not Be Literal

You do not need to be literal. The reason so many websites fall back on cliché stock images is because most organizations do not have strong imagery or branding to use that is already associated with them. When you think of a law firm, you instinctively think of a court room, gavel, and law books. That is the literal interpretation of a law firm and the easy answer for stock images. So few businesses produce something that can be seen or touched, they are only left with photographic clichés.

However, good imagery is about conveying a sense of personality and character, not a literal representation of what you do. After all prospective visitors understand that if you are a lawyer there will be a gavel. They don’t need a picture to tell them that. What they need to know is the character and personality of your firm. Images that convey information and emotion are considerably more powerful. They engage with your user and draw them in.

Do Use Stock Images to Enhance

The image that you place on the page must enhance the message you are trying to convey. Otherwise, don’t have the image, just for the sake of having an image. First determine your message: What are you trying to say? Once your message is established, find a photo to support or enhance it. Don’t be afraid to reuse that same imagery on multiple pages to reinforce your message. Your site does not need a different photo on each page. This will save time, money and further support your message.

Do Use Images that Relate

When I take on a new project, my clients will often give me a folder full of stock photos they’ve purchased for past projects with the instructions “Just make these work.” To put it bluntly, this sucks and you should never do it to your designer. The result is inevitably a bunch of photos that don’t necessarily provide a strong visual connection to the product, service or general information on the page. You want to use photos to reinforce your message, not to simply decorate your page. This almost always means that your content should precede your design, not the other way around. Otherwise you end up with a tech-support site featuring photos of smiling people spinning happily in fields of wheat. Even if the photo is incredible, the connection just isn’t there.

When using stock images for your website, make sure you do so with extreme care. Take the time to find the right images and think creatively. Maybe even go for the situational shot or metaphors. Images that evoke a response subtly can be very effective. Also creatively edit the image, crop into it or combine two or more photos together to create a new photo.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/slightlynorth/)

Legal Marketing

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  • jennifergumbel

    This is related to a topic that’s on my list to write up, but stock photos are particularly a poor choice for rural practitioners. You can quickly lose your credibility with local clients by having a picture of skyscrapers or a courthouse that isn’t local.

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/karinconroy/ Karin Conroy

    Yes, agreed. However I don’t think all stock photos are bad. I can imagine great rural stock imagery that would support a site and give people a strong feeling of where a rural attorney is positioned, both geographically and theoretically.

    • jennifergumbel

      Yes, agreed. Some stock photos may be helpful, but avoid anything that is obviously not from the area.

  • http://www.attorneysync.com Gyi Tsakalakis

    “The image that you place on the page must enhance the message you are trying to convey.”

    I think this is the key. First, stock images should “enhance” and complement specific images (i.e. actual lawyer, actual office images, recognizable landmarks, etc. Second, the images should be specific and consistent in terms of carrying the message. Think blog post images as opposed to static practice area page images.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      Agreed. First get some photographs of the actual lawyers and staff, then enhance with stock photos.

      And no pictures of lawyers in front of law books.

  • Jordan Donaldson

    Good article. I own graphic design firm and have often recommend veer.com to my clients, but istockphoto has improved drastically in the past few years. For a good example of a law firm website that makes great use of (what looks like) stock photography, see http://www.hwhlaw.com. NB: I did not build this site, but I do reference it as one example of good design.

    Thank you for maintaining Lawyerist. I’m currently a 3L with plans to start a firm down the road, and this site is a valuable resource.

  • http://www.USLegalWriting.com Jim Burke

    Prospective clients who come to your website need to receive an answer to this question (whether they think to ask it or not): “Exactly who is this person I’m thinking of contacting (or hiring)?” If your home page is filled with generic iStock photos, then you’re answering the question thus: “I’m a generic, unimaginative lawyer, and you can count on me to apply these qualities to your problem if you hire me.”

    So, what’s the best way to answer the question in a way that will help you? IMO you want to forget the standard photos. Instead, put your face on the page, and make it talk. Use video. Leverage your unique personality, your unique outlook, your unique sense of humor, your unique ability to communicate directly and persuasively. Look into the camera (into your viewer’s eyes) and explain how you can help that person. I understand that scripting, staging, shooting, editing, and publishing video on your page is a good deal trickier than inserting a JPG file into an HTML page, but it isn’t all that difficult and it’s worth the effort.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      This is an extremely good point.

  • http://www.constitutionaldaily.com/ BL1Y

    Be sure to read the comments from Ken Grady, General Counsel at Wolverine World Wide on law firm marketing, and specifically what he says about firm websites.

    http://amlawdaily.typepad.com/amlawdaily/2011/03/marketing-and-messaging.html

    He doesn’t address photos specifically, but the two sites he was most impressed by (Skadden and Gibson Dunn) don’t have any images other than their attorneys. If you go to Skadden’s Construction practice page, it doesn’t have a picture of a crane and lumber to “enhance” the message.

    Maybe some clients will want to see a picture of a vicious looking dog on the page where you discuss your experience with dog bite victims. It lets them know that you can tell the difference between an angry dog and a cute puppy.

    But, with how many corporate clients are focused on cutting costs, you don’t want your site to look so over-produced that the general counsel is left thinking “How much am I paying for this?”