Why I Designed My Firm’s Website

It took many hours, several cups of coffee, a couple glasses of whiskey, and a bit of cursing. But I finally finished my law firm’s website recently. I did it all using a bit of advice from friends, Thesis, and a lot of trial and error. Some would suggest that you shouldn’t design your own website. Designing the site myself saved the firm a good chunk of money, and allowed me to undertake a nice challenge. But was it worth my time?

You can discuss The Shingle Life in the comments, in the LAB, or on Twitter using the hashtag #shinglelife.

Sense of Satisfaction

I’m not much of a handyman. I can’t fix many things or build cool stuff around my house. But I can dabble in HTML. When I finished the firm’s website, I had a nice sense of accomplishment. Sure, it may not be the shiniest car on the block, but it gets the job done. Plus, creating the website let me try something different. Writing code and playing around with website design is completely different from legal writing. The change in pace is liberating.

Deep down, there is also a part of me that didn’t like the idea that I couldn’t do it. I’ve been a tech nerd for as long as I could remember. I love gadgets and try to stay up to date on the latest technologies. As I’ve immersed myself more fully in the law, I’ve lost touch with this part of myself to some extent. But designing a website was an opportunity to rekindle that love of all things nerdy.

The rollercoaster of highs and lows that came with designing the website were also kind of fun. There was a feeling of fear as I edited the functions.php file in Thesis. If I did everything correct, my website would do what I wanted. But if I had one misplaced bracket, the whole thing would break. Yet when I figured out how to fit all the pieces together to overcome various coding issues, it was a huge sense of accomplishment.

Ultimate Control over Content

At the end of the day, my partner and I are the only ones responsible for everything on that website. We are the ones who will get in hot water if the entire site isn’t checked for compliance with the ethics rules. I didn’t want to trust some marketing ‘guru’ or SEO ‘expert’ to write the content for me. After all, my reputation is at stake. Nor did I want to spend hours discussing the content with a designer, only to have the same stuff on my site that the designer used for some attorney in Texas. Some elements of the site may be a little repetitive, but that’s by design and by choice.

As the firm develops, we also need to have full control over our content to change as necessary. For example, after we get a little more experience dealing with small businesses, we plan to advertise those services on the website. Every time we decide to advertise a different part of the practice we don’t want to shell out money to some designer.

It’s Not That Hard

You can get your website up and running in about thirty minutes. It isn’t exactly brain surgery to get a clean and effective website up and running. Most of my struggle for the site involved the slider bar that I used and the page structure. Not to mention writing the actual content. But now that those things are done, it’s extremely easy to make small changes, and it will be easy to add things like a video introduction down the line.

  • http://fishtownlaw.com Leo

    Looks like a good start.

    From a readability standpoint, I’d scale down everything – text size (try 10-10.5 instead of 12-14), photos (1/4-1/3 smaller), logo header (1/2 size), etc. It will make an easier read without scrolling.

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

      I agree on the header image (it’s way too big), but I disagree on everything else. Keep your text large and readable. As a side effect, it encourages you to write less, which makes what you do write more likely to be read.

      Don’t use underlining (in general, but especially on the web), as we’re used to seeing links underlined. When you underline other things, it confuses your visitors.

      Also, why are there no pictures on your bio pages?

      • http://www.thesearchninjas.com George Murphy

        Yeah keep in mind that the space above the fold is the most important. The logo is a bit much.

        You also want a sitemap (I didn’t see one, and if you do have one you want a link in the footer). If you install a plugin called “WordPress SEO” from Yoast it’ll take care of the sitemap for you as well as some additional SEO options.

        You should also submit the sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools if you haven’t done so already.

        And get a contact form up! http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/si-contact-form/

        • https://plus.google.com/117235644077949816393/about Gyi Tsakalakis

          I second George’s recommendation of Yoast’s plug-in. One other search point is that your navigation links are probably a little too deep. You don’t really start passing rich semantic content until around line 145. I’d probably add some content a little earlier, reduce the depth of your navigation and consider paying a little more attention to the optimization of your navigation elements.

          From a design standpoint, I think you did a pretty great job.

      • http://lawyerist.com/author/joshcamson/ Josh Camson

        Thanks for the input Leo and Sam. I will play around with the header image.

        Pictures are coming. We had some issues getting them, and wanted to get the site up.

  • http://www.thesearchninjas.com George Murphy

    It’s true, getting a website up and running is pretty straight forward for the lawyer with an average amount of “tech-savviness”.

    It’s performing the necessary search engine and social media marketing that is time consuming, and then you have to trust that the website that you designed yourself will convert your visitors into clients.

    I like to compare it to a person going on trial… they could hire you and trust the professional, or they could save a few bucks and represent themselves.

    One tip I will give to those looking to design their own legal website is to spend the extra money on a dedicated IP address when you’re looking for a hosting company.

  • http://www.eriebusinesslaw.com/ Adam Williams

    I designed my site for its first iteration. That lasted about 6 months until I had a professional redo it. This was a good approach for me.

    My biggest recommendation for you is to switch the content of your site to a sans-serif font. It’s much easier to read on the screen. It looks good for a DIY job.

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/andymergendahl/ Andy Mergendahl

    I agree with Sam on the header size and font size. I think the site is well-designed overall.
    One note on your bio pages: “J.D.” stands for Juris Doctor, not Juris Doctorate. This is an error you’ll see all over the place, and it bugs the crap out of me. Fix it, and you can mock and ridicule all the BigLaw sites that get it wrong.

  • https://plus.google.com/117235644077949816393/about Gyi Tsakalakis

    .02 more, you should consider adding your address and some disclaimer, terms, privacy language.

  • Daniel

    Josh,
    Just a heads up that the sub-articles links don’t work from http://camsonrigby.com/practice-areas/dui-crimes/ .

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/joshcamson/ Josh Camson

      Thanks! That’s what I get for trying to change my page slugs.

  • Lawrence

    Looks good. You may want to reconsider your description of your experience. I am sure you wrote the opinions for the judge you worked for but I doubt he would like to see it written on the web that you did. You can get your point across to your potential clients by saying you worked on whatever types of cases while clerking for the judge. Also, I would be weary of possible ethical issues with that. Not to say that you have done anything unethical or meant to. An upset client, however, could try to file a complaint against you one day saying he/she thought you were a judge or a hearing officer when hired because you wrote judicial opinions. Maybe I’m overly caution. I’d just be careful. Good luck. I’m enjoying the Shingle Life.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/joshcamson/ Josh Camson

      This is a very good point. I changed it to “drafted” which I think makes it clear that I just write up the drafts and then the judge edits them (which is how it actually works). I think it’s pretty clear that I just work for the judge though, and I’m not one.

      Thanks for the input.

      • Lawrence

        It still says that your wrote the opinion in different spots on your bio.

  • http://blog.simplejustice.us shg

    My experience with, and use of, websites is likely a bit different than some others. They generate low level cases, DUIs and shoplifting, for example. They rarely give rise to calls from defendants with serious crimes, who come via direct referral. However, the defendants with serious crimes (or a family member) will check out your website to verify whether you are the sort of lawyer they are looking for.

    The point is that the website that drives low level cases to your phone is a very different website than the one that makes defendants charged with serious crimes want to use you. When you first start out, you are more likely to want any case you can get, and are more than happy with calls for shoplifting. As you gain a bit of momentum and are ready to take the next step, you won’t want these calls and will wonder why more serious defendants aren’t calling.

    The content of your website isn’t likely (marketers notwithstanding) to bring you wealth and prestige, but it can limit your practice and chase away the very clients you hope to get. Keep this in the back of your head for when you’re ready to move forward.

    And change “wrote opinions” to “drafted opinions” immediately. You don’t need to start out pissing off one an ally.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/joshcamson/ Josh Camson

      Yeah, I already made that change. I had written “drafted” on Erick’s bio from the get-go, so I’m not sure why I wrote “wrote” in mine. Problem fixed.

      In your experience, how does one make that transition in terms of the website? I agree that the more serious cases will come from personal referrals. But as we get more experience under our belt we want to avoid chasing away the bigger clients. What are your thoughts on changes to make as the practice evolves? Besides of course simply deleting things we don’t want to handle anymore.

      • http://blog.simplejustice.us shg

        A great question, but too involved an answer for a comment.

    • Guest

      I don’t understand the point in wanting “defendants with serious crimes”. The seriousness of the crime usually has an inverse correlation with the ability to pay.
      The average CDL makes far more money from middle class people with DUIs than from big felonies.

  • http://www.websitesforlawyers.net Gary Victor

    Just because you can does not mean you should. Would it be wiser for me to represent myself in court or higher a professional attorney to best serve my interests? You can fix your own simple plumbing problems in your house but for a truly professional job – done to local code – you call a professional plumber.

    My point is that while you now have an online presence, I clearly identify a dozen “issues” with your site that only an experienced marketing and website design company would know to look for. These “issues” actually can hurt you more than help in both the vetting process and the search engine result.

    Yes on the screen you can see a website – but just like when you look at a legal contract you immediately know what should and should not be there, we know the same about websites.

    Frankly there are some things you should not do yourself and designing a website is one of them.

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

      It wouldn’t have been a bad idea for you to identify yourself as a web designer when making a comment advocating for people to hire web designers.

      • http://www.websitesforlawyers.net Gary Victor

        Agree but was concerned about turning the post into a commercial and thereby softening the message about DIY.

    • Lawrence

      After seeing Josh’s website I am more empowered to attempt creating my own. As pointed out by myself and other commenters the site needs some tweaks. But Gary you have stated that Josh has about a dozen issues and that these issues can hurt him. Can you please elaborate as to what these issues are and how they can hurt him?

  • http://www.liberty-lawyer.com/ Thomas C Gallagher

    I’ve created and maintained several websites for years. It isn’t that difficult. The most value comes from learning about how the web works, and how to optimimize your site, both on and off page. If you are considering this, i say do it! And remember “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” Getting something up, and then incrementally, continuously improve upon it. The web changes over time. Managing web sites is like gardening – regular attention is rewarded. No one will be as motivated to do it well as you will be.

  • http://ethicsmaven.com/ Eric Cooperstein

    Josh’s website will be just fine for his first 1 – 2 years of practice. If things are going well, they can upgrade then.

    I’ve done my own plumbing work, with success, when I have had more time than money, which is what most new lawyers have.

  • Guest

    Your name takes too much real estate at the top. Even with your nice logo, it is a waste.
    I would focus on the practice areas that you handle. I would put drop down menus at the top. On Thesis, you can make a drop down menu by by forming a WordPress category first and then going into the Thesis menu and clicking on categories there. I would also make it 2 columns with information and calls to action on the sides of each page.

    Your phone number should be prominent on the top and on every page, with the call to action (call for a free consultation) in larger font.

    • Guest

      Nevermind, I just found the drop down menus.

      Instead of “Practice Areas”, why not have DUI, Drugs, Domestic Battery, Theft, Felonies as separate headers, with drop down menus about each category in each.

  • http://www.websitesforlawyers.net Gary Victor

    There are two main purposes for a lawyer to publish a website:

    1) to support the referral vetting process
    2) to generate web based inbound new business and leads through being found in online searches

    Both have basic requirements; for the vetting process you want your website to convey your firm’s professionalism and not that you’re a do-it-yourself type of law firm. Think of this in this light… a teenager arrives to pick up your daughter for their first date, pulls up to your house in a dented, rusting broken down old vehicle that rattles and smokes. He gets out of the car in torn jeans and ripped t-shirt. He may be a terrific guy, but what’s your first impression?

    Now picture a well dressed teen arrives in a late model BMW – how does your first impression of this guy differ from the other? Well in many cases the first impression potential clients get of your firm is your website – what message do you want to convey to them??

    For the online search part, there are optimization tactics to help show up in Google, Yahoo & Bing searches. We build these into each of our sites automatically.

    Here’s a few of the missing ingredients on Josh’s site (FYI we typically are paid for this analysis just as you’d be paid for your time) and in the interest of helping here’s a few things to look for:

    * No Address on the top of the page
    * No contact phone number on the top of the page
    * No email access on the top of the page
    * No visual focal point on the entire page
    * No relevant content above the fold
    * No compelling call to action anywhere on the site

    For reference and to see these tactics in proper place, have a look at srglaw.net to view a well designed robust professional website, and Beeberelderlaw.com to view a more basic model of a professionally designed website.

    Regarding how a poorly designed website can do more harm than good, a poorly designed website could undermine your referrals by delivering a poor initial impression that hurts your firm’s creditably, and more importantly the search engines penalize bad websites. Once on that penalty list it takes a long time to get off and back into the good graces of the major search engines.

    I mean no disrespect to Josh or anyone in this group, but I do bristle when I see people that earns degrees, buy nice professional clothing, set up nice offices, due diligence on every other part of their business and then skimp on the marketing – which is exactly what a website is.

    • Guest

      SEO is like litigation. You are effectively litigating against Google. The spammers/optimizers make a move, Google makes a counter-move, the spammers/optimizers make a counter-counter move. It is actually much more interesting, and lucrative, than most of what passes for actual litigation.

      A good SEO guy is as important to a business as a good lawyer. I am a lawyer and I am taking the time to master SEO. If you aren’t taking the time to master SEO yourself, hire a good web designer/SEO guy.

      • Andrew

        Gary is partially right, but he missed the basics. Personally, I’d go against the guy who turned up in the BMW when I learnt he cared for it himself, didn’t use a qualified mechanic to make the sure the brakes worked all because he thought he could save a buck.
        What this bloke’s website lacks is credibility. It feels like someone trying to sell me a used car with the clock wound back, but hey, what would I know, maybe he is that kind of lawyer.
        It looks nice, agree the logo is overstated, but it is hot air with no sales proposition – why would I use these people… if in fact I can work out where they practice. Where does the shingle hang?
        I have been working with law firms for 18 years now, and I thought this dumb arrogance was disappearing from the profession as they began to understand that some other professions have value too.
        I’d be staggered if this website does anything other than attact a few tyre kickers (and only a few because no-one will ever find it) and make John Camson feel very clever and feed his over stated ego.

  • http://lawofficesofcarolynelefant.com/ Carolyn Elefant

    Your site looks fine – I designed my own website for my firm – but that was back in 1996 when there were few options. These days, you can get a designer from elance or odesk to install a custom template and have a site up and running for a few hundred dollars. I realize that is also expensive starting out, but but if the alternative is a really unattractive site (which is not the case with yours but others I’ve seen), that’s money well spent.

  • http://viviancrodriguez.com/ Vivian Rodriguez

    Other than the logo, which does seem to take a bit of real estate on the site, I think it’s fine as a starter site. But like Carolyn and others have suggested, eventually you may want to hire a professional to tweak it. Like you, I started out with a site I put up myself as a regular site (not on a blog platform); but last year I did get a professional to move it to a WordPress platform, with the same format that I had originally set up. It still wasn’t free since I spent $97 on an ebook about web design and marketing for professionals by Robert Middleton; I don’t know if he still offers it, but it was very helpful.

    As for SEO, I agree with the others who have posted about it not being difficult to learn, but it is an ongoing task if you are going to write your own content. The ability to control content and the ethics concern is also what motivated me to do the site myself.

  • NC

    I think your site is a very reasonable starting point. However, some of the suggestions made here have merit and you may eventually want to spend the money to revamp it.

  • bob D

    Josh, your web site is best yet, plenty of space, succinct, only i would
    put in at least one email add for chit chat or prelims, or whatever,
    otherwise reader might think you drive a horse and buggy and have
    yet to learn the niceties of law – is refreshing to see your site, clean and neat
    organized etc

  • Erin

    I think your website looks great. In fact, I like it more than the websites that were referenced as professionally done – maybe its just a personal preference factor. I have used some of the tips from these comments to improve my own self-made website. I dont have the extra money to hire someone, so for the time being it will have to do – but I do agree that its an important aspect to any business and I look forward to having mine revamped when I can.