Stop Scaring Clients Away from Your Website

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Free: 10 Things the Best Law-Firm Website Designs Have in Common

For seven years, Lawyerist has published an annual list of the best law firm websites. Now, you can find out what they have in common.

Most people are equally happy walking into a lawyer’s office or a dentist’s for a root canal. Nobody wants to hire a lawyer. We are expensive, and hiring a lawyer usually means something has gone badly wrong — or that it might. At best, lawyers rise to the level of necessary evil in most potential clients’ minds.

Imagine a doctor putting up a billboard with a picture of himself shoving two fingers up a patient’s tailpipe, and counting on that to produce a flood of excited patients. (Most clients associate a similar image with the bill they expect from their lawyer, by the way.) A website filled with gavels, law books, and long resumes comes across like a similar promise of things to come, not an enticement to call.

That is lawyer advertising in a nutshell.

Those gavels and law books are the hallmarks of the legal profession. The scales of justice instantly brand you as a member of the bar. Which is not necessarily a good thing, because pretty much nobody likes lawyers — in the abstract, at least. However, as we often object, most people do like their lawyer. In other words, people may like an individual even if they dislike the profession. But those clichéd symbols of the law emphasize the profession over you, the individual lawyer.

if you want to attract clients, show visitors to your website who you are, instead of greeting them with the trappings of a profession of which they are — at a minimum — suspicious. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Step 1Get rid of the legal memorabilia. Gavels, law books, scales, courthouses, columns, blind Justice, etc. Oh, and get rid of that picture of you scowling at the camera in a pinstriped suit, too.

Step 2For most of you, Step 1 probably leaves you with a website that is just text. Good start. Work on that text. Get rid of all the stuff about where you went to law school and your Martindale rating. Nobody cares. If you must, put it on your CV and link to it from your attorney profile page, or make it available for download as a PDF for the two people who actually want it.

Step 3Show a little personality. Put a new picture of yourself — smiling — on the front page.

Step 4 In the first sentence on every page of your website, help visitors understand whether or not they came to the right place. Don’t make it about you; make it about your clients. (Put your mission statement and all that other stuff about how great you are somewhere else. Actually, put most of it in the trash. Your mission statement can go at the bottom of the page, if you insist on keeping it.)

Will this make you a better lawyer? Nope. Will it get you more visitors to your website? Probably not. But it might convince someone to call you instead of another lawyer. Pulling down off-putting visual metaphors can help make you more approachable, and the more approachable lawyer is more likely to get the call.

Updates

  • 2011-08-02. Originally published.
  • 2014-12-30. Revised and republished.

Featured image: “Golden scales of justice, gavel and books on brown background” from Shutterstock.

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  • I’m really confused. This is the complete opposite of what I learned from Big Legal Brain:

    http://biglegalbrain.com/2011/04/boost-your-web-site-with-cheesy-stock-images/

    • That guy really knows what he’s talking about. I’m not sure whether to believe me or not, at this point.

      • Jake Stern

        Believe yourself, Sam!

  • What is this “show a little personality” you speak of? Lawyers have personality?

  • The FindLaw websites all look very processed and stiff and in the end I believe they own the content under the contract.

  • My website is now up, but needs some additional work, but I think we can agree that it doesn’t look like your typical lawyer website. Nor does my office. Nor do I (for the most part). My office is about 10 minutes from the Atlantic Ocean. The area around me is resort-ish. My office has a beachy, but professional feel to it. You could be in any type of professional’s office, you just wouldn’t know what kind. No law memorabilia anywhere. When I meet my clients (family law, estate planning, and probate), I’m usually in khakis, sandals, and a polo. My cocker spaniel (RIP 6/21/11) greeted everyone at the door. My office has several areas in which to meet clients. I always let them select the area they feel most comfortable. For my practice areas, my geographic area, and my personality, this works for me. I’d suffocate in a typical lawyer office!

    • Laurie L

      Jan M McCray Flemmons — That’s truly awesome – khakis and sandals! You’ve turned a “good job” into a better/great one. I’m a legal assistant and tired of the whole conservative, look-the-part thing. Everyone gets ridiculously giddy when a firm allows casual Fridays. But even then, there are plenty o’ rules to follow in order to be casual. Hence, I just end up wearing my regular office garb, as I have an abundance of that type of clothing from 20+ years at firms in Calgary. And of course, there aren’t any beaches around here. P.S. It’s been 3 years since your post — did you ever get another office mascot to greet clients?

  • Justin Morton

    Good advice. I’m trying to build my website from scratch by myself. But I have such little computer knowledge that it is not going quite as well as I had hped. I suppose it is a work in progress. :)

    • Justin: As Gyi can tell you (from me calling him to help with my problems), getting a website together without a lot of computer knowledge can be long process. The best advice I can give you is to use WordPress and the Thesis theme. Both are pretty easy to use.

  • Ah… personality. Wasn’t that mostly driven out of us during law school? If the bios on most lawyers’ websites are anything to go by, it certainly went somewhere and hasn’t been seen since.

  • “Don’t make it about you, make it about your clients.” So true. When a prospective client visits your website, they’re not thinking about you, they’re thinkinga bout what you can do for them. Obviously, this means that the content on your website shouldn’t be about you, it should be about how you can help your prospect. Great post!

  • Jennifer Ellis

    I think that your post has excellent points, Sam. I would say that how you present yourself on your site and what pictures you choose to use are directly related to what kind of law you practice and what kind of market you want to reach. In every case, a stock photo of scales on the front page of your site is a bad idea.