You should probably have a law firm website. A website is sort of like having a business card — a necessary part of being a professional who is open for business. Many many lawyers have been told this but never seem to have thought past it. Why should you probably have a website for your law firm?
At a minimum, you need a website so that potential clients can learn about you, get in touch with you, and find you. When I write find you, by the way, it means directions to your office, not necessarily search engines. That is because many, if not most, of the potential clients who might hire you are going to want to find out more about you before they contact you. And the way everyone finds out more about things is the Internet. Having a website is no guarantee of anything, but if you don’t have a decent one, people are probably going to contact the next lawyer on their list, instead of you.
Your website is often the first service you provide to your potential clients. It gives them a preview of your personality, your attention to detail, and your ability to communicate. (Which may be completely inaccurate, of course, which is why it is important to make sure you can deliver on the promises your website makes.)
So this article is not a marketing manifesto. It is about making sure your website satisfies the basic reasons for its existence — the reasons potential clients want it to exist:
- Your contact information
- A front page that helps visitors figure out whether they are in the right place
- Your picture and bio
If your website has these three things, it’s good enough, even if it looks like an old codger with no design sense reluctantly slapped it together with GoDaddy’s Website Builder (yes you can do this, and no it is not a great idea).1
1. Contact information
The most-important function of your website is to make it easy for potential clients to contact you. That means your phone number, email address, and physical address should all be easy to find. Put your phone number and a contact form near the top of every page of your website, and make sure your contact page has your physical address, a map, and other useful information about getting to your office (parking, directions within the building, etc.).
Make sure your contact information is easy to find and use from a smartphone or tablet, too. People who visit from a phone, for example, are more likely to want to touch your phone number and call, rather than filling out your contact form with their thumbs. But not on a tablet, where making a phone call is all but impossible. Or on a desktop, where filling out a contact form or sending an email is generally easiest. (You don’t have to use a contact form, but a contact form allows people without an email address to send you a message instead of calling.)
Whatever you do, do not treat your website’s mobile design as an afterthought. About 20–25% of the visitors to websites in our Sites network are using a phone or tablet, and that percentage is increasing. Some designers even advocate mobile-first design, as a reflection of the importance of mobile devices. The point of considering mobile first is to ensure that mobile visitors aren’t given a chopped-down version of your website. Many mobile visitors may never visit from a desktop, which means the only impression of your firm they will get before they contact you (if they contact you) will be based on what your website looks like on their phone.
Put your key contact information — your phone number and a contact form — right up top where visitors to your website can’t miss them. Make sure your contact page has the rest of your contact information, along with useful information like an embedded map from Google Maps, parking, bus routes, and anything else that will help people get to your office. Finally, make sure your website emphasizes the phone number to smartphone visitors.
2. A front page that helps visitors figure out if they are in the right place
Most potential clients, unless they are seasoned lawyer-hirers, are not nearly as familiar as you are with the process of hiring a lawyer. They probably found your website because someone told them that you could help them, or they found it on their own while looking for someone who can help them. The number one question on their mind, then, is probably “Can this lawyer actually help me?”
In the first sentence on the front page, you should answer that question, and in language that your potential clients will understand. The last part is key. Compare the following:
- “The Smith Law Firm sues debt collectors under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.”
- “We stop debt collection harassment.”
The first is not awful, especially when compared with most lawyers’ web sites, but it requires visitors to have a good, working knowledge of the remedies they may have (suing a debt collector) and the laws that apply to their situation (the FDCPA), when they may see their problem in simpler terms (I need to deal with this debt). The second is much more clear.
Strive for clarity.
Sum up who you help in one sentence, and make it the first sentence on your front page. Put the focus on the clients you help, not on yourself or your practice areas. Instead of selling yourself by talking up your skills and experience, start by helping visitors to figure out if your firm is the right one.
This may seem like it would be difficult for firms with multiple, unrelated practice areas. It may be, but many of those firms also have a single client profile for those practice areas. For example, your list of practice areas may all be things you do for small businesses. Or for the soon-to-be-divorced. Or for those dealing with end-of-life legal matters.
Or, your firm may be large enough that you really do have a variety of client profiles. In that case, consider creating a landing page for each type of client, with a link from your front page that helps guide visitors to the right place (again, by identifying the type of client, not focusing on a practice area).
3. Your picture and bio
After the front page, the most-visited page on your website will probably be your bio. That was true for 85% of the law firms that responded to LexisNexis’s survey, and it is true for most of the law firm websites in our Sites network.
Potential clients want to “meet you” before they contact you. That means your first chance to make an impression comes before you have a chance to speak to or correspond with anyone.
So put some effort into your bio page.
First, your bio page should have a good photo of you. It pays to hire a professional photographer for this, and to update it every few years so that your photo is at least a reasonable approximation of your current appearance.
Second, do not simply recite your work experience or where you went to law school. From Matt Homann:
Various elements of your CV are certainly important to some clients. But that does not mean they should be the main features of your bio page. Instead, introduce yourself to your readers. From Bob Ambrogi:
I like bios that are written as if they were mini profiles for a newspaper or magazine. … [T]hey should have a theme and that theme should be developed around the characteristics that distinguish you.
Ambrogi says clients really want to know if you are the right lawyer for them:
- Do you have experience doing exactly what I need?
- What kind of work are you really good at?
- What do your clients think of you?
Your bio should answer these questions, and do so using objective information. It is more powerful to point to actual victories than to call yourself a great lawyer. It is more powerful to say that an international directory ranked you as a top lawyer than it is to give yourself that label.
If you are inexperienced, do not try to hide it. Your inexperience is part of who you are as a lawyer, and you can acknowledge it without emphasizing it. You can probably even spin it as a benefit; plenty of people want to hire a “young go-getter,” after all. Leaving out your graduation date may not be ethical misconduct, but it is definitely part of who you are as a lawyer.
As for your CV, move it to a sidebar, put it below your introduction, or put it on its own page, where potential clients who want to read it, can.
Make it professional
Finally, it should go without saying, but your website should be professional. (This is true, by the way, for everything about your law practice. Whatever professional means to you should be reflected in every aspect of your practice.) You do not have to hire a professional in order to get a professional-looking website, but unless you are at least a skilled amateur, it is a good idea.
Similarly, you may want to work with a copywriter when drafting the copy for your website. Legal writing and writing copy for a law firm website are not closely-related skills. That said, do not simply turn your website copy over to a third party.
Regardless who builds your website or drafts the copy, you are responsible for it, so you need to work with your copywriter and web designer and sign off on the final product.
Scott Greenfield’s website may not be pretty — this is almost certainly intentional — but it has the elements discussed in this article, and then some. ↩