Ten seconds is about how long you have to convince the average visitor to your law firm website to stick around. That is just about long enough to read one sentence — so it better be a good one.

Visitors Make Snap Judgments

Microsoft Research recently published research showing that visitors to a web page tend to make a quick decision about whether to stay or go. If you want to know what a Weibull distribution is, read Jakob Nielsen’s analysis. If you just want the gist of the research, take a look at this graph:


Basically, visitors are most likely to leave during the first 10 seconds, but if a visitor sticks around for about 30 seconds, they are likely to stick around to read more. In other words, you have about 10 seconds to convince someone to keep reading or click over to another page on your website (which resets the stopwatch).

Your Law Firm Website’s First 10 Seconds

Open the stopwatch on your phone and pull up your website. Don’t look at it yet, though. Pretend you are visiting your website for the first time — or better yet, find someone who has never visited your website and look over their shoulder. Start the stopwatch as soon as you open your eyes (or just hide your website under a blank browser tab until you are ready to start the stopwatch). At 10 seconds, stop, and make a note of how far you got.

Did you come across anything interesting enough to click on get you to keep reading during that 10 seconds?

If not, go to work on your website.

The First Sentence

If many of the people who visit your law-firm website will decide to stay or go based on the first sentence, it had better be a good one. That is true whether the first sentence is a tagline, a text overlay on your header image, or the first sentence in a block of copy. And if your first sentence is so buried that it takes longer than 10 seconds to get to it, make sure that what visitors can see in 10 seconds is pretty awesome, or else redesign your website.

Copywriter Cari Twitchell points out that it is not just the first sentence on your website’s front page: “you never know where a client may land when they come to your website … the first sentence on every page matters.”

Unfortunately, there is no formula for the perfect first sentence, but Gyi Tsakalakis recommends Matt Homann’s “Haiku of What You Do”:

Who do I help? (Answer in Five Words)
What do I do for them? (Answer in Seven Words)
Why do they need me? (Answer in Five Words)

Here is an example:

I help small business owners
incorporate their businesses and protect their assets
so they can sleep better.

The Haiku of What You Do is a good approach because it answers one of the main things a potential client visiting your website for the first time probably wants to know: whether you can help them. Few law firm websites do a good job of answering this simple question. Instead, they tend to be all about how great the lawyer is and a list of practice areas.

The main thing to remember, says Cari, is that “your website isn’t about you — it’s about your prospective clients.” Keep that in mind when writing copy for it. Focus on helping visitors to your website figure out if you can help them. Don’t just write about yourself.

Write Like a Normal Person

Lawyers have an unfortunate tendency to make everyday conversations sound like police reports. This is not particularly effective in any setting, but it is particularly bad when it comes to websites, where the goal is communication, not obfuscation.

For example, words commonly used to describe types of law practices, like boutique and virtual, are meaningless to most people. Irrelevant, too, for the most part. Stock law-firm-website phrases like innovative, compassionate, and aggressive are equally meaningless and irrelevant, as well as a bit cliche. And of course the most cliche of all is talking about how hard you will fight for your clients, which sounds more disingenuous the more strenuously you assert it.

To figure out if you are writing like a normal person, read your website copy out loud. Better yet, find a sixth grader to read it out loud. If he or she stumbles on any of the words or giggles when saying them, use different words. Or try reading it out loud yourself when you are exhausted and bleary-eyed after a long day. Because as Rocket X1’s Larry Port points out, your first sentence needs to be “abundantly clear to someone surfing the web half-asleep at 11 p.m.”

Make Those 10 Seconds Count

No matter what you come up with, go back to the exercise above after you think you have got your first sentence just right. Now do you think you would click a link to another page on your website or keep reading? When you can confidently answer yes, you can call the job done.

To see whether it worked, keep an eye on your website’s bounce rate and time on site over the next month or so. If your new first sentence was an improvement, the bounce rate should go down1 or the time on site should go up, or both.

Originally published 2014-06-19. Last updated 2015-11-27.

Featured image: “Man working at night lying down on sofa in the living room with tablet” from Shutterstock.

  1. A lower bounce rate means fewer people left after viewing only one page on your site. 


  1. Avatar Jonathan Kleiman says:

    Would love to hear people’s thoughts on my prima facie message: http://www.jkleiman.com/

    • Avatar Sam Glover says:

      Which sentence or phrase on your website do you think is the first sentence? “Call now for a free consultation!”?

      • Avatar Jonathan Kleiman says:

        Yea, I do think it’s that. Then followed by some titles of things that I do

        ie. (1) Call now for a free consultation! (2) [for] small claims, contracts and agreements, business relationships, etc.

        • Avatar Sam Glover says:

          Then I don’t think it’s a very good one. Your ideal client is anyone who wants a free consultation about whatever?

          • Avatar Jonathan Kleiman says:

            Not ‘whatever’. But I’m split between corporate law and litigation (mostly small claims) (“Small” means up to $25k in my jurisdiction)

            • Avatar Alex says:

              Jonathan – I think one sentence in a bright text color, maybe yellow or green, would be better than “call now” with 4 boxes of equal size below describing 3 practice areas. Something like “Just because it’s called a small claim, doesn’t mean it’s not important to you. Let me fix it. Experienced small claims lawyer gets you what you’re owed. It’s the principle.” Something like that but better. Also, I think a picture of you would be a good addition–the pictures you have are way down on the page.

              Also, it looks to me like you have 3 niches not one. So you’re small claims, contracts, and corporate law. I think it’s hard to be a solo with multiple messages on your landing page. I haven’t cracked that nut yet.

              I hope this is constructive. I like your website. I’m worried that my website’s one sentence call to action is a little informal: http://tetonattorney.com/

              • Avatar Jonathan Kleiman says:

                I like your one-liner but i’d throw on a tie if it were me.

              • Avatar Jake Stern says:

                The font on your tagline has issues with character spacing (cf. MON and EY) and scale (that ampersand.) Also, – LAWYER UP! , while enthusiastic, may come across as cheesy in a first impression–maybe better suited for closing. Good otherwise, though your second photo looks better than your first.

                • Avatar Alex says:

                  Thanks, Jake. I struggled with the one liner for a while. I think “lawyer up” is a a little cheesy too. I plan to revise it once I think of a better way to link the idea of protecting time/money/reputation with hiring a lawyer.

          • Avatar Jonathan Kleiman says:

            In a way, I guess I do. I do quick in-person consultations. Some of my best clients have been referrals from people who I was able to point in the right direction for free in 5 minutes.

            • Avatar Jonathan Kleiman says:

              (oops… you need a real estate lawyer. but now you’ve met a very helpful corporate lawyer, for when you need one. Wait, your client owes you money? Let’s send a demand letter and see what happens)

    • Avatar static says:

      Your opening line is PERFECT! You’re a small claims lawyer, and with the opening, you own it.Of course, if you ever want to be anything other than a small claims lawyer, maybe it’s not quite so perfect.

      • Avatar Jonathan Kleiman says:

        Thanks. I do want more. I want to be a small claims firm staffed with 100 paralegals. A niche is a niche is a niche.

        • Avatar Jonathan Kleiman says:

          Ok, I’ve updated the opening line. It now says “Corporate Law and Litigation Lawyer”

          I also added “New Businesses: Ask About our Free Domain Offer!”

          In the spirit of Google who started selling domains on the basis that it found that 55% of business owners don’t have em.


    • Avatar Ryan Bowman says:

      Took a quick look, Jonathan. It’s a nice and simple message that gets the point across.

      If I could comment on your overall look, it’s a bit dark and all the text might scare people away in the crucial first 5 seconds. What about adding a picture in view before scrolling to add visual interest?

      How about adding a location to the home page that you target? I see Toronto in your page title. This will help people and search engines determine your target market.

      Good luck.

  2. Avatar Mary Ibbetson says:

    Ten seconds is about how long you have to convince the average visitor to your law firm website to stick around. That is just about long enough to read one sentence — so it better be a good one.
    Visitors Make Snap Judments
    (judgements? – or maybe it was meant to catch my eye and get me to stick around and read the rest of the blog!)

  3. Avatar Ryan Bowman says:

    Great reminder, and as the graph shows, the majority of visitors leave in the first 5 seconds (much shorter than 10 seconds). It’s so important to evaluate your site in this way. I sometimes substitute text with an interesting picture, animated GIF, or Youtube video to get people to stick around for the extra 5 seconds to get them hooked.

    A sentence doesn’t always do it but on a small business (or laywer) page, I always encourage clients to include a short phrase to state very clearly who they are and what they do

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