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Corporate Law Firm Website Design Considerations

Ken Gaebler

Best Practices for Law Firm Website Design and Development
Firms that design law firm websites know that there are many essential building blocks to create a great law firm website.

Designing an effective corporate law firm website is an art that must leverage fundamental website design principles filtered through the lens of how Global 3000 executives and their general counsel procure corporate legal services.

This discussion of law firm website development best practices assumes that we are designing or redesigning a website for a law firm that caters to large organizations, not to the SMB market or to individuals. The strategies would differ significantly for law firms targeting those markets.

Know Who You Are and Articulate It Well

Delusion and misunderstanding are not good starting points for building a law firm website. Rather, the first step in building a law practice website is to candidly assess why clients hire your law firm and, on the flip side, why they don't hire your law firm.

What are your key strength areas? What are your weaknesses? What are your accomplishments that showcase your strengths? Why should somebody choose you over a competing law firm?

Law firm partners can sit in a room, introspectively discussing strengths and weaknesses. This is a healthy exercise, but it is only part of the picture. Existing clients and prospective clients must also weigh in on the assessment. At the end of the day, the client perspective is what matters most, and the attorneys we work with are often surprised to learn that the client perspective differs significantly from their own. Always ask for an outside opinion!

By identifying strengths that are valued by clients, you can begin to create statements of competitive differentiation that include credibility-building proof points.

What's the role of statements of competitive differentiation? Without a concise and impactful articulation of what makes you different from competing law firms, there's no compelling reason for a client to go with you rather than a competitor. Equally relevant, if a prospective client doesn't think you are any different from all the other firms, you'll be viewed as a commodity, which means you won't be able to charge the premium hourly rates you undoubtedly deserve to earn. The bottomline? It's critically important to define your differentiation and to promote it on your law firm website.

What's the role of the proof points I mentioned above? Well, it's not enough to say you are great at something, you need to be able to prove it. Otherwise, you are at risk of being grouped with the pretenders, those who take a "fake it until you make it" approach to building up their law practice.

Law Firm Audience Assessment Is Critical

You'd think that once you had a good assessment of your law firm strengths in hand and some fact-backed statements of your law firm competitive differentiation, you could start to build out your law firm website and write the copy. Nope. Not yet. There's still a lot of work to be done.

For starters, the generic group "people who visit our website" has to be broken down into niche law firm audiences that matter. Are purchasers of intellectual property litigation legal services identical to purchasers of corporate restructuring legal services? Not at all.

Each of your prospective law firm client types may have distinct needs and wants. List out your unique audiences (by practice area, industry, job title, matter type, etc.) and think through whether the firm-level messaging you've developed needs to be fine-tuned to address the niche market. Your best results will come when you market at the niche level, not at the firm level. It makes sense because you are catering to individual needs, rather than throwing "one size fits all" marketing at anybody you encounter.

List Out the Objectives for Each Law Firm Audience

When somebody visits your law firm website, what do you want to happen and what do they want to happen?

It's a simple question but many embark on a law firm site redesign project without thinking through the law firm's objectives, practice area objectives, and the objectives of the individual attorneys. They also don't put themselves into the shoes of the site visitor to think through what they want to get out of the website.

Listing out these objectives is critical. By referencing these objectives throughout the law firm website development process, you can determine if you are getting the job done right.

We've Only Just Begun

By following the simple but important advice I've outlined above, you've got the foundations in place to build a great law firm website. These elements -- the law firm's positioning, competitive differentiation messages, niche audiences and key objectives -- should all be documented in writing in the Functional and Business Requirements document that is the blueprint for the law firm website's construction.

Countless to-do's and decisions remain. To be sure, there's much more to include in the Functional and Business Requirements document, but there are also many decisions to make. What should be featured on the law firm home page? How will the law firm's site rank well in the search engines? Should attorneys write their own bios or should a copywriter craft them? How long should law firm attorney bios be? Should past and current client names be mentioned to build credibility? Where should attorney and law firm awards be highlighted? What adjectives can be added to copy to build confidence in a law firm's capabilities? How many words should be on any given page? What types of imagery should be used? How will the law firm website navigation be structured to draw niche audiences down a distinct path and allow the site visitor (and the firm) to accomplish their objectives?

It's too much to cover in this short article, but suffice it to say that there are some law firm design best practices that apply to these questions. When you look at the best law firm websites, you can tell that they had a good understanding of what it takes to build a great law firm website. Others give the impression that they don't view their website as a strategic asset and are just happy to have finished the project.

Designing a great law firm website is more important than you might think. I, and all of your would-be clients, equate a mediocre law firm website with a mediocre law firm. If you can't get the website right, can you adequately handle my company legal matters? On the other hand, if your site is well-structured and well-organized, surely the attorneys are well-organized.

Does it make sense that your legal talents are judged by how good your law firm's website looks and how well it is written? Think about some of the job interviews you've conducted recently. If the candidates is neatly dressed and articulate, do you assume they are better than the slob candidate who stumbles over his or her words? You bet you do.

First impressions matter, and your law practice website is the most prominent first impression that you convey to your prospective law firm clients. You and your firm will be judged based on your site, so be sure to put your best foot forward and dress for success.