8 Takeaways and Trends from Viewing the Websites of the 100 Largest Law FirmsBy Burkey Belser
September 11, 2015
LAW FIRM SITES ARE JUST NOW MAKING A TRANSITION FROM "ALL ABOUT ME" TO "ALL ABOUT YOU"
"We hope our catalog and review of website best practices for the 200 largest professional service—http://sitevisits.gbltd.com/—helps you spot trends, see how you measure up, and unearth recipes for success."
Last week we introduced site visitsSM, this week we're focused on law firm sites. With the largest 100 law firm sites in hand, you can’t expect uniform quality. Most law firm sites (including well below the AmLaw 100) still focus on “me,” “news about me,” “events from me” and “more about me.” Now and then, we are seeing things important to “you,” the client, appear on legal websites—a tilt in the right direction.
1. The brand promise is all but invisible.
There are so many ways to alert the visitor to your brand promise. A tagline is a good start but not if it’s left alone at the bar with the logo. A brand promise needs to get out on the dance floor with the content. Like Polsinelli, it is important to weave the promise into headlines and reinforce it with imagery that reinforces the message. Law firms are clearly struggling with how to stand apart form the competition. Homepages seem to be run by the news anchor and not the brand manager. Beyond the homepage, the message collapses altogether.
2. Law firms are toying with thought leadership.
Research tells us consistently that clients want expertise and value above all else. Who in the legal industry is confirming their expertise? Only Fulbright & Jaworski has invested consistently in thought leadership over the years with its litigation trends report. Now that it’s joined Norton Rose, we should expect even more client-centric thinking—but, for the most part, that line item does not appear on the legal marketing checklist. Accounting firms, particularly the Big Four and now the Accounting Eight, figured this out years ago. Time to catch up.
3. Why does no one read the content?
We say this all the time: no one reads the content because the content looks hard to read and it is hard to read. Practice descriptions are, for the most part, wasted words in spite of the blood and sweat invested in the prose. Yet we are beginning to see short, crisp descriptions bolstered by visual aids (see below) that are convincing and engaging. Expect to see a few winners in this parade of 100 law firm websites.
4. When words are your business, watch out!
In business and elsewhere we no longer have (if we ever had) readers, we have scanners. We see a few sites adopting charts, images, tables, maps and videos to share substantive information graphically, but most sites are cascading walls of words. The best sites move from text heavy to visually balanced. When websites are really and truly valued by law firms, this will change. Pepper Hamilton's biographies are a nice example of optimal balance.
5. Imagery is stock imagery. Uninspired budgeting.
There is a role for stock images on websites and in all of a firm’s collateral. Original photography or illustration for every instance is just cost prohibitive. But we want to remind everyone reading this that it was not always so. Before the Internet, organizations budgeted for imagery and smart marketers built differentiated brands on their imagination and that of their artistic partners. We have allowed ourselves to become image shufflers—and the results show it.
6. The best of Hollywood is yet to come.
Will anyone watch a seven minute video about why life is great at a firm? Not likely... We applaud the rise in video just as much as we have grown leery of having to watch it. Research tells us we lose half of our viewers after 30 seconds. We’ll watch much longer episodes if they are “real,” authentic, have a voice and tell a story with a beginning, middle and an end. It’s not about high production values so much as creativity and simple courtesy for the viewer. Choate rises to the challenge in its video dominant careers site.
7. You are now here. You are now here. You are…
Smartphones and tablets caught us all off guard a few years ago. We still haven’t caught up across the industry but we know it’s on everyone’s list. Bravo.
8. Convention, meet invention.
For the most part, law firm websites are like a 30-year class reunion. On the one hand, it’s hard to believe that one looks so bad. On the other hand, that one looks terrific! We guess if you care about “stayin’ alive” and not just keeping on, you’ll invest in yourself. We believe it’s worth it.