Contributor: David Wells, J.D.
The United States is full of lawyers. More than one million lawyers are actively practicing law right now. Even when you remove lawyers who work in government, in-house counsel, and others who do not need to market themselves, the number of lawyers in this country is still quite staggering. These lawyers must find a way to attract business in an often-crowded field. At The Modern Firm, we spend considerable time working with our clients on branding, finding new and creative ways for lawyers to present themselves to potential clients.
Creating a compelling law firm website is an important part of the branding process. The internet is full of attorney websites, though. It is not enough to have a website that is filled with useful legal information, that showcases a lawyer’s impressive CV, or that presents it all in a unique and visually-appealing style. Your website should show potential clients who you are, not just as a lawyer, but as a person. Lawyers still have a reputation as stodgy people in suits, and many consumers still report being intimidated by us. Your website is your chance to let your personality shine. Here are some tips on how.
Let’s get a few lawyer clichés out of the way first. Certain visual elements are so completely associated with legal marketing that it is best to avoid them altogether. Your website can help you distinguish yourself if it leaves the following out:
To be a lawyer is to engage in a constant balancing act. You have ethical and fiduciary duties to provide quality service to your clients. At the same time, you have to run a business and make a living. These obligations come into conflict with one another far too often. The way lawyers market themselves often reflects this conflict. Attorney websites far too often become endless seas of disclaimers and puffy language about legal services.
If your target market consists of businesses who hire attorneys primarily based on reputation and résumé, this might work for you. Many consumers, including individuals, families, and even some businesses are not looking to hire a reputation. They are looking to hire a person who is a lawyer. They want someone human and approachable, who they can ask questions and share concerns, and who they believe will give them honest and informed answers.
An effective lawyer or law firm website should inform prospective clients about what you do, but it should also make you stand out from the crowd of lawyers. Just about every lawyer website has many pages in common, such as:
These pages and elements are standard for lawyer websites. The extent to which they are effective depends on how you use them to showcase who you are, what you do, and most importantly, why people should hire you. Six questions can help you find a way to use your website to demonstrate what makes you unique among all of your competitors.
As we mentioned earlier, how you present yourself on your website depends on who you want as clients. Some prospective clients want a stodgy, buttoned-down lawyer. Many lawyers, however, do not want the “stodgy” archetype to define them, because their ideal clients want a lawyer who is approachable and relatable. This is often especially true for lawyers who represent clients during difficult times like divorces, personal injuries, or criminal charges.
You know your ideal client best. We can help you learn more about your target market, and find the best ways to present yourself to those people or businesses.
Many potential clients want a lawyer who can relate to their problems. They do not want someone who will just spout the law at them and then send them a bill, but unfortunately that is how many people see our profession. They want someone who will help them with compassion and empathy (and only then send them a bill).
You can use your bio page, and other parts of your website, to talk about why you are a lawyer. By this, we mean to ask why you became a lawyer in the first place. What inspired you to consider a career in law? What motivated you to go to law school?
You can tell all or part of this story in the text of your bio. If you think it is appropriate, you can show it through photographs. Maybe you won your state debate championship in high school, and you have a great picture of yourself receiving the trophy. Everyone’s story is different, and while they may vary in how dramatic or photogenic they are, everyone has a story worth telling.
You went to law school, you graduated, and you passed the bar. All of that is implicit in the fact that you are a lawyer with a website. It is only part of your story. How did you get to where you are now? In other words, why are you a family, probate, estate planning, criminal defense, et cetera lawyer?
Again, your bio and the photographs you use can help you tell this story. You can also work it into your practice area pages. If one of your parents worked in construction or homebuilding, and the time you spent at construction sites while growing up inspired you to become a real estate attorney, that story can help potential clients get to know you. It can let them see your passion for what you do. Tell that story on your site. Show a photograph or two of a young version of yourself at a work site (wearing a hard hat, if possible).
A few other questions to consider here:
Let’s say you are a divorce lawyer. It may seem strange to ask how someone is passionate about divorce law, or how it brings them joy, but certain moments might make the many unpleasant parts worthwhile. Perhaps it is when two warring spouses finally come to an agreement, or maybe it is a client’s sigh of relief when the judge grants the divorce and the ordeal is over. Highlighting the good moments, even if they are rare, can help potential clients see that you truly are in this to help them.
We are champions of small firms. There is nothing more satisfying to us than helping our clients live more self-directed lives by having success with their law firm. But, beyond this personal benefit, many of our clients started their firm to do better by their clients, to create a firm that allows them to do more good for more people. Starting and operating a small practice is not for the faint of heart, yet all of our 1000+ clients have done it. So, why did you do it and why is what you created better than practicing for someone else? What constraints were removed, what processes and systems were you able to implement, how is the unique way you’ve crafted your firm better for your clients, team and yourself? This is important information to understand and convey and it typically comes out on a firm overview page or a page that highlights the strengths of the practice.
Now that visitors to your website know why you do what you do, they may still wonder why they should hire you instead of someone else. The story of why you are good at what you do is just as important as why you do it.
Here, you can talk about your experience, but do not just list victories or accolades. The fact that you have won [x] trials is impressive, but it only tells part of the story. What part of your experience makes you particularly good at your job?
It is not always about who has racked up the most wins, or who has the most Super Lawyer designations. Sometimes, it is about being attuned to the needs of a particular group of people, or even just being a good listener. It could be that you have assembled a skilled team who can offer specialized support to your clients. Maybe you have organized your office in some unique way, offering convenience or additional services to your clients.
You can use your page to demonstrate your distinct skill set. If you grew up around construction sites, maybe real estate law is in your blood. If you were a national champion debater, maybe you were born to argue for a cause. If you have past experience with the criminal justice system, maybe you bring a unique and empathetic perspective to criminal defense.
Now potential clients know what makes you unique among lawyers. That still might not make you any more approachable or less intimidating than all the lawyers out there who are not as interesting as you. Your potential clients still do not know who you are.
What sets you apart from the crowd? What is going on besides your career? Do you have hobbies? Are you passionate about certain causes? Do you do volunteer work in the community? Do you have any pets?
You want prospective clients to see your website and think “I would like to meet this person.” It is possible that someone who visits your site will be convinced to call you because of something not at all related to law. It could be because you share a hobby, or you both support a cause.
What would make a prospective client who is intimidated by lawyers feel comfortable with you? This is particularly important if your typical client is not used to dealing with lawyers, such as if someone needs to talk about a divorce or an alleged criminal charge. A little bit of candor about yourself could go a very long way towards building trust.
An important caveat here is that you do not want your website to show everything about who you are. You can include pictures that show you volunteering for causes you support, caring for your pets, or engaging in other hobbies (e.g. “the Ultimate Frisbee Attorney”). You probably should not include pictures that show exactly where you live, or that gives away other information about your family. Use good judgment, is the point.
You can work answers to these questions into every part of your website. You do not have to cram everything into your bio page, or relegate all the photos to a separate photo page. For example:
Your options are as vast as your imagination can conceive. We can help you create a website with a gestalt that markets your services while letting your personality shine throughout.