When a client asks a lawyer for a "simple" estate plan, divorce, or employment agreement, experienced ones know that "simple" probably isn't the right word. The same is true for law firm websites. Lawyers often want their website to do things that sound simple, but with a little education they begin to understand that "simple" isn't the right word here either.
We've learned that what lawyers really appreciate is having a simple relationship with their web people. They want a partner who understands, anticipates and swiftly handles their needs without requiring them to be experts in website development.
Here are the most common features lawyers expect from a "simple website" and why they're not as simple as they appear.
No website today should be created without integration into a Content Management System (CMS) for easy editing. This is a must-have feature. It's like the difference between writing on a typewriter vs computer. A firm may want the site to be on a popular and open-source CMS like WordPress, which is what we use, or they may be enticed to use a proprietary CMS from another website developer they end up using. Either way, this adds a layer of complexity because now there is a piece of software, a database and possibly specific website hosting requirements in the mix.
CMS software also needs ongoing maintenance to address security threats and changes in technology. Finally, there is licensing and ownership to consider. A firm may own the website design, artwork and content, but if it doesn't own or have license to the CMS, that could present a problem down the road. CMS ownership issues with companies like FindLaw and LexisNexis are a huge reason for our website rescue service.
We regularly observe that 20-40% of law firm website visitors use mobile devices, so having a mobile friendly law firm website is a must. Mobile usage is very fragmented, the number of mobile device models, screen sizes, operating systems and web browsers exceed 40,000 combinations! We believe that responsive design is the best way to handle this challenge. With responsive design there is just one website, but it detects the visitor's screen size and instantaneously adapts the menus, graphics, layout, font sizes and design elements to work with the available screen real estate.
The hardest part to responsive design is planning for all of the ways the website will change as the screen size changes. This requires imaginative design and advanced programming skills. Otherwise, someone's head will be hidden behind a menu button, a graphic may flow off the screen or the fonts may be unreadable.
Websites can't just look great, they have to contain meaningful, impactful and persuasive words. Most lawyers are good legal writers, but no formal training when it comes to marketing, branding, and website copywriting. They also don't know how to navigate the tricky relationship between website content and search engine rankings.
Handing off the copywriting to us or asking for editorial advice is hard for lawyers because they're smart, can-do people. So are surgeons, but could one of them write a successful motion or appeal? Skills aside, is website copywriting the best use of a lawyer's limited time?
We have a whole section on our website dedicated to this topic. Short version: If a firm just wants their website found when people search for them by name (i.e. referrals) then they're in good shape. If the firm wants more, then we've probably got some work to do. And depending on goals and location, it might be a heck of a lot of work. Start learning more about this on our law firm marketing services section.