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Thursday, March 13th, 2014 technology  research  practice

A Practice Tip

  • Practice

Are you thinking of building (or updating) your law firm’s website?

As my firm begins an overhaul of our ten-year old site, I’ve certainly learned it can be a bit of a daunting task.

Website-building for lawyers has become considerably more complicated over the last decade. The public has become much more sophisticated in its expectations of professional websites and the extension of law firms’ online presence, beyond websites to blogs and social media, creates challenges for firms seeking to maintain a consistent message and identity online.

There is no “one size fits all” solution or template that will meet every firm’s needs. Nonetheless, it will be a good idea to keep the following guidelines in mind when updating or building your law firm’s website:

  1. You are writing for people, not Google. Besieged as we may be by magical claims to the contrary from the search engine optimizing (SEO) industry, trust me on this – online success is not about keywords and inbound links alone. In fact, Google is increasingly less tolerant of those who try to game it with robot text and suspicious links. Speak to your real, human readers in your online text.  If you share your professional knowledge in your own user-friendly voice, your writing will inevitably be rich with search-engine-friendly keywords without you even trying – and people, along with search engines, will find you.
  2. Give real attention to your firm’s branding and your website’s graphic design. Identify your audience. Craft a central theme or message. Maintain positivity. Create a modern, crisp professional “look.” And frankly, consult with marketing and design professionals.
  3. Dare to be different. Avoid overused graphic cliches like briefcases, handshakes, pens poised to sign, and the ubiquitous scales of justice. Oh, and ambulances too – no ambulances, ok?
  4. Content remains king. Fill your website with high-level, plain-English legal information regarding your areas of practice and interest. The more content, the merrier. Not only will the public learn about the law from your website (and that is typically why they are searching online), the public will also be learning about your firm’s legal expertise.
  5. Integrate your website with your other social media properties. Prominently display links to your blog, LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter pages, especially if they are frequently updated with new posts. If you have blog posts that are relevant to your areas of practice, make them easy to find on your website.  Try to maintain consistent branding, logos and design themes across all platforms.
  6. Use photos and video.  The best modern legal websites often feature compelling images and topical video presentations to create interest, demonstrate competencies and enhance readability. Use multimedia to reach a wider audience and build on your firm’s central messages.
  7. Navigation should never be an afterthought. Ensure it is easy to get to key pages on your website from your home page – and from every page.
  8. Get professional headshots done and be creative with your firm’s professional biographies. Ensure that you include contact information, Skype particulars and an email link with each biography. Make it easy for clients and prospective clients to reach you.
  9. Keep it real. Your firm’s online personality should be authentic and it should closely align with your firm’s genuine offline character. Identify your firm’s strengths and points of difference – whether they involve client service, specific competencies, or your lengthy history of successes – and tactfully emphasize them online. Don’t try to clone someone else’s online presence. Above all, be yourself on your website.
  10. Consider including a password-protected client portal on your website.  Client portals can be employed to enable clients to retrieve documents and perform accounting functions online.  This is the way of the future.  In the decade ahead our websites will increasingly become hubs of interaction, communication and professional activity, rather than educational and marketing vehicles, alone.  Needless to say, if you intend to be an early-adopter in this direction, ensure you have the best professional guidance on maintaining security in all transactions and interactions.
  11. Ethics, ethics, ethics. Your law society’s professional conduct rules provide regulatory guidance on the do’s and don’ts of legal marketing and online professionalism. In short, read the Rules applicable to your province or territory and take them to heart. When you follow them, you make your firm – and all of  us – look good.

Happy web designing.

– Garry J. Wise, Toronto (@wiselaw on Twitter)

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