7 Website Mistakes Law Firms Make

Whether you know it or not, your law firm wesite may be making a crucial mistake that can result in turning off potential clients or, at worst, violating your state’s legal ethics rules. These seven elements to avoid will ensure your law firm website effectively reaches potential clients and complies with applicable attorney ethics rules.

1. Speaking in Legalese

Avoid using legalese terms on your website. Your website is for your client.

Often, attorneys create content for their websites with their experiences in mind. When writing content, you may fall back on the jargon and language you’re accustomed to every day as a practicing attorney. But, this isn’t the jargon that most people understand. Boasting about your most recent “successful motion for summary judgment and dismissal” will not be as appealing as to a client as “the judge threw out the other side’s case, saving our client the expense of trial.”

When you’re reading motions and case law all day, sometimes it’s hard to snap out of legal writing mode and start relating to clients in a way they can understand.

How do we fix this?

This problem can be answered with the first question that you should ask yourself when making a website – who is the target audience?

You have or want to make a website. Take a step back and look at the big picture. What is the point of the website? To attract clients. How do we attract clients? By appealing to them and speaking their language.

Step Back, Ask Yourself: Who Do I Want To Read This Content? Prospective Clients or My Colleagues?

Create content that can be read and understood by these potential clients. A majority of clients will not be as familiar with the law as a seasoned attorney or even someone who’s been through law school. So don’t forget that you’re writing content for them. In your appeal, these clients have to understand why it is they should hire you. If they can’t understand your accomplishments and abilities, they’ll go somewhere else.

One recommendation is to have a non-attorney friend read over the content on your website and give you honest feedback. They’ll be able to point out language that they and other clients won’t be able to understand.

2. Website Looks Like a Copied Template

Uninteresting Website Using the Same Old Template

There are plenty of free or inexpensive legal website templates out there on the Internet. Some sites may tell you they can build a custom website for you in a short amount of time. But when the website is delivered, take a look and compare it to other law firm websites. Does it look exactly like other attorneys’ websites but with a different color scheme?

There are many different website building and hosting companies that target the legal industry. They claim to know the industry better than anyone else because they are working in this niche of legal services. And, they use this niche “expertise” to charge clients a premium for their website building and hosting services. However, when it’s all said and done, you wind up with a website for your law firm that looks exactly like everyone else’s.

How does this happen? Cheap templates. Many website building companies use and reuse the same website templates over and over again, changing the firm names, pictures, and biographies, while keeping many of the same pages and site structure. It saves them time and cost, but they still charge you for a site built from the ground up.

How do we fix this?

Do your due diligence on your website building company. Get quotes from several website building companies. If a quote seems too good to be true – it may be. Ask your website builders about their process. Ask them straight out if they build their sites based on existing templates or will do a completely custom-built site from scratch. With all the information you get, you can make a more informed decision.

3. Going Overboard on the Typical Lawyer Stock Images

Law Firm and Lawyer Stock Images, USA Flag, Gavel, Constitution, Scales, Justice

So your site has a picture of the courthouse… and a gavel… and the scales of justice… and the blind judge.

Guess what? Every other attorney website has this too. This makes your firm much less unique and unmemorable to the client who browses several firm websites before picking his/her lawyer.

Using these images won’t help your firm stick out and may even hurt you, as clients will be turned off by this cliche imagery they see all over the Internet.

How do we fix this?

Instead of pictures of overused and cliche images, replace them with interesting lawyers-in-action sort of shots: pictures of your firm meeting with clients (who give their consent), your attorneys in court, working on cases. Even include images of your firm office (provided that it looks appealing) and posed pictures of your staff.

In legal writing classes the instructors tell students “show, don’t tell.” Gavels and cliche images tell people you’re a lawyer. Show clients that you are a lawyer with unique content that demonstrates this.

4. Not Demonstrating Your Strengths

Many attorney websites don’t sell the attorneys’ skills to their clients. They often have a Practice Areas page noting that the firm handles DWI, family law, or estate planning matters, but does nothing more to convince the client that they should use the firm’s services.

Or, attorneys think that they have enough information about their skills because they have an attorney bio page for every member of the firm. This doesn’t do enough to pitch clients on your expertise, however. Clients don’t read meticulously through the attorney bios, which read like resumes.

This little information about your firm’s expertise may not be convincing enough to a potential client who is likely looking at several firms and sees how your competitors’ websites look like treatises on your practice area.

How do we fix this?

The website is a marketing tool for attorneys. This is your opportunity to tell clients why they should go with your services. Educate your client on why they should choose you as their attorney.

Increase the amount of content you have on your site, going into detail. Convince the client that you are an expert.

Highlight your achievements. Tell us about that time you won a big case. How much did you win for your clients?

Write a blog if you don’t already do so. Create content for your website where you discuss the latest cases and legislation affecting your practice area. This demonstrates to the client that you know what you are talking about and will be a skilled lawyer when handling their case.

5. Lack of Attorney Advertising Disclaimers and Ethics Compliance

Law Firm Website Ethics Compliance Attorney Advertising Disclaimer

Legal websites are regulated by the legal profession. Just as public companies have to make certain disclosures on their websites, attorneys must also make disclosures on their websites, the content of which may vary by jurisdiction.

Legal ethics rules apply to websites. Your website is a marketing tool to sell your firm’s services to clients, so you must be careful that you don’t unknowingly violate state legal ethics rules by creating a website yourself and not realizing that the ethics rules apply or by having a website building company create a website for you and forget to include the necessary disclosures.

How do we fix this?

1. Look up your state legal ethics rules as they apply to attorney advertising.
2. Add the necessary disclosures required by the ethics rules.
3. Remove any content from your website that violates the ethics rules.

As an example, in a later post I will briefly cover New York’s ethics rules pertaining to websites.

In short, read your state ethics rules because you will likely need website disclaimers.

6. Lack of SEO

Even if your website cosmetically looks great, your clients may not be able to find you. When you search for your firm, it should be the first result people find. Instead, do they find results from websites like Manta.com, Whitepages.com, or even a Ripoffreports.com from one unsatisfied former client or co-worker.

How do we fix this?

Using search engine optimization techniques yourself or hiring a third-party SEO consulting company to implement SEO best practices for you. Search engine optimization techniques ensure that your website appears more prominently in search engine results, as when someone searches for your firm on Google, Yahoo or Bing.

We have written several blog posts on SEO for law firms and also have available a free Search Engine Optimization for Lawyers ebook.

7. Outdated Content

Law Firm Website Outdated Copyright Date

Does the footer of your website say © 2009? Have you been meaning to add new content, but haven’t had time?

When clients look at your website, they want to know that your content is current. They want to know of your latest victories and of the most recent contributions you’ve made to the legal community. If the most recent content you have on your website is a link to an article you authored many years ago, you may want to consider updating your site.

How do we fix this?

First, gather links to your most-recently published articles, print or video interviews featuring you or your firm. Do a Google or Bing search of your name and see what comes up. Maybe you’ll find new content you didn’t know was published online. Save the content / links to the content.

Next, create new blog posts or general content for the site featuring all the new interviews, articles, etc. and provide links to the original sources.

If you really cannot find the time to work on your site, have a paralegal, summer associate, or legal intern write your new content.

Once ready, contact your website administrator and get the login information to your site, or have your website administrator add the content him/herself. Upload the new content, and keep your site up to date!

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With these tips, we hope you will make your law firm website the best it can possibly be, enabling you to reach more potential clients than ever while keeping it legal.

Andrew Cabasso
About the Author: Andrew Cabasso
Andrew Cabasso is a practicing attorney and co-founder of JurisPage, an Internet Marketing firm specializing in online presence solutions for law firms including website design, SEO, and search marketing. He has given many lectures and CLEs on website design and Internet marketing to legal professionals. He is on the Committee for Information Technology in the New York City Bar. Follow Andrew on Google+ or Twitter.

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