By Stacey E. Burke
I have had the privilege of developing over 50 lawyer and law firm websites. I bring a unique perspective to law-based web design because (1) I am a lawyer, practicing with a large and successful personal injury law firm, and (2) my websites and online marketing strategies succeed where it matters most: online lead generation.
Specifically, my online marketing involvement has ranged from conceptual marketing to website design and legal copywriting. As a consultant and law firm marketer, I have critically reviewed thousands of websites and I have worked with law firms across the country.
I have learned that the majority of law firms have no idea how their websites function, who hosts, owns and controls their sites and content, and what they are getting in return for the money they spend. Indeed, the five most common mistakes made on lawyer and law firm websites conveniently all start with the letter C—the five cardinal commandments of law firm websites:
1. Color – Your website should be a reflection of your firm’s brand. You should have a logo, and you should integrate the colors of your logo into the design of your website. Under no circumstances should you use black as your background—it makes the text very hard to read. In contrast, using too many bright colors or flashing items is a turnoff to viewers. In essence, you should study your target demographic. Look at other law firm websites and select elements you like and don’t like. Come to your designer with a book of printouts marked up to convey your likes and dislikes for your own website design.
2. Contact Information – You MUST have all contact information on your website. This includes the email address for every lawyer. Do not let anyone tell you that having a contact form can take the place of actually providing the user with a lawyer’s email address. As a marketer focused on my return on investment (ROI), I have learned that while a contact form—in lieu of supplying an email address—helps with online tracking, not all visitors will use it and many do not trust it and fear their submission is going into a black hole. In fact, a lead that clicks to submit an email (as opposed to completing a contact form) can be tracked with appropriate code embedded in your website. Often times, a group that develops a lawyer website is too focused on using contact forms to capture and claim every website contact as a lead they generated to show results. However, a focus on forms as the sole means to electronically contact a law firm will be detrimental to a website’s overall conversion rate. Another solution is using one tracking email address such as email@example.com. I use an info@, contact@ or help@ email address on every website I create. Not all users want to complete a contact form. Law firm website design must give the user multiple contact methods.
3. Compliance with State Bar Advertising Rules – Most state bars remain firmly behind the times when it comes to monitoring lawyer digital marketing. But, of course, just because you will not get caught does not mean you have carte blanche to violate your state’s advertising rules. Your bar number will be associated with any complaints filed against your website, Facebook fan page, Twitter account, YouTube videos, and more. Before you give a non-lawyer free reign over your online identity, you need to have a system in place to monitor what is created in your name, with your photograph, and in your voice. It is often difficult to retract items online.
4. Case Results – A website’s case results landing page is among the most visited pages on any law firm’s website. Clients hire a lawyer because they want success, and to exhibit success, lawyers must show potential clients their past results (in an ethically appropriate format). In my experience, improper online reporting of case results is the most common web ethics issue. The state bar guidelines for advertising case results vary from state to state and even within each state depending upon the medium in which the results are presented, such as website vs. television, etc.
5. Content – If you have non-lawyers writing your content, they will inevitably make mistakes. No matter how many websites a vendor has made, nor how great their search engine optimization (SEO) skills, website copywriters do not understand the law and do not generally have internal fact-checking processes. This means that if you hire someone to write legal content for your website, and you fail to review the content before publication, you will wind up with what can be viewed as erroneous legal advice online in your name. If you do not review the content your web copywriters create before it is published online, you are putting yourself and your firm at risk.
In closing, I advise lawyers to educate and empower themselves in their marketing practices. Do not rely on the work of others, expecting to get state bar-compliant website content and optimal usability in design from your web vendor without investing yourself in the process. Lawyers must involve themselves in the process of creating, updating and maintaining their firm’s website, or else the firm and its lawyers are putting themselves at risk – both for losing money and for violating their state bar’s advertising rules.
Stacey E. Burke is a lawyer managing marketing and business development for Watts Guerra Craft LLP, headquartered in San Antonio, Texas. Prior to entering private practice, Ms. Burke provided marketing and website consultation to multiple law firms. She has written and spoken both locally and nationally on the subjects of website and social media marketing, database management, new case intake best practices, and managing a referral practice. You can connect with Stacey on Twitter and LinkedIn.