If you are interested in the survey results you can find them in this issue of the CBA National. Just so you know…the panellists were not allowed to vote for sites of their clients or sites they had worked on. My hope is that this year’s results will inspire other Canadian law firms to take a good look at their websites and start thinking about how they present themselves from a client perspective.
Websites generally serve two primary functions. If your business is heavily skewed to the referral side a professional, informative website acts as a credibility check. If you are looking for new clients a user friendly website that clearly states what kind of law you practice and the matters you regularly handle is one way to provide another doorway into your office. Either way the site should be oriented to the user experience not limited to to a resume approach that focuses on the individual achievements of the firm’s lawyers. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t include all the wonderful things about your legal ability and highlight the prowess of your practice teams. Obviously, a prospective client wants to know about you. BUT I bet you they are more interested in how you can help them with the issue they have at hand (and how much it’s going to cost them to have you do so).
People skim sites looking for key words related to a specific issue or problem they are trying to research or resolve. In short, they are looking for reassurance they are not up the creek without a paddle or, if they are in trouble, they are looking for help. The other thing that tends to happen, particularly when people haven’t had any contact with the legal system or lawyers, is that they get overwhelmed by the procedural side of a problem or they develop unrealistic expectations about their position because they are misinformed about how the law is applied. Lawyers know that every legal issue has at least three component, a unique fact pattern, a procedural component and a case law or legislative component that will dictate or influence the outcome. This can be overwhelming for people who don’t have a legal background. When people feel overwhelmed it’s hard to make good decisions. A clear, user friendly legal website can restore calm by providing a frame of reference and perhaps most important it should supply a prospective client with general background on the practice areas covered and include an action plan (checklists are helpful) that includes calling the lawyer or firm for further advice.
One thing I have come across which I will say I think is a mistake (and this is just my opinion) is to hold back basic information on the assumption that the client will decide not to call or may think they don’t need a lawyer to help them. This makes no sense in my view. The better prepared your clients are when they walk through your door for the first time the less time YOU waste bringing them up to speed and educating them on what facts are going to be relevant, the kind of evidence they need to prove or defend a claim, the types of documents you need to review or legislation that may have an impact. Communication is key and part of a lawyer’s job is to explain a situation fully so that a client can make informed decisions and provide instructions accordingly. Ok, enough for one day. Next time I will share a bit of what I’ve learned about what makes a good user friendly legal website (hint: it’s not fancy Flash scripts or dramatic music).