Websites for law firms – how to avoid the common pitfalls

Websites for law firmsWebsites for law firms are an absolute must these days. Without one, apart from your office frontage, you are invisible. So, what is the right way to ensure you end up with a site that delivers the goods?

Back in January of this year I posted an article about legal website homepages. In Marketing for Lawyers: #1 Getting your homepage right, I only covered the importance of the front page of the website.

As important as that is, there is something more fundamental to look at before you build a new site or replace your old one. Planning.

A salutary tale.

I recently visited my local pub to watch my football team play its first match of the season. I didn’t get to see much of the live televised match. The landlady button-holed me. She was tears about the state of her recently designed and supposedly “business enhancing” website. It looked truly appalling and potentially did more damage to her business than good.

She’d been attracted by the developer’s low-cost approach and had also signed up to a monthly maintenance fee. It’s a tough lesson to learn but one that resonates not just for the hospitality industry.

So, what should you avoid?

Well-designed websites for law firms can generate as much as fifty percent of all incoming business enquiries. Consequently, it pays to take a careful, planned approach which may not be the lowest cost option. The key stumbling blocks to avoid are:

  • Make sure it is you and not the developer who owns the domain name. The domain name is your intellectual property.
  • If you think you know a friend or relative who could build your site for you at reduced cost, think again. Do you wish still to be on good terms with them a few months down the line?
  • There are many quick website builder packages out there that give you the impression that you can do the job yourself. Unless you are trained and experienced in graphic design and software coding, don’t.
  • Even if you like the look of one of your competitors’ websites, don’t be tempted to copy it. Not only is it their intellectual property, it may also not be delivering the goods.
  • Don’t treat the build as merely the creation of an online brochure. Your website can be so much more than that through the careful use of blogging and other options. Search engines like sites that are regularly updated with new content.
  • Think hard before signing up to a monthly maintenance fee. Modern sites (especially those based upon the WordPress platform) are designed to allow you to maintain and update them.

Best Practice.

The simplest way to avoid the most common pitfalls is to set measurable objectives for the build and supplement those with a well thought out design brief.

Design Brief.

Background Overview.

This section provides information about your business and its services. How would you describe your business? What background information is relevant, including previous marketing campaigns?


Goals need to be clearly defined because they will affect all other decisions on a project. Do you want to sell more services and increase brand awareness? How will you measure success? Having a concise objective provides a focus for the rest of the project. Make SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) objectives. Put numbers on them so the web builders know what they have to achieve.

Don’t forget about responsive design.

Target Audience.

Who is the client or intended audience? This may include demographic information such as age, gender, education, or income level. Geographical reach will also affect the design and SEO optimisation. Knowing your audience will shape the style and messaging of your website.


What are the key points that need you need to say? What message needs to be conveyed to the target audience, and what is the best way to deliver it?


What is the tone or image that suits your message or brand? Are there certain colours or fonts that help communicate this? Describe the tone, whether it’s sophisticated or more direct. Provide colour, brand and style guidelines.


Having a timeline is critical for planning any project. Find out if there’s an advertising or publishing schedule you need to track against and create deadlines are for each element of the delivery.

Assessing Competition.

Who is the competition and what do they offer? What makes you unique? Understanding the competition can provide a clearer picture of where you stand in the market, which will help you shape your approach.


The budget sets the parameters for how much time the supplier has to complete the work and the level of design and complexity you can afford. Payment will affect your cashflow, so make sure you have a detailed understanding of what costs are included in the budget. Consider staged payments for the work. Also, be aware that most agencies nowadays require an up-front percentage of the total agreed cost.

This is all straightforward stuff for a dedicated marketing professional. However, if you don’t have one, free creative brief templates are available from Smartsheet. Or you can download an example here.

Belt and braces.

All of that should get you off to a professional start with your preferred supplier. However, it’s always wise to make a few more checks:

  • Does your supplier have previous experience of working in the legal / professional services market? An agency with only FMCG experience may not be the best choice.
  • Take references and view as much of the agency’s previous work as you can.
  • Ask if any of the coding / build work will be carried out overseas. If so, seek contractual assurances on how problems will be fixed should the site go wrong at a future date.
  • Check that any stock photography used on the site is paid for and ensure that all artwork and design becomes your intellectual property upon completion.
  • Having provided a full specification via the design brief, if you are not offered a fixed cost for the job, walk away.
  • Establish what the ongoing costs for the site are likely to be (hosting or any agreed updating). Think hard before you pay a retainer.
  • Ensure that the design is responsive – that means it shouls work equally well on tablets, smartphones and PCs.

Choose carefully and prepare your brief well but don’t forget to review the performance of your new site against your objectives after the first couple of months.

Mike O’Donnell, August 2017.

Mike is an experienced marketing professional who has spent much of his career working in and advising the legal profession. For further biographical details click this link.

Marketing for Lawyers: #1 Getting your homepage right

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