Design standards for law firm websites have inspired great debate over the years.
Schools of thought around what makes for a good website design in the legal community vary widely, and often contradict. A site that Legal Internet Solutions Inc. founder and president Jason Lisi previously recommended as an example of a great law firm landing page was the same one that HTMLawyer Inc. founder Micah Buchdahl referenced as an example of a terrible landing page.
The so-called “Oscars of the internet,” this year’s Webby Awards offered a thought about the best designs for law-based website. The group awarded its highest prize in the “Law” category to Immi, an immigration law education resource. Runner-up awards went to firm sites for Bick Law, Meriwether & Tharp, McElfresh Law, and Westaway.
The awards are not necessarily indicative of much in the legal online space. The legal community has always marched somewhat to the beat of its own drum when it comes to websites, meaning that the kind of slick design that might best serve other businesses may not work as effectively for law firms. Additionally, the Webby Awards have faced some blowback for their ever-increasing sets of categories and steep entry fees, indicating to some that the awards are more of a pay-for-play operation than a meritocratic honor system.
The Webby’s honorees seem to reflect the web design standards of the online community writ large, which may not be a perfect proxy for the legal community’s specific needs. However, they do have a fair amount of design consistency within them. They have at least these three things in common:
• Simple landing page. In what seems to have become something of a staple of professional websites, the landing page of every single one of the Webby’s five law firm websites features an enormous graphic with less than about 30 words surrounding it. The initial screen in these web pages seems designed more to set a tone than offer content.
Law firm web design company PaperStreet put together Bick Law’s website, which prominently features a set of animals in anthropomorphized situations. PaperStreet founder Peter Boyd previously told Legaltech News that while these basic landing screens are becoming a staple of business websites, the specific tailoring of those designs is important to help a site stand out from the pack. “Best practices dictate certain design trends, but it really comes down to how you present those trends,” he explained.
• The long scroll. Each of the Webby’s honored sites in the law space this year also made use of the long scrolling home page, where the site’s highlights can be referenced without clicking around to other pages within the site structure by simply scrolling down the page. The general trend seems to be that firms encourage visitors to scroll down the page, and feature a few links to core practice areas or resources, list high-profile clients, awards or media attention, and then follow with contact and location information.
The scrolling design allows visitors to quickly scan through what a firm can offer them. These law-based websites all highlighted their most unique qualities as close to the top as possible, but without disrupting the simplicity of their initial landing page.
McElfresh Law, a San Diego-based criminal defense firm, foregrounded its marijuana small business defense practice by placing a graphic and a small blurb about the issues facing these businesses just under their initial landing port, drawing visitors’ attention to it in that initial content scan.
• Intuitively designed educational resources. While the law firm web pages of yore were populated with lots of educational resources and how-to guides, law firms have really scaled back their use of resource compilations as a traffic driver because of the resources needed to develop and maintain them.
The sites that the Webby’s liked this year took the time to build out of some of these learning resources with intuitive design. Immi’s platform is entirely designed around this concept, featuring both a self-diagnosis tool for immigrants seeking permanent residency and a set of videos featuring immigrants to the United States sharing their stories.
On the law firm side, some of these tools are aimed at creating a more informed client base, while still serving a business development need. Meriwether & Tharp‘s page, for example, has a set of interactive timelines and longer explainers about the typical components of the divorce process to help potential clients see what to expect. These resources also contain a prominent, but not invasive, contact form to the firm.