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Law firm Web sites have largely converged toward a “standard model” that presents a few implicitly agreed-upon subjects. Consider the analogy to newspapers: Consensus has been achieved that the logical way to organize them is national news, opinion, local news, business, sports, lifestyle, etc. Within this consensus, tremendous variety in paper stock, layout, color, writing style and so forth can all thrive, but the “bone structure” is agreed upon. When it comes to Web sites for law firms, certain best practices are beginning to emerge within the standard model. The standard model presents the following categories of information, often in these very words and close to the order listed here: About Us Practice Areas Offices Attorneys News/Publications Recruiting Contact/Feedback These are the key areas. But how does one reach the target audience? Sites can’t be designed without visitors in mind, as stories can’t be told without readers in mind or cars built without drivers in mind. The key questions for the law firm site-design team are whether the site is: � effective in serving the anticipated needs of its target audiences; � congruent with the firm’s real-world “brand essence”; � welcoming and accessible to a first-time visitor; � efficient and economical in catering to veteran visitors; � internally consistent in design, layout, navigation and tone of voice; and � designed from the point of view of the client or prospective client (good) or the sponsor firm (bad) or the information technology department that built it (appalling). TRY TO REFLECT DIFFERENCES While law firms obviously don’t have physical products that project their image, they nevertheless have genuinely different approaches, values and priorities. Their Web sites should reflect those differences as convincingly as one would with tangible products. No less than firms manufacturing tangible products, professional service firms occupy distinct market niches, seek to appeal primarily to distinct target audiences and accomplish both by projecting a consistent aura and demeanor across all explicit and implicit communications media, from office design and d�cor to letterhead and business cards to Web site. This includes such high-impact visual choices as: � how much acreage there is in front of the main reception desk; � whether the furnishing is Bauhaus or Knightsbridge private club; � whether the tone is collegiate Gothic or Frank Gehry; � whether lawyers’ offices are traditionally arrayed with partners at the corners, square-footage pretty much by seniority, or not; � whether the conference rooms are wired with Internet access (only once or at every chair), etc. The point is that no single choice or another is right, but the cumulative impact of these choices does and should reflect the firm’s identity. And even if these choices are not made consciously, their message to the client is no less clear. COMPULSORY CONTENT To paraphrase Picasso: Good artists copy, but great artists steal. A similar credo could be applied to Web sites. For each of these “compulsory events” at least one markedly superior solution has emerged. Why all firms have not adopted what are fairly obvious “best practices” is baffling — especially given how quickly and effortlessly they can be discovered. For example, a graphic map is clearly the ideal solution for organizing and presenting all the firm’s locations. Not only does it convey “globalness” (or, for a different firm, “regionalness”), it is more intuitive and informative than an alphabetic listing of offices and less judgmental or controversial than a nonalphabetic ranking (“East Coast”? “Sunbelt”?). The overwhelming majority of sites permit one to search for attorneys only by last name or, at best, last name and office location. But far more criteria are potentially relevant to a visitor — particularly one of the most important categories of visitor, the prospective client. Consider the flexibility and power of also being able to search by: � position or title; � practice area; � industry specialty; � group (also referred to as department, such as litigation, tax, etc.); and � law school — for instant mutual-alumni gratification. Visitors should also have the option, though, of searching with undifferentiated choices to “view [all] by” office, practice area or industry sector. Finally, since search criteria are optional, no involuntary burden is imposed on the visitor. Not only does this dramatically increase the odds that the visitor will find a specific individual he’s actually interested in contacting, it delivers the all-important subtextual message that the site (and the firm) respects the visitor’s intelligence and strives to offer options, not preformatted or lazy, canned conventions. PRACTICE AREAS As with attorney listings, far too often the practice areas listing is just that: an unadorned roll call of everything the firm does or perhaps ever has done, typically in alphabetical order. Instead, the Web site should group it logically and in the manner in which a sophisticated client would perceive it. If done astutely, even a tremendous variety of subgroupings of practice areas can be presented with visual economy and in a readily comprehensible format. Also, consider a separate categorization technique for exactly the same practice-group listing. The listing is done by client type rather than by internal-to-the-firm practice groups. This categorization mode would group practice areas by key client “centers of gravity” such as: � financial services; � media/publishing/online; � manufacturing; � health care; � regulated industries/governmental relations and � high-tech/pharmaceutical/intellectual property. And it has the added advantage of presenting the firm’s capabilities to clients in terms they think in. Potential clients might not think, “I need an asset-backed/structured finance team.” But they might think, “I need help on the balance sheet of my leasing subsidiary.” This focus on client communication brings us to the top 10 best practices: 1. Decide who your key target audiences are: Prospective clients? Co-counsel? Law students? Lateral recruits? 2. Design the site to cater to the firm’s target audience, so that they can find what they need most efficiently and come away impressed with the firm’s professionalism. 3. Make it easy for them to do business with the firm. 4. All Web sites tell stories; make sure yours tells the story you have in mind. 5. “Person” (visitor) + “Goal” (why they’re there) = “Narrative” (how they navigate through the site and what story they take away). 6. Include, if you do nothing else, optional e-mail subscription lists. 7. If the firm can only have a one-page Web site, it would feature this option: Lay out the firm’s practice areas in a way that simultaneously shows — not tells — clients your breadth of expertise and enables them to target what they need in terms they understand. 8. Display the firm’s offices using a map and tell each office’s “story” in a short and compelling way, with links to key partners/contacts. 9. List lawyers alphabetically and searchably by: name, practice area, office, law school, college and rank (i.e., partner/counsel/associate/etc.). 10. Ensure that the site is technically bulletproof. For example, it should work with all reasonable browsers, skip the Flash intros (use Flash optionally with fair warning, OK). Above all, make it accessible. And be certain that the source code doesn’t say anything compromising or embarrassing. When you’re done (though there’s really no such time, since Web sites are the quintessential work-in-progress), go over it all and make sure it speaks in the firm’s own honest tone of voice. GET FEEDBACK Engage a multitude of constituencies to critique your Web site. Not that it will be built by committee — that should not be the firm’s goal. Get feedback from clients, associates, partners, support staff, techies, spouses and children. And for one last rule (dare we say it?): Enjoy it and have fun! Bruce MacEwen is a business lawyer focusing on the integration of strategy, finance, technology and marketing for professional service firms. His Web site is www.bmacewen.com.

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