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Coroners, garbage collectors and soldiers have seen things they don’t want to talk about, and, likewise, much law firm Web site development reveals hideous mistakes no one would want to admit having made. Law firm Web sites should be marketing vehicles that attract leads. Many don’t, because they ignore usability, marketing techniques and common sense. Here’s a list of the worst practices in Web marketing. 1. No success stories. Every firm has closed a deal or won a case, yet many won’t announce these wins online. Why is this so surprisingly controversial within firms? Firm leaders say they don’t want to ask permission of clients, or express concerns that to do so is somehow exploitive or unethical. Change this mindset. Potential clients look for examples of your work. It’s the first question they will ask in a personal interview. If you want to get to that interview, be sure you’ve already told them. 2. No representative clients. In the olden days before 1995, listing clients was a staple of a firm’s Martindale-Hubbell listing. Unfortunately, this tradition somehow got lost in the online transition. Clients want to know whether you work for Fortune 500 companies or closely held family businesses. It reveals “who you swim with.” The information is easily discoverable by online sleuthing, so why make the client work? A list of top clients should be a link on the home page. 3. No industry experience. Clients — even general counsel — view themselves as businesspeople who belong to an industry. They want to see whether a law firm knows their industry lingo, key companies in the field and trends affecting them all. More than anything else, GCs want to hire a law firm that understands their business. The Web is the place to show off your depth of knowledge. 4. Bad graphics. Legal cliches — such as gavels, columns, blind justice, the courthouse, your building, law books and scales — turn off clients because they represent the law, and show the firm mirroring itself. Clients want to see themselves and pictures of their industries on a firm site. Equally annoying are animated graphics. These may be fine for roller coaster Web sites, but graphics on a law firm Web site should stand still. This applies to crawling text, introductory videos and anything that distracts the human eye away from the all-important text. 5. Focusing on the firm. Focus on clients, who they are and what the firm has done for them. Delete space-wasters like the welcome from the managing partner, the history of the firm and its vision statement. Nobody reads these things and they simply highlight how impressed the firm is with itself. 6. Out-of-date content. Old content is fatal because it suggests that the site hasn’t been updated since that old article was published back in 1998. Showcase what’s new, don’t just archive old material. Failing to update a Web site can lead to “content land mines,” such as the kind Vinson & Elkins left on their site in 2002, bragging about the firm’s work creating off-balance-sheet partnerships that got Enron and its auditors — and its lawyers — into so much legal trouble. Delete content created more than three years ago — including references to law school publications in attorney bios. 7. A site that won’t print out properly. If your site is wider than 650 pixels, the right edge of the page will be cut off when a page is printed. Clients hate that, because it’s common for them to “harvest” material to read later. It’s very annoying for a GC sitting on a plane not to be able to finish a sentence. This is Web Design 101, and many law firms have flunked it. Putting up a “printer friendly” button is acceptable, but a crutch. 8. No search function. Most visitors are goal-oriented. They know what they’re looking for and don’t want to learn the Web site’s idiosyncratic navigation. Make it easy for clients by putting a search box on every page. 9. The home page is too big. Your home page must fit on one screen at a display setting 1024-by-768 pixels, the most common resolution on computers. If it’s longer than that, the visitor will have to scroll down to see more content, and most of them just won’t bother. 10. Mix-and-match graphics. Be consistent in your branding — present a single image. 11. Bad bios. List attorneys’ land address and phone numbers — including those of your associates. This is often just what the client was looking for — don’t make them jump to the “Contact Us” page to find your address. Firms that think they can avoid poaching of associates by failing to list contact information are downright ridiculous and are going to irritate clients who need to reach those lawyers. Also, include a current color picture. If your lawyer bios display articles or publications, be sure to link to the full story or you’ve missed an opportunity. 12. Not listing your executives. Savvy firms recognize that their top executives are legal professionals who contribute to the firm’s business development. By refusing to list C-level staff, you undermine their ability to serve the firm, by publicly declaring that they are second-class citizens. And you annoy existing and potential clients who may need to reach these important professionals. Larry Bodine is a marketing consultant serving law, accounting and consulting firms in the Chicago area. He is a member of the Law Technology News Editorial Advisory Board.

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