American Bar Association
General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division

Solo
Spring 2003 vol. 9 Number 3

Designing Lawyers: Web Sites for Solos or Small Firms

By Dale Tincher

More than half of U.S. law firms have Web sites, and there are good reasons for a law practice to have an Internet presence. A solo or small firm that has a professional Web site can level the playing field when competing against large firms. And Web marketing costs a fraction of the price of traditional methods such as directory listings.

Planning a Web site can be intimidating. "Where do I start?" is usually the first thought. And "How much will it cost?" is usually the second. But making pricing the overriding criterion is a mistake. A Web site that can't be found will cost you money in lost potential revenue. A Web site that is not compelling will turn potential clients away and reflect negatively on your practice. A high-quality site will result in repeat visitors and more traffic. An attractive, professional site, crafted by a professional designer, can be had for $1,500 to $5,000.

Where do you start?
First, discuss the objectives, structure, and budget for your site within the practice with your colleagues and staff. Choose someone-an attorney or staff person-to act as a project leader. The person must have the time to devote to the site. Get commitments for articles from attorneys and staff. Review competitive sites. Ask local firms and listserv members for Web designer recommendations. Search the Web for sites that you like and look at the bottom of the site for the designer's name.

There are several approaches to Web site design:

· Design the site yourself. Be aware, though, that this approach seldom works. The public is Web-savvy and an amateurish Web site is easily recognized and reflects poorly on the professionalism of your practice.

· Use one of the pre-built sites offered by book publishing companies, directory publishers, or Web design companies. The advantage of this approach is that pre-built templates are readily available and it's easy to simply feed your content into the template. The disadvantage is that customization is often expensive. Also, template providers typically have little expertise or interest in Web marketing, or post-sale support. If you go this route, avoid a template design firm that retains ownership.

· Seek professional assistance. The disadvantage is that the initial investment may be more costly, but in the end, it often offers the best results. A professional design firm will save you time and money, especially if it has experience designing legal Web sites. Profes-sional design firms typically offer more hands-on assistance, post-sale support, and know how to get visitors to your site.

· Use a combination of these options. This approach has merits. The more you do up front, the less time the designer will have to spend.

Evaluating your options
Once you find potential Web designers, ask for reference to other law firm sites and check them out. The more advance work you do, the less your out-of-pocket expenses will be. On the other hand, be certain to measure your billable time against the designer's wages and don't spend a dollar to save a penny. Then ask the designers for at least 10 references to sites they have created. If you can't check them all, at least do a spot-check.

Summary
As the Internet changes the way we do business, it allows creative law firms to reduce expenses and service clients more effectively. An investment of time and effort today will pay dividends tomorrow.

Dale Tincher is president of Consultwebs.com, a legal and Web consulting and Web design firm based in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is also a frequent CLE instructor and an endorsed NCBA TAP consultant. Contact him at (919) 272-8052 or at dtincher@consultwebs.com.


SEE THE SITES

Wants to see some examples of legal Web site designs? Go to www.consultwebs.com and click on the pages under "Client Work" on the right-hand navigation bar.

 

 

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