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

Solo
Spring 2003 vol. 9 Number 3
Does Your Web Site Scare Off Prospective Clients?

By Jennifer J. Rose

Appellate courts and other august bodies impose rules upon what lawyers can and can't say, and how many words they can use to convey their message. It's about time that someone established some ground rules for legal Web sites.

Law firm Web sites don't need every bell and whistle a Web designer's palette offers. Sadly, some law firms' Web sites are busier than K-Mart during a blue-light special, as tasteful as neon flashing from an all-night bail bondsman's office, eliminating all doubt about competence and reputation. These Web sites make red-light districts and black velvet paintings elegant by comparison.

The site's home page should tell the visitor immediately that he or she has landed at the right place. Waiting for a site to load is like being placed interminably on hold. And hold the music, please. I've never understood why a legal Web site needs to play "Für Elise." Or even the national anthem.

A legal Web site should communicate-not obfuscate and annoy. Pop-up windows, "under construction" signs, guest books, Flash, audio files, and newsletters that don't deliver make me think that the law firm just isn't ready for prime time. A news section delivering news as stale as something that's been in the back of my refrigerator since 1992 suggests that the latest acquisition in the law firm's library was Hammurabi's Code.

A tax ought to be levied against every law firm Web site using the trite gavel, scales of justice, a stack of law books, or even a pair of eyeglasses. Are these lawyers trying to prove something-like they can read?

It's time to retire those clichéd little ribbons swearing allegiance to patriotism, breast cancer, sexual orientation, and wildlife conservation. Lawyers who really care about those issues can find other ways of expressing their feelings.

The same lawyers who would parse very carefully an eloquent argument to a court of law simply lose all sense of reason when it comes to designing their firm's Web site. Disorienting colors, fancy fonts, amateurish layout, proofreading errors, and a tendency to throw in everything but the kitchen sink in an effort to impress visitors can make the most talented lawyer appear to be wearing the emperor's new clothes.

Too many lawyers fail to ask themselves the first essential question: Why do I need a Web site? Even a simple tombstone, bearing nothing more than the lawyer's name, phone number, address, and area of specialty can be more effective than a dyslexic, jumbled, sock-drawer of a Web site. Is the Web site simply an enhanced Yellow Pages listing, a firm brochure, a means of client education, a public service, or a vehicle to impress others? Of course, within every rule lies its exception, and rules are made to be broken. Is it asking too much to require would-be offenders to show good cause?

Jennifer J. Rose, editor-in-chief of GP Solo, has judged legal Web sites for Law Office Computing magazine for several years and can be reached at jenniferrose@abanet.org.

 

 

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