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How to Get Started Building Your Solo or Small Firm Website

Forrest Carlson


  • Following these tips could save you thousands of dollars in lost revenue and months of unnecessary work.
  • Your most important decision is whether to build your website yourself or to delegate the task to a web professional.
  • The biggest benefit of using off-the-shelf providers is the time they save you by handling your website’s infrastructure, maintenance, security, and design.
  • If you hire a web professional, you should make the best of your investment by working smart.
How to Get Started Building Your Solo or Small Firm Website
Retina Charmer Productions via Getty Images

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Your law firm needs a website, and you are supposed to build it. But where do you start? Should you hire a web developer to build and maintain it for you? Should you sign up for a web design course and figure it out yourself? How do you make sure the website is kept up-to-date over time? What is the best approach to these questions? When it comes to building a solo or small firm website, there is no easy or right answer that will work for everyone, but you can arm yourself with information to help you make good decisions and save yourself a lot of money and time.

I am a lawyer, and I have built several websites for law firms. I have spent thousands of hours learning and writing HTML, CSS, PHP, Ruby, and JavaScript, configuring Apache and MySQL to play nice with WordPress (and vice versa), installing software updates and (when they inevitably break something) fixing bugs, and committing all kinds of silly, avoidable security blunders. It was not all time well spent. In the process, I discovered shortcuts that save time and shortcuts that cause more trouble than they are worth. When it comes to lawyers building law firm websites, the best shortcut of all is quite simple: Protect your time by outsourcing the work.

Spend Your Time Well

Time is your most limited and precious resource. Spending your time well is, without exception, the most important principle in successfully building a solo or small firm website. As a lawyer in a small practice, you only generate revenue for your law firm by working on clients’ legal matters. Spending your time on non-billable administrative work is both inevitable and appropriate, but billable work is where all the revenue comes from. Building a website can be a massive project that will eat up a lot of time you would otherwise be using to bring in revenue. When you are just getting started, it can be terribly difficult to estimate just how much time it will take, which makes the beginning of a website project the most dangerous for your time. If you can ensure it can be built quickly, you can go ahead and do it yourself. Otherwise, you ought to delegate the website-building task to someone else who will do it right and whose investment of time will not slow down your firm’s legal work and cut into its revenue.

All the advice in this article centers on the principle of spending your time well so you can focus on activities that generate revenue.

Decide Whether to Use an Off-the-Shelf Provider

Nothing will determine whether you have spent your time well as much as the decision of whether to build your website yourself or to delegate the task to a web professional. Your decision will have lasting repercussions and is worthy of careful consideration. I will try to make the decision easier for you.

Today, there are several companies that enable you to build a basic website using their tools in just a few hours without having any prior web design experience. These companies (I will call them “off-the-shelf providers” because you can use their website tools right off the virtual shelf) provide you a massive shortcut toward a functioning website by handling huge portions of the implementation details behind the scenes. Many solo attorneys and small law firms use off-the-shelf providers for their websites. If you can use an off-the-shelf provider to build your law firm website, you can save yourself thousands of dollars and months of implementation time.

Examples of off-the-shelf providers include, in no particular order, Wix (, Weebly (, HostGator (, and Squarespace (

Before you make any big decisions about how you are going to build your website, I recommend you list all the features and functionality you know your website will need. Be thorough. Talk to your partners, associates, staff, marketing team, IT, and other vendors to find out if they need your website to have any specific features. If you agree, add those to the list. If an off-the-shelf provider offers all the features and functionality on your list, your decision becomes easy: You should use an off-the-shelf provider.

Benefits of Off-the-Shelf Providers

With an off-the-shelf provider, all you need to do is choose one of their professionally designed templates that already start off looking professional and modern, and then spend a few hours using their drag-and-drop tools to adjust the template to look right for your firm. Adjust the color scheme, upload and position some photos, and add your firm’s logo, address, phone number, and other details. With that, and for a modest recurring fee, you will have a website that does the basics really well without your having to know anything about servers, coding, or web security.

The biggest benefit of using off-the-shelf providers is the time they save you by handling your website’s infrastructure, maintenance, security, and design, all of which are extremely time-consuming to put in place for yourself.

This is what you should expect any off-the-shelf provider to do for you:

  • provide and maintain all the hardware and software necessary to run a basic, secure website;
  • enable you to choose from many responsive templates that give your website a professional and modern look and feel, and then add your firm’s logo, other images, and text to the template you choose;
  • give you some ability (though not complete control) to adjust the color scheme, the page layout, the typography, the appearance of the menus, and other basic aspects of the template;
  • provide all the authoring tools necessary to publish your own blog;
  • automatically optimize the underlying code of your site to help search engines find and index its pages;
  • give you access to an analytics dashboard that shows you usage data about your website’s visitors; and
  • enable you to run your website using a domain name that you choose and control.

You will be responsible for coming up with your own content, including marketing copy, photos, other graphics, and blog posts, but you will already be able to start adding that content as soon as you sign up. Depending on your firm, building your site with an off-the-shelf provider may be all you need. There are, however, limitations to what they can do.

Limitations of Off-the-Shelf Providers

To provide high-quality site templates to choose from, make them easy for most people to use, and do all this securely, off-the-shelf providers make a lot of design decisions that you simply cannot change. You may be able to opt for a pricier subscription to gain access to some features, but other features are completely out of reach. The real cost of having someone else handle all the infrastructure for you is that they control the infrastructure. You can only adjust what they give you access to adjust.

Here are some specific examples of features that you may want your law firm website to have but that are probably not available if you use an off-the-shelf provider:

  • total control over every aspect of the site’s appearance and behavior;
  • a client portal with secure messaging and document storage;
  • chatbot, virtual assistant, or chat-to-SMS capability;
  • the ability to compare how different versions of a particular web page perform with your audience (called “split testing” or “A/B testing”);
  • client intake interviews with document automation; and
  • customized if/then behavior, such as displaying one version of a page when your office is open and a different version when closed.

These kinds of features would probably require you to write custom code, install and run additional software on the server, or have control of a database on the server. (If you are working with a vendor to provide functionality like this, check with them to find out what they need your website to be capable of.) For good reasons, including protecting the security of their resources for all their customers, off-the-shelf providers likely will not give you or your team this kind of high-level access.

If you need your website to do something that off-the-shelf providers will not offer, you need a different plan: You need to provide the infrastructure yourself.

Hire Web Professionals; Don’t Become One

If the website you want has features that are unavailable through an off-the-shelf provider, you are left with the monumental task of building your website from scratch. Unfortunately, what may have taken just a few hours with an off-the-shelf provider may instead take months. Without an off-the-shelf provider, you need to recreate all the resources that they would have provided for you, plus the features you want that they would not provide. In other words, you have to provide and administer the hardware, install and configure the software, handle the security settings of the server and website, design and build the website’s features and functionality, and maintain it all on an ongoing basis. Each of these aspects of your website’s infrastructure is itself a professional discipline. While there are shortcuts in each of these disciplines, doing good work in any of them takes training and practice—in other words, lots of time.

Learn to do this yourself takes hundreds of hours of work, which, for the busy lawyer, means months of working on it between client matters. It is likely far too much work for you to do while also managing to bring in the revenue you need through billable client matters. Instead of trying to do it yourself, you should hire web professionals to handle it for you. They should include a designer to help create the visual layout of the website’s various pages and a web developer to turn that design into a website. Depending on your needs, you may also hire a software engineer to write the code for any complex or app-like functionality and a web marketer to help you create content and drive traffic to your website. Some web developers may offer to provide all these services. Others may have an in-house team with people in some or all these roles. You may find yourself in charge of a team of independent contractors, all of whom report to you. In any case, the time you spend working with a team of web professionals will be significantly less (and more fruitful) than the time you would spend trying to teach yourself to do the work.

Choosing a web developer can be as complicated as choosing a lawyer or any professional. It is a highly subjective process. I recommend you talk with other lawyers or professionals whose websites you like and ask them who they worked with.

Like working with any good contractor, hiring good web professionals is expensive. If you cannot afford to hire them right now, it is nevertheless not a good idea to try to do the work yourself. You would be better off using an off-the-shelf provider to build a decent temporary website to use until you save up the funds to hire professionals to build the site you want.

Work Smart with Your Web Professionals

If you hire a web professional, you should make the best of your investment by working smart. Although you should not become a web professional yourself because of the time it would require, you should learn enough about website building to have at least a basic understanding of what your web professionals are going to do for you. Putting in that effort will help you:

  • maximize the benefit your web professionals can provide you;
  • evaluate web professionals when choosing who to work with;
  • set and understand the terms of your service contracts;
  • understand the plans for implementing each website feature; and
  • review and evaluate the web professional’s work as the site development progresses.

Without learning the details of how to use them, you should at least learn what the following topics are, even if only by reading the relevant Wikipedia entries: domain names, HTML (HyperText Markup Language), CSSs (cascading style sheets), responsive web design, servers, VCSs (version control systems), databases, WCMSs (web content management systems), SEO (search engine optimization), SEM (search engine marketing), and web analytics. Even the best web developers need clear guidance from their customers to do their work well. Having enough knowledge to talk about these topics with a little fluency will help you communicate with your web professionals quickly and clearly.

This Is Just a Start

This article obviously just scratches the surface of the website development process, so it is just a start. Its main purpose is to encourage you to be thoughtful about your law firm’s website needs—before you start building—to save you time and money when the building starts. I hope this article saves you thousands of dollars in lost revenue and months of unnecessary work.

While this article is just a start, if you follow my advice, it should also be the end of your journey of thinking about building your own website. Instead, you can focus on being a good communicator with the web professionals who will do all the work for you—or focus on the topic of your next blog post or the billable client matter that needs your attention.