Put Down the Gavel and No One Gets Hurt

BY Kristen Friend



Everyone knows that lawyers go to courthouses and judges use gavels. Moving beyond such law firm marketing stereotypes is a good practice.

A law firm’s website works 24 hours a day, seven days a week as a non-stop brand ambassador. It is open for business when the firm is not, and communicates with prospects, converts them and generates new clients. This is the main objective but is not always the reality. While it is true that your website is always available, it may not be working in your firm’s best interest. A good website only works for your firm when design and online marketing are done right. Failure to make the right impression has a real cost in lost clients and fewer referrals.

There is a true competitive advantage to be gained by embracing creativity and innovative design, regardless of the industry. Unfortunately, developing a unique, memorable design is not always easy. There is safety and comfort in convention. It is one thing to hear advice about being distinct and memorable and another thing entirely to put it to practical use in the real world. Effective law firm brand building takes time, effort and patience. The temptation to take what appears to be a successful formula from someone else and try to replicate it can be strong. But it is ultimately a losing strategy.

Design is a waste of time and money unless it communicates. No matter how pretty a website may be, if it does not convey a message and give prospects a specific, easy to understand reason to call your firm, it is not well designed. So please, from this moment forward and in all future designs, let the gavel go. It is meaningless. No law firm needs to show a courthouse or gavel for users to know it employs attorneys. That imagery says nothing about your firm, what you offer to clients and why they should hire you.

Predictable design also gives the user no reason to stay on your website (decreasing the chance of conversion) or to remember your site and return to it. A prospect is unlikely to think, “Oh, I remember, it was that law firm with the gavel on their website…”

A website design must present a unique message in a matter of seconds. Users are impatient. They do not read a website, they scan. They organize visual information quickly and look for both a reason to take action and an easy way to do so. It is important to achieve a balance between reinventing the wheel and simply doing the same thing your competition is doing. Using accepted design structures in order to present information efficiently is helpful to your users and, by extension, to your firm. But employing overused imagery and bombarding users with attorney stereotypes is a good way to make them lose interest fast.

Some of the most commonly repeated concepts on attorney websites include: aggressive, attentive, compassionate, experienced and professional. These are things that should go without saying, visually or textually. Your firm needs to excel beyond the foundation of these concepts. To that end, utilize photography that tells a story about the exclusive reasons clients should hire your firm.

At its core, design must make an emotional appeal. People do not want to be frightened or alarmed when they visit a website; they want to be reassured. A person seeking legal representation is often already under stress. They do not need to see shattered windshields, police lights or attorneys wearing boxing gloves. Instead, prospects should feel good about your firm and understand on an emotional level how your firm can help them.

Too often, in an attempt to get noticed, people go to extremes and try to use every bell and whistle known to the web: marquees, scripts, blinking graphics, and misuse Flash. None of these work to enhance the user experience or create brand value. Instead, small touches go a long way. Adopting the right color scheme, clean rollover effects, consistent typography (one or two fonts only), simple and emotionally compelling graphics and an open feel that adheres to current code standards will get a prospect’s attention in the right way.

Remember, white space is nothing to be afraid of. A lack of visual clutter can speak volumes through its elegance and simplicity. White space can be used to organize information and create emphasis. When you surround elegant type or a surprising image by negative space, people have to pay attention to it. White space also allows people’s eyes to rest and relax, giving you the opportunity to clearly direct prospects to contact you. Websites with too little negative space risk having no focus and lose people’s attention by trying too hard to get it. Do not be afraid of using white space to drive home your core message.

The right design can make a big difference in both conversion and client referrals. It distinguishes your firm from the competition. Predictable designs are predictably ignored. Be unique, be remembered and get results for your firm.

Some projects start out with great promise. Partners want their website to be distinct and memorable. No one wants to blend in visually with competing firms. But, as the project moves forward, normalcy creeps in and takes hold. One graphic gets modified to reflect what another firm is doing. Then, other elements get incorporated because an associate is using them, or because someone saw it on another firm’s website. The result is a design that looks like a template and is not reflective of a firm with unique offerings.

Kristen Friend

Kristen Friend is a staff contributor for Bigger Law Firm Magazine. She has covered political stories on radio stations like WMNF in Florida and has had her work broadcast by Free Speech Radio News (FSNR). As an Award Winning Art Director, Kristen has been recognized by the WebAwards, Davey's Award, W3 Awards, Webby Awards, and others for her work with law firms.


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