Law Firm Websites That Work


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Illustration by Nicholas Dewar

It’s almost impossible to find law firm websites that effectively succeed in the all-important job of branding the firm—creating a distinct identity based on a promise of value that is different from any other.

Sameness rules. In fact, when we looked at every one of the Am Law 250 websites for another study, we discovered we could re-create the prototypical site just like linguists can create the Proto-Indo-European language from word fragments. Here’s the formula:

• Logo top-left.
• Long, thin image across the top of the site featuring a skyline.
• Below that, three columns of type (news, highlights and a definition of the firm).

As if that weren’t bad enough, there are those in charge of website design who demand law firm sites follow that convention because that norm has become equal to “professional site,” just like the black, engraved letterhead was the norm 20 years ago. Back to the future? It’s a sad day in Mudville when the fundamentals of marketing strike out.

Enough rant. My job was to discover an exemplar of effective brand­ing. I’m giving the nod to Baker & Hostetler.

Before you whack me upside the head, here’s what I don’t like: The overall caliber of design is weak, particularly the high-tech textile image that dominates the home page. This site succeeds because it’s well-written—and, at the same time, it fails because it’s all words.

Here’s what I like: Baker & Hostetler follows our three rules of an effective site:

1) Have a purpose. What do you want the reader to do?
2) Create a dialogue with the reader.
3) Position yourself as important, confident and a leader.

How does the firm achieve that goal? First, with a distinct market position on the home page: “counsel to market leaders.” If you don’t believe that, then just drop below to the proof points that rotate through (“10 of the Fortune 25” and other stories) plus the names of those 25 and other “dynamic leaders.” Yes, the leaders are self-described as such by the firm, but there’s enough proof to convince me to read on.

In any case, they’re trying!

Don’t get me started on Wachtell and Cravath.

See also:

Solo, Susan Cartier Liebel

Innovation, Tom Mighell

Virtuality, Richard Granat

All Business, Neil J. Squillante

Youth Appeal, Rex Gradeless

Burkey Belser is president of Greenfield/Belser, a professional services marketing firm based in Washington, D.C. His firm has won numerous awards, including the Legal Marketing Association’s 2008 prize for best firm, practice or industry website for Choate Hall & Stewart’s site.

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