Responsive websites may not be the way forward for firms

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Website designer Brendan Chard says that “for the vast majority of law firms, responsive design is the most appropriate way to handle their mobile visitors.” Photo by Peter Baker.

A well-promoted solution for the wide variety of screen sizes law firm websites must accommodate can end up being more trouble than it’s worth.

Responsive websites, which automatically sense a device’s screen size and respond by reconfiguring text and graphics to fit, can render desktop PCs with ridiculously large text and other overblown features that are tedious to wade through.

“The trouble with responsive is I haven’t seen enough thought go into the user experience,” says Rustin Kretz, CEO of Scorpion Design, a Valencia, Calif., firm that does work for law firms. “It’s more ‘technical’ and less ‘design.’ I know of many businesses that spent an enormous amount of money to have a responsive design, only to have it create a worse user experience.”

Proponents of responsive design counter that bad responsive websites are the fault of the designer, not the method.

“Responsive design is just a coding technique,” insists Robert Algeri, a founding partner at Great Jakes Marketing Co., a New York City business that designs websites for law firms. “It can be implemented elegantly or it can be implemented badly. If the photos are too big and the pages require too much scrolling, it’s just bad design.”

“Responsive Web design looks great on your smartphone and is less frustrating to viewers,” says Matt Kulseth, founder and attorney at Mighty Marks, a Minneapolis-based law firm that sports a responsive website. “Potential clients don’t have to zoom in … to navigate and read content. Think about the websites you visit the most on your smartphone. I guarantee [they] are responsive.”


By sticking with one website for all screen sizes, law firms can generally save on design costs compared to attempting to maintain one site for desktops and laptops, a second for tablets and a third for smartphones.

“After our research, it became crystal clear to us that for the vast majority of law firms, responsive design is the most appropriate way to handle their mobile visitors,” says Brendan Chard, owner of the Modern Firm, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company that does law firm website design. “A mobile app for the firm is usually overkill and requires too many steps for the user to obtain and use.”

Adds Sabine Eckardt, business development manager for Vancouver, British Columbia-based Boughton Law Corp., which has a responsive site: “Consumers and clients are online everywhere and all day. They expect to be able to access information in the most convenient way possible on every device.”

But the problem dealing with the “tyranny of the tiny”—like the smallest of smartphones—is that responsive sites often render huge on desktops and laptops, and are often difficult to use on those bigger screens. And those responsive websites often make generous use of wide swaths of blank space—space you must scroll through when using a desktop PC or laptop.

And though some responsive-design evangelists insist the future of the Web is mobile, market research firm Deloitte reported that more than 80 percent of all Web surfing in 2013 was done on desktop and laptop PCs.

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “One Size, Few Fits? Responsive websites may respond way too much.”

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