Great web design is many things, but above all it is functional. One of the first lessons new designers learn after they have left the cocoon of the classroom is that no matter how pretty their work may be, clients are only happy if it accomplishes certain objectives. In terms of law firm website design, this means turning visitors into prospects and prospects into clients. Attorney websites must convert.
Because of the need to communicate specific types of information to visitors, lawyer websites can be formulaic. Lawyers who respect the work of their colleagues – and rightfully so – may find it easy to look to other attorney websites for inspiration. While it is helpful to divine ideas by studying what others have done well, it is poor strategy (and bad ethics) to attempt to copy too closely.
When we start a new website project, we ask clients these questions, among others, on our questionnaire: Please list the urls of some of your competitors’ websites, and: Please list a few websites you like and explain why you like them.
We do this for a couple of reasons. In order to compete, you have to know what others within your areas of practice are doing well and what they are not. Research on the competition is always helpful when brainstorming on ways to distinguish your firm. But remember; rule number one for standing above your competition is making sure you are doing what it is not. And rule number one for ethical design is respecting other people’s intellectual property. Do not cross the line from inspiration to duplication. Instead, work on finding your own style so that you do not blend in with everyone else.
It is even a good idea to look to websites outside of the legal field. Attorney websites must meet requirements that are unique to the profession. Every firm website needs certain things like contact forms, practice area pages and attorney bios. Studying good designs in other industries can provide a creative boost and help you discover new and effective ways of presenting information.
One of my personal favorite sites to visit is Best Web Gallery. While many of the designs showcased there are not applicable to attorneys, they do illustrate new trends in the web design field and demonstrate what is possible with advancements in CSS and HTML5.
There is no need to copy the work of others. It is bad marketing strategy and bad Karma. However, seeing what leaders in the field are doing to push the limits of design and coding can spark unexpected ideas and provide the inspiration that helps take your firm’s website to the next level – but in your own unique way.
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