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This is the first of a two-part series. Part 1 of “How Do You Measure Up?” appeared in Of Counsel’s June 2020 issue. It discusses how buyers of legal services buy today, the critical reasons that lawyer biographies drive so much traffic to your law firm website and why they need more of your attention, and the value of an elevating strategy that fuels all aspects of your website in a cohesive, purposeful and business-getting way. – Editor, Of Counsel
Like it or not, your law firm website is the most visible and accessible picture of your law firm and how you do business. Lawyers in law firms typically fall into three camps: 1) they hate their website; 2) they think their website is fine; or 3) they are indifferent (i.e., it’s not a priority or their job). Regardless of where you land, you might assume that your firm website is perfectly planned to only display what your website committee has authorized, but in fact, every website unwittingly reveals a law firm’s soft underbelly.
Your visitors are making a series of conscious and subconscious decisions about you that, together, form what is often a lasting (and perhaps unflattering) impression about you, your lawyers and your law firm. Buyers of legal services have a lot on their minds as they peruse your website; they have their agenda and the least they expect from you is that you are a mind reader so you can serve up answers to their pressing questions. For example, they want to know:
- Are you relevant?
- Do you have the expertise they need?
- Have you done this before? For whom? And when?
- For what are you and your law firm known? What are your most lauded strengths?
- What is your geographical reach?
- Are you largely specialists or generalists?
- Can they afford you?
- How transparent are your business practices?
- How will they feel about you when they work with you?
- Will you define “being responsive” the same way they do?
- Will they trust you? Will they feel confident in their decision to hire you?
- Will they like you?
- How do your peer firms regard you?
“But, no one hires me because of our website.”
There are lawyers who say, “No one ever hired me because of our website,” which is a self-fulfilling statement – meaning, if these lawyers aren’t investing in their website and ensuring that it’s smart, current, easy to use and engaging, no one will hire them after visiting the website. This attitude fails to recognize the digital sophistication of buyers of all ages and ignores the fundamental shift in how business-to-business buyers buy. Two important statistics will hopefully help you understand the exponential rise in digital B2B decision-making: According to Forrester, “67% of the [B2B] buyer’s journey is now done digitally” and Gartner (formerly CEB Global) highlights, “B2B buyers are typically 57% of the way to a buying decision before actively engaging with sales.”
To complicate things a bit more before I offer a roadmap that will make this website challenge much easier, it’s important that lawyers realize that the journey to purchase anything, legal services included, is much more circuitous than it used to be. Why? Because of social media and mobility.
Buyers are checking you out on Google, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Based on interviews with corporate counsel and senior executives, with additional data gathered by and reported on by Green Target and the Zeughauser Group, social media is increasingly important to the lawyer vetting process. Boiling down the buying journey to its highlights, here is how it now goes:
- A prospect has a business opportunity or problem.
- The prospect seeks referrals from trusted friends or colleagues. (This is still a relationship business. Actively cultivate referrals from clients, competitors with conflicts and other business associates.)
- The prospect turns to Google to see what surfaces about the lawyers. This is the first “relevance test” your lawyers must pass. How relevant is Google’s snippet of text to the work each lawyer is doing today? (If it’s off point, this is a problem.)
- Based on the search results, they go to LinkedIn and Twitter to vet the lawyers further. This is the second relevance test. Buyers want to know if you are part of today’s conversation. What are you thinking? What is your point of view? What are you talking about that matters to them and addresses their problem or opportunity at hand? If you have no active or current presence, you might as well be invisible to them.
- Then they go to your website, and this is where your most direct business development opportunity is.
- Let’s say, however, that your website looks dated and undifferentiated, it isn’t mobile friendly (much of this vetting will be done on mobile devices), your bios aren’t current, and they don’t include specific experience . . . then what happens?
- Your prospect leaves and starts screening the next lawyer on their list.
All of this is happening behind the scenes and you have no idea it is taking place. The opportunity to engage with that prospect is gone – likely forever.
There is no need for you to guess about what’s working and what’s not.
For 15 years, Content Pilot has analyzed law firm websites based on Ten Foundational Best Practices. These are the must-have features and functionality that visitors and buyers of legal services demand today and that your website must include if it is going to work its hardest for you. Analyzing the websites of AmLaw 100 firms in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2013, and then the AmLaw Global 50 law firms in 2016 and Q4 2019, Content Pilot researchers ranked how well the world’s largest law firms were managing their presence in this ubiquitous medium. Each Foundational Best Practice has several “attributes” and in this most recent Study, we evaluated 71 attributes for each of the Global 50 websites for a total of 3,550 data points.
Ponder your own firm website: the 71 attributes provide an easily understandable roadmap for analysis and improvement covering these critical Ten Foundational Best Practices:
- Communicating your message
- Professionals’ Biographies
- Content (other than biographies)
- Interactivity, engagement + social outreach
- Site search
- Site Optimization + Online Awareness
- Site hygiene + usability
Download the free results and comprehensive White Paper at https://www.contentpilot.com/amlawglobal50websites2020/.
2020 and trends and insights based on the AmLaw Global 50 results.
Professionals’ biographies – Foundational Best Practice 04
Not surprisingly, the most important pages of any law firm website are the professionals’ biographies. Based on the website analytics that we track, 45 to 75% of all visitors to law firm websites view bio pages. By comparison, practice and industry pages average four to six percent of visitors. (More about this paltry number in Part 2 of this article.)
As important as bios are in the lawyer vetting and hiring process, too many attorneys ignore or dismiss their significance. If a prospect is referred to those attorneys with outdated bios, the prospect gets the impression that the attorney isn’t on top of things, is old fashioned and isn’t relevant to helping them address today’s pressing problem or opportunity.
Thankfully, lawyer bios have improved significantly since we began the research studies in 2005, but there is still enormous room for improvement. The AmLaw Global 50 firms’ total score was 72.3 on a 100-point scale – this is “good,” but just barely.
Where to start? To quickly improve your page so it works harder for you, focus on the initial four things that buyers of legal services want to know from you – and follow these “Do’s and Don’ts:”:
- What specifically have you done? (Do: Detail relevant matters that support your stated expertise.)
- For whom have you done it? (Do: Seek permission from clients to use their names. If you can’t use a client name, use a descriptive alias.)
- How will you do it? (Do: Differentiate yourself over your competitors. What kind of user experience will you provide? What makes you different and better?)
- What can you do for me? (Do: Remember that your visitor has an agenda. Your job is to know what it is and provide answers to these short-list questions.)
Next . . . here is another important “do.” Do immediately engage the reader in your most pertinent content: the first 140 characters of your bio should be keyword rich and relevant enough to compel visitors to click on this snippet in a Google search for your name. (Google will grab this text as your “meta description” for your page unless you specifically create another meta description.)
Do be a great storyteller. After the first 140 characters, in the next two or three sentences of your overview, describe what you do today: the subject-matter strengths, size and industry sector(s) of clients and your geographical reach. Don’t repeat your title, practice group, office or education in this valuable real estate. In a well-designed bio page, that nuts-and-bolts information exists elsewhere – typically a spot where it is easy to scan.
Finally, do ensure that your photo is warm, friendly and looks like you today. If you have lost or gained weight, changed hairstyles or said goodbye to your glasses in favor of Lasik eye surgery, take a new professional photo. A photo that actually looks like you helps to shortcut the pathway to trust – something all of us want.
In the White Paper we highlight “Standout Firms” for each of the Foundational Best Practices. For examples of outstanding bios, review: White & Case (perhaps the best bios we’ve seen), Greenberg Traurig, McDermott Will & Emery (the firm whose site ranked first overall), Cleary Gottlieb, King & Spalding and Morrison & Forester.
Communicating your message – Foundational Best Practice 01
What role does strategy play in a successful law firm website? Since the earliest days of this research in 2005, the very first attribute of the entire Study has been, “Clear and differentiating positioning strategy.” All these years later, still too many of the taglines or website statements sound generic and similar. All firms who are considering a redesign would benefit from what we’ve just done – review the stated strategies of all your peer firms. For example, in our Global 50 research, several firms used word pairs that include both GLOBAL and LOCAL – they are so common, they are not distinguishing at all. Avoid language that is so popular it could apply to any of the law firms in your competitor group.
Sixteen Global 50 law firms scored “zero” on this attribute, meaning no strategy was evident at all. In the 2016 Study, twenty firms scored “zero.” Too many of the law firms that did have a solid strategy in place and ranked high didn’t take advantage of the home page to communicate their differentiating message up front. Their strategy statements – often buried inside a video – were further buried in the ABOUT section of the website. Check your website analytics to see what percentage of visitors are viewing these particular interior pages compared to how many land on your home page. Sell your strategy up front!
The AmLaw Global 50 average score for “Clear and Differentiating Positioning Strategy” was 62.1, or “fair.” In 2016 the average was score was 45.6 – “poor.” Given the size and sophistication of these law firms, all should score 100.
I should add that strategy isn’t just for the biggest law firms. And “strategy” isn’t what partners create sitting around a conference table. A memorable positioning strategy should be elevating, revealing and serve as a promise to your clients and prospects of what they can expect from you. This is a tall order given that a strategy statement consists of a very few words. I could name a dozen law firms with winning strategies that boost their market position, but for this article, I’ll focus on the AmLaw Global 50 “standout firms” for positioning strategy:
- Jones Day: While several firms have borrowed the sentiment and claim some version of it, Jones Day’s tagline “One Firm Worldwide” has been distinguishing since the firm launched its last site in 2007. A video under “VALUES” in the global navigation tells clients what it means and also tells lawyers who are evaluating employment options. It is a powerful message that is enduring and that Jones Day pays off. https://www.jonesday.com/en/values?tab=overview-91ff1290-f097-4c94-89cd-32c2f0923acb
- Baker McKenzie: Good positioning under ABOUT US – “The New Lawyers for the New World” accompanied by a compelling video that reviews all their firsts. But – this needs to be on the home page – don’t make visitors hunt for it. https://www.bakermckenzie.com/en/aboutus.
- Allen + Overy – Good positioning statement right up front that suggests how they do business – “Innovation as usual.” This strategy copy follows: “The world’s top companies rely on Allen & Overy to solve their most complex legal and business challenges.”
- Morgan Lewis – Our #1 firm in the 2016 Study, Morgan Lewis includes solid strategy copy prominently on the home page. This sets a visitor’s expectations of what the firm offers and how they do business. “At Morgan Lewis, we see our clients as partners. Whether you’ve been with us for days or decades, whether you’re today’s industry leader or tomorrow’s game-changer, we’re always responsive and always on.” While calling clients “partners” is not distinguishing and is over-used, the rest of it is fresh and interesting.
- CMS – We applaud “Your World First” because it is client affirming, pithy and strong. It is a missed opportunity not to have it more prominently on the home page (it lives off to the right above a “how can we help you” box). Also – there is a video in the ABOUT CMS mega-menu https://cms.law/en/int/about-cms/about-us/cms-corporate-video that is very good and that tells a great story.
- Quinn Emanuel – They put their stake in the ground on the home page via their rankings, which isn’t unique, but the firm has been committed to this approach at least since the 2016 Study. However, this is actually less compelling than the large, bold text on THE FIRM & NEWS landing page: “LITIGATION IS A ZERO SUM GAME. THERE IS A WINNER AND A LOSER. WE KNOW HOW TO WIN.” (Note to the firm: Zero-sum should be hyphenated in this use.)
- Milbank – While we believe this unique statement should be on the home page, at least it appears at the top of the WHO WE ARE page: “The merger of excellence and grit.” Countless firms talk about “excellence,” but we’ve never seen it combined with something quite as earthy as “grit.” Good one, Milbank.
Part 2 of “How Do You Measure Up?” appeared in Of Counsel’s July issue. It discusses design, more about content, ADA/accessibility and much more. You can read part 2 here.