Content Pilot is just releasing the findings of the 2012-2013 AmLaw 100 Websites: Ten Foundational Best Practices research. Objectively reviewing the websites of the nation’s largest law firms is an arduous process. There are Ten Foundational Best Practices – must-have features and functionality for today’s law firm sites – and each FBP has several attributes under it. All in, the research team reviewed, analyzed and ranked 66 total attributes of AmLaw 100 websites.
The first study was conducted in 2005 with the 10 FBPs and their attributes borrowed from broad web industry best practices at the time, as well as interviews and focus groups with buyers of legal services. Since then, Content Pilot has led and sponsored the research in 2006, 2007, 2010 and now in 2012-2013. The Foundational Best Practices/attributes have changed over the years, informed by changes in the web industry, visitor patterns and continuing discussions with buyers of legal services and how they use law firm websites.
The first FBP is “Communicating your Message,” and the 2012-2013 attributes we evaluated are:
- Clear and differentiating positioning strategy (meaning, do they put a unique and defining positioning stake in the ground – does the firm answer the question, “why should I care about you?” Is strategy evident?)
- Practice and industry focus are apparent (it’s a best practice to separate practices and industries – and it is much more advantageous to the firm to do so. According to the analytics we track, more than 3 times more visitors view industries pages than they do practice pages.)
- Geographic reach is apparent (1 office or 40)
- Contact info is clear and easy to find (law firms do a much better job here than corporations or the Big 4/Next 4 accounting firms)
- Site features or links to foreign language translations (all the firms boast that they are global – but how committed are they to their non-U.S. offices?)
This best practice has essentially stayed the same since 2005, although we adjusted the strategy piece in this study to focus on the differentiation of a firm’s positioning strategy. In prior years, the focus was on what we refer to as “strategy copy.” If they had it, they received points for it, regardless of how distinguishing it was.
The most troubling finding in this 2012-2013 study? — the dearth of firm strategy on the websites of these prominent law firms. Each attribute is scored on a 100-point scale. The average score of all AmLaw 100 firms on “clear and differentiating positioning strategy” is 39.1 – or “poor.” This is a huge missed opportunity for firms to succinctly and compellingly tell their story, and inspire their visitors to feel something about them.
Here is the scoring breakdown for each attribute:
- 86-100 = Excellent
- 71-85 = Good
- 51-70 = Fair
- 26-50 = Poor
- 25 and below = Unacceptable
It’s as though with the rise of and easy access to new features and functionality, the firms are focusing on those (although the study results don’t uniformly support this conclusion). We all know it’s hard to put that strategic positioning stake in the ground – it takes courage and confidence. And it makes some law firm partners uneasy – they’d rather be something to everyone, which, given the size and reach of these firms, isn’t hard to do. (But what kind of strategy is, “I want to be something to everyone?!”)
Yes, it’s much harder to NOT be something to everyone – to define how you do business, your target markets, your growth plans, sweet spots and the clients you are best suited to serve. Given that there are so few opportunities today to tell your unique story, we recommend that firms not miss the opportunity to do a better job making a memorable first impression.
There were 28 firms that received 100 on this attribute. I have to say not all these firms’ positioning statements were clear and differentiating, but they did try something. Here are a few stand-out examples:
1.DLA Piper – it’s absolutely clear who they are and what they do. It’s not clever, but it is very clear. “DLA Piper is a global law firm with 4,200 lawyers located in more than 30 countries throughout the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East, positioning us to help companies with their legal needs anywhere in the world.”
2.Weil, Gotschal & Manges – This is crafted by an excellent writer who puts Weil’s stake in the ground in a more descriptive way. It doesn’t just list features about the firm, it previews what it’s like to do business with them. “Faced with high-stakes legal challenges, the world’s most sophisticated clients count on Weil to listen hard, understand their business, and deliver unequivocally sound judgment. Our one-firm approach ensures that approximately 1,200 lawyers across 21 offices worldwide work seamlessly to manage the most complex matters.”
3. O’Melveny & Myers – O’Melveny plays on its URL (omm.com) and highlights how it is naturally embedded in certain words, such as “Community.” “Connecting Communities, Clients, and People.” My one comment here is, aren’t clients people? I would have suggested Communities, companies and people.
4. Winston & Strawn – Also written by a strong copywriter, Winston’s message is compelling, focusing on something that all clients want. There is a well defined pay-off to clients here. We know that some lawyers over-complicate things – Winston doesn’t. “Simplify: Clients Need to succeed on their own terms. Focusing on what clients want to accomplish, Winston & Strawn works to effectively manage complex legal issues and keep from making straightforward ones complicated.”
5. Quinn Emanuel – A firm with a boutique practice has an easier time with its positioning strategy than the enormous global law firms. Quinn Emanuel’s is overly long and too wordy, but it hits a visitor between the eyes – it’s all about results. State Bar officials in certain states would balk at their claims, and in many cases disallow such statements. Apparently California does not, however. “Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP is a 650+ lawyer business litigation firm — the largest in the United States devoted solely to business litigation. Our lawyers have tried 1739 cases and won 1577, or over 90%. When we represent defendants, our trial experience gets us better settlements or defense verdicts. When representing plaintiffs, our lawyers have won over $15 billion in judgments and settlements. We have won five 9-figure jury verdicts in the last ten years. We have also obtained nine 9-figure and five 10-figure settlements.”
Here is how the first Foundational Best Practice (all the attributes combined) fared among the 99 AmLaw 100 firms (minus Dewey LeBoeuf):
- Excellent – 19 firms
- Good – 36 firms
- Fair – 37 firms
- Poor – 8 firms
- Unacceptable – none
Stay tuned for more data and commentary about the Ten Foundational Best Practices research. I will report it here, and am also speaking at various LMA and other meetings.
This presentation will also include Jeff Yerkey, Interactive Director at RightHat, Per Casey, CEO and President of TenRec, and the panel will be moderated by Barbara Abulafia, Director of Marketing and Business Development, Keker & Van Nest.