Over the past few years, a group of vocal DIY website evangelists has emerged in the legal community. These attorneys argue that law firms should save the expense associated with hiring a professional website developer and instead use free site publishing platforms such as WordPress, Blogger and TypePad. While designing and hosting your firm’s site or blog on these platforms may initially save your firm some money, the long-term cost of these sites is often substantially more than if you would have hired a web development professional right off the bat.
In the business world, first impressions are everything and with more and more people turning to the web to find attorneys, it’s never been more important for your firm to have a website that immediately captures one’s attention and resonates powerfully with visitors. While these free sites do allow you to upload custom designs, you’re limited to the generic boxy layout that they offer. You’ll find one box for the header graphic, another for the copy and yet another for the menu. Given this cookie-cutter layout, these sites lack the design elements that create “visual tension” which makes a site unique and memorable. These design elements include partial blends, innovative overlapping of layers and unusual shapes. Other details that help establish a distinctive feel include special web fonts and access to a first-rate image library (with proper licenses), which are either technically complex to implement or cost prohibitive for a one-off website. With such limitations, these sites often look cookie cutter, even if custom graphics have been created because they’re forced to fit into the mold of the platform.
Now you’re probably sitting there thinking to yourself, does it really matter if my site design lacks these distinctive design elements? In truth, it’s often the subtle details that are instrumental in getting visitors to take notice and appreciate your unique capabilities as a firm. You have just moments to capture the attention of a prospective client searching the web. If you and an attorney down the road use the same WordPress template, it’s likely that a visitor won’t take the time to explore how you’re different because nothing about your site’s design sets you apart. Another competitor, however, who did invest in a professional, customized design is likely to catch his eye and make a lasting impression because the site is unlike one he has ever seen and it speaks to his unique situation. The prospect contacts that firm and they get the case. Depending on your area of law, one lost case may cost your firm tens of thousands of dollars.
Your website is your firm’s online home, the focal point of your web presence and not something that should be slapped together on a Sunday afternoon from your home office. Your site should be developed by a team of experts that don’t just develop websites but have specific experience and tools for law firms. While working with the right professional and hosting your site on a versatile website platform won’t be free, the end product will be one that you’re proud to showcase on your business card and more importantly, one that will set you apart from competitors.
The following are great examples of professionally designed websites that possess the visual tension that distinguishes them from those of competitors and resonates powerfully with site visitors.
Most cookie-cutter site templates are greatly restricted by the boxy format as depicted in the sketch above. This site, however, is the complete opposite of the overly used layout and instead contains a wide open feel. You’ll note that the tree flawlessly leaks over the right hand margin of the text space while the unique shape of the rotating images (utilizing HTML 5 animation) and side graphics create immediate visual appeal when arriving at the site.
This site has so many subtle details which make it noteworthy and completely unique. The shadows of the blue header ribbon which cascade out to the right, the faint map of the Long Island Sound on the top left of the site and the way the main header image of the light house seamlessly fades into the copy area is a perfect example of a fully integrated design which can be difficult to implement with a pre-set WordPress design theme.
This site has the “wow” effect. The colors and powerful image (not restricted to a small box) immediately captivates the visitor and conveys credibility and authority. Upon close inspection, you find that the delicate gray lines of the header graphic fade into the overpass in the photo, pulling together all elements of the design.
The layout of this site is simply phenomenal. The designers used the gorgeous Brooklyn Bridge not only as the powerful header image but also pulled the bridge’s shape into the layout of the design—using the contours of the bridge as the margins of the copy area.
This site has so many intricate details but gives the visitor a real sense of tranquility and simplicity. Everything from the soft curves throughout the site (based upon the stone bridge in the header image) from the textured background which has a perfectly executed blend of colors, convey a warm feeling of comfort and accessibility which could not be easily achieved in a cookie-cutter site design. The use of blends and unique edges lends a sort of fluidity to the design which separates it from many of the rigid attorney websites one regularly encounters.