Written by Matt Sagen, Head of Product
In the course of helping our customers automate interviews and documents, we deal with many “flavours” of law firm website. We say “flavours” because law firm websites are similar in many ways to ice cream shops. Some law firm websites are pretty vanilla, which is fine, as long as they are high quality. Some have all the toppings, but cost top dollar. But price is only one consideration, and often not the most important one. It has to appeal to the tastes of your clients. And of course it has to satisfy their appetites (for information).
But what is most often overlooked with law firm websites is that you, the owner of the shop, can change flavours whenever you want, without waiting. Otherwise, you will be hiding your best stuff, and your clients will miss out.
Right from the start - I don’t want this to be read as a condemnation of web design and hosting companies (the ones that design, build, and fit out your ice cream shop). Some of them charge top dollar, but deliver a fantastic result. Some charge moderate prices for basic but functional setups. What you should takeaway is an understanding of how to talk to your web company so you get what you need for your law firm’s website.
Let’s take this ice cream shop analogy to the extreme and set out what your law firm website needs, as well as the questions you need to ask your web company, like a basic Sundae recipe. First, you need vanilla ice cream, the basic component, without which we can’t really call it a Sundae.
One of the biggest traps that we find with law firm websites is that you can’t make any changes to your website without going through your web company. Sometimes this is because they have their own proprietary content management system (the back end where changes to the website are made). Other times it is because their business model relies on income from maintaining your law firm’s website. Either way, you might be trapped. Wouldn’t you be more comfortable and effective if you could make changes to your website yourself without waiting and having to pay every time?
Important question to ask a website developer: Can I make changes to the content on our law firm’s website myself?
An open platform means the source code behind your website can be made available to anyone. This means you can take your law firm website to another web company if you’re not happy with your current web company, without losing any content or functionality. Wouldn’t you be more comfortable with an ice cream machine that had generic parts available in case the manufacturer ceased trading, or their price became astronomical?
There are several leaders in the website space, with the undisputed champion being WordPress. However, each has different strengths, and you should consider SilverStripe, Joomla, Drupal, and a handful of others. You should demand that your site be built on something that has a large community of developers, unless a clear case is made that their proprietary platform does something vital to your business that the other platforms don’t. In our experience, this is rare.
Important questions to ask a website developer: What platform will my site be built on? Can I move my entire law firm website to another hosting company if I choose to do so?
Responsive (to different screen sizes)
If 70% of your customers are in cars, make sure you have a drive-through ice cream shop. There are too many people on Smartphones and Tablets to be ignored, and if your site doesn’t look good on every device, you will lose business.
Important question to ask a website developer: Will my website look good and function properly on any size screen?
There are a lot of different third party sites (including Automio) that let you put awesome stuff into your law firm website - forms, interviews, schedulers, signups, and endless other things (this is called ‘embedding’). It’s really important that you can manage these yourself, because these third party sites are out of your control - they may offer new features, make changes to the way things lay out, or move links.
Important question to ask a website developer: Can I embed content into my law firm website myself?
I almost left this one as optional, but really there is no reason to. Maybe all of your business is from direct marketing, but there is no reason to throw away good free advertising. Imagine that there are robots wandering around looking for ice cream shops, but they are not as smart as human customers. To get what they need, they try to plug in to a little USB port on the front of each shop to get information about it. Without that port, they try to have a look through the window, but they get incomplete information. They also get grumpy and push your business down the search page, often out of sight.
Important questions to ask a website developer: Will my website let me put MetaData (title and description) into each page to help search quality and rank? Can I use headings in my content?
Variety of layouts (but consistent)
Changing the way different pages on your law firm’s website are laid out is important so you can show off your firm clearly and effectively. We need to make sure that when you want to make a new flavour, you can put it together the way you like. Let’s say you get a good price on bananas and want to make banana splits. If your only option is scoops of ice cream in the dish with things added on top, you are stuck. Now it’s just a banana topping. Disgusting. But we also don’t want to get ourselves in trouble with too many options. We don’t want to add the banana underneath only to end up with it under the dish because we did it wrong.
Important questions to ask a website developer: Will my website let me put MetaData (Title and Description) into each page to help search quality and rank? Can I use Headings in my content?
Like chocolate syrup, video content is very compelling. Although some people would rather read, often video is better at telling the story and making the sale.
Important question to ask a website developer: Can I put videos in my website, and will they work on any device?
We lovingly call our customers “nuts”, because they have to be a little bit crazy to be the rebels of the legal industry. Make sure you have testimonials from your nuts clearly and prominently displayed on your law firm website :)
Important question to ask a website developer: Will my website have a special section for laying out testimonials?
This can be really expensive, and can be fraught with complications. Only go down this route if you have a very clear business model for making the most of the added expense. Fortunately, Automio takes care of this part for you: you can charge clients in your local currency with automated Invoices, or handle your own invoices. We are the Amazon of legal automation.
Important questions to ask a website developer: Do I need an E-Commerce website? What is the expected break even period?
Let’s say that you want to have a special members-only menu, a loyalty rewards program, and a cozy premium ice cream lounge. This can be a big project, so first make sure that you know exactly what your business case is.
Important questions to ask a website developer: Do I need to allow my customers private access to anything? What sorts of things do they need to be able to do in such a private area?
Make sure you tick ALL the boxes for your Vanilla, and have at least two of the Sprinkles. You probably don’t need any Extra Scoops unless your law firm have a specific business model and strategy, and if you are wondering, give us a call. We want to make sure that your law firm doesn’t serve anything but the best ice cream to your clients.
Keen to see how other law firms are using Automio's lawyer bot technology to take care of their E-Commerce? Check out our customer success stories here.