As a copywriter who pretty much made a living writing websites for a variety of clients (universities, indie jewellery shops, mining companies, you name it), I’ve noticed that our customers’ law firm websites span a huge spectrum of readability. It’s interesting because lawyers as a whole are well educated and write a ton—we know that they’re more than capable writers. But many law firm websites are wordy and difficult to read for the average person looking for legal representation.Why is there such a huge gap in the readability of copy on these websites? And more importantly, how can we change that?
The Purpose of Your Website
You want a site that keeps your potential clients reading long enough to be convinced that they should get in touch with you. There’s an underrated way to do that, and it’s embodied in the answer to one question: who do you want to read this? Answer: clients, potential clients, and people who will refer potential clients to you. So write for them—without being overly pedagogical and without legal jargon.
The average American reads at an 8th-grade level, and if most of your clients are average Americans, they will fall under this category. Even the Wall Street Journal, which, as you might imagine targets pretty sophisticated readers, writes at only the 11th-grade level on its website. Write for understanding and clarity. If it means using simpler words and shorter sentences, go with it. Your audience will be able to scan your writing and immediately get what you’re trying to say, as opposed to reading the same sentence four times trying to understand what you mean.
How to Do It
If you’ve only just started thinking about your site, here are a few must-have sections:
About page – Don’t just list your practice areas and where you went to school. Every lawyer has that. Talk about what areas of law you’re passionate about and why. Write as if you were introducing yourself while chatting with a client face-to-face, and the copy will be more friendly and personable—try it!
Contact page – For the love of all things legal, please have a Contact page, preferably with a form (if you need further motivation, many jurisdictions require that you list your contact information). On the page, you should have your address, email, and phone number. If your firm has a Twitter and Facebook page, even better. Put that there too. As for the form, the information that you collect through it will help you build a list of potential leads to follow up with. Make sure you’re capturing this information. Some practice management systems (such as Clio) even integrate with apps (e.g. Lexicata and Jurispage) that direct this information straight from your website to your in-app Contacts and Matters.
Blog – Want to impress your readers? This is the place to do it. Use your blog as a platform to talk about what you know best: law as it relates to the average person’s everyday issues—bonus if you can tie in current events or anything newsworthy. It’ll be both useful and interesting to your future clients, as opposed to just a block of legal jargon. With blogs’ increasing popularity though, some state bars (such as California’s) have issued ethics opinions that they count as advertising, which means that you’d be required to label it as such and keep copies of your posts for two years, among other duties.
Testimonials – If you have happy clients who are willing to let you quote them on your site, do it! Word of mouth and positive referrals can only help your business. If you want truly powerful testimonials though, aim for ones that don’t just say that your law firm’s great. Ask your clients to talk about your service, your expertise, and give a little context as to what kind of case it was. The testimonial will sound more legitimate, plus your audience will get a better idea of not only your past successes, but also what exactly makes you better than your competition. An important thing to keep in mind though is that the use of testimonials are governed by many ethics rules, so make sure to include the appropriate disclaimers for your jurisdiction if you include testimonials.
Fees – There’s no point trying to skirt around it; if your clients are considering you at all to represent them, your fees will be a key part of this consideration. Do you charge by the hour or do you charge a flat fee? Are you flexible? You don’t have to put an exact number down, but you can give your clients a rough idea of what they can expect to pay for your services and eliminate the chance of any unpleasant surprises down the road.
So there you have it. A few basic rules that are pretty easy to follow but will make a world of difference for your readers. Try them out, get some feedback from your clients, and let us know what works and what doesn’t!