When it comes to bringing in revenue and making headlines, law firms do a hell of job. The biggest ones bring in millions, even billions of dollars. They argue before the Supreme Court. They help shape global economies.

When it comes to designing websites, though, these firms are clueless. These are the folks who often charge upwards of $1000 per hour for their services, and yet their websites look like the work of some cut-rate freelance designers.

Like any other business's website, a law firm’s site should serve the interests of its target audience and make it simple for a visitor to take the next step. In this case, "the next step" means picking up the phone to make an appointment or sending an e-mail.

What are the interests of the target audience? They want the best hired guns they can find:

  • Firms with experience in the area of need (litigation, mergers and acquisition, tax, etc.)
  • A track record of success
  • Background on the specific attorneys with whom they’ll be working
  • A firm that ranks higher than the competition in the desired field

Not so difficult to explain on a website, right?

Wrong.

Let’s take a look at the sites for some of the biggest firms in the world.

Wilson Sonsini

Look at the central message on the Wilson Sonsini website. Why would any current or potential client care? Look how cluttered the homepage is. What distinguishes this firm? The next message you see is “Our Recent Publications Include” in the right-hand column. There is nothing even remotely compelling for a customer in that group of articles.

Vedder Price

Vedder Price

Now take a look at Vedder Price. The homepage is dominated by an unattractive image and a completely generic “Welcome to Vedder Price” message. The one positive is the large and prominently placed navigation bar that guides visitors to individual attorneys and practice areas.

Dewey & LeBoeuf

Finally, Dewey & LeBoeuf presents a video loop that is beyond distracting and bordering on headache-inducing. Plus, the video looks like it belongs on a travel site, not a law firm’s site. I guess the message is that the firm has international capabilities, but the message is delivered very weakly. The video also blurs out the navigation.

While I have singled out these three sites, the vast majority of the sites for the biggest firms in the world do a similarly poor job of serving the needs of their target audiences.

But there are a handful of firms that do a better job. And any type of business can learn from what they do well.

King & Spalding

The King & Spalding homepage hits you with one central message: “King & Spalding represents half of the Fortune Global 100.” Right off the bat, they are letting you know that they are heavy hitters in the legal field. The homepage image rotates to deliver several other key messages, all of which serve to differentiate King & Spalding from its competitors. Right below that message, is the "People Search," which makes it easy to immediately find the specific lawyers and practice areas you are looking for.

Morrison & Foerster

Similarly, Morrison & Foerster hits you with strong messages of differentiation. The homepage image rotates to give visitors highlights of the firm’s areas of expertise and honors. Their homepage is extremely clean and simple. There is nothing to distract you from the top navigation, which clearly lays out the key areas where visitors will want to go.

The takeaway

Law firms, like all businesses, need to understand the principles of doing business online. No matter how large you are or how much revenue you generate, you have to remember that you are a service provider. A service provider’s website should serve target customers: Know what they are looking for and make it easy and intuitive to find it. That's something businesses of every size and scope must master.