Law firms need to inspire confidence and trust to both existing and prospective clients at all times, so having a website which delivers these elements is critical. As legal content can notoriously be quite dry, there should be a greater onus on law firms to provide highly intuitive user interface designs without forsaking a professional appearance.
User experience (ux) is a critical part of life, not just the design process. Should law firms therefore be prioritising the user requirements of internal stakeholders over users of their website?
Let us look at two approaches:
Internal stakeholders requiring informational websites which cover all topics and services in depth, covering detailed (often laborious) legal bumf designed to read the full rights to external stakeholders.
Websites with engaging designs reflecting that law firms invest and take pride in themselves, the community and therefore their clients. Moreover, the inclusion of clear, concise and compelling content as well as lawyer profiles which are critical for engagement and trust, along with simple user flows leading to key calls to action.
Clearly, the latter approach leads to better user experiences and higher conversion rates. Let's look further.
Reviewing experiences across some of the UK's top law firm websites
Our team has been reviewing the state of digital within the law industry for a number of weeks now, with mixed reviews on how law firms seem to be positioning their services and content across the web.
Let’s look at one such example of a website in need of removing clutter and condensing their service offering. Having such an extensive list of services leads you to believe that these aren’t a few core services, but almost every service that Eversheds provide.
*Eversheds desktop site
Having this number services available from the top navigation can be over-bearing and quite daunting, and this isn’t even the full list of services. This user experience becomes even more frustrating on a mobile device, with the full list of services visible, with the requirement to scroll through approx. 110 services, which can be an incredibly tiresome process.
*Eversheds mobile site
The services area should be condensed by filtering into core sectors (personal or business), or by providing the key services which bring the biggest return. By having just a handful of ‘core services’ provided would deliver a more intuitive user interface (UI) to users of the website, providing a clear understanding of where they need to be without having to research or think too hard about the process. To establish which approach to take, we would recommend that Eversheds gather insights on a handful of core services which generate the most return for their practice.
Dentons are one law firm which could easily condense the amount of content provided on their site. Rather than “services”, Dentons have labelled this area “find your Dentons team”. When landing on the “automotive” page, the experience has been documented rather than illustrated, making this a far less engaging area than it would otherwise be if the familiar brand logos were visible, with key successes noted alongside.
Having so much text delivered made this area far less interesting than it could potentially be, as opposed to having a Lotus logo jump out of the screen; which would have been far more intuitive for the user.
How critical is a responsive design to the overall user experience?
As referenced already, having a crisp design is a key requirement; however equally as important is to make the website visible across all device types, from tablet to mobile devices. For those that are not already aware, mobile device search has now overtaken desktop search across the web. Google also updated their algorithms in April 2015 with Mobilegeddon, signalling ranking boosts to mobile optimised sites through mobile searches.
Responsive design has quickly become an expectation more than a requirement, so without a responsive offering, clients are likely to head to competitor sites that are optimised. This will save clients a great deal of time by not having to pinch screens to make viewing ports clearer or experience difficulties engaging with the key calls to action.
Some examples of effective responsive offerings within the legal industry include the likes of Irwin Mitchell, DLA Piper and Clyde & co.
In contrast, some examples of top UK law firms providing poor device optimisation are listed below:
Other well-established law firms only optimised for desktop computers include, Allen & Overy, Herbert Smith Freehills, Kingsley Napley and Seddons.
The importance of simplifying user experiences
Law firms have to abide by a range of regulatory requirements when promoting digitally, including the disclosure of being authorised and regulated by the SRA. None of these requirements should be obstacles however to boosting their brands across digital.
Many law firms already identified have to adapt and simplify their offering to make content easier for users to digest. A number of successful brands choose to cover industry specific, thought leadership content pieces within their blogs and through social channels such as Linkedin. This tends to ease the burden on overloading top level service pages with too much content.
One of the conundrums for organisations can be whether to choose a separate mobile website or a responsive website. The decision to adopt a separate mobile website over a responsive site is generally taken to serve content only relevant for a mobile audience. A responsive site does not require any user engagement before they reach the site on their mobile device, as “all content” will be readily available on a mobile device.
The general rule with a separate mobile site is to only make “view full website” button available from the mobile site, in any instance where the user cannot find any of the content required from browsing the mobile website.
One of the most confusing experiences was when trying to reach the Linklaters website through a mobile device. Linklaters do not offer a responsive website (rendering on desktop, tablet and mobile), but a separate mobile website, however the first interaction experienced caused confusion:
Having this message appear on a mobile device made our team ask questions before reaching the Linklaters website, such as:
- Will the required content be delivered through the mobile site?
- Will I be wasting time going to the mobile site if the content required isn't available on the mobile site?
- Does the process of having to potentially navigate both the mobile and desktop site make my job twice as difficult?
If lucky, we may be able to acquire the answer to my requirements through the mobile site. Otherwise we are going to have to visit the full site and pinch the screen to access content which is not yet optimised for mobile.
In our estimation, this question from Linklaters only served to create a speed bump, causing unnecessary confusion by not knowing which option to choose from the outset, all due to an uncertainty over what content was going to be delivered.
Are law firms investing in search engine optimisation (SEO)?
SEO is critical for many law firms to optimise the structure and content both on-page and through promotional activities away the website (off-page).
The Ashurst website is an example of a law firm which hasn't considered optimising their website for the search engines. There are a number of factors exposing reasons why, such as an un-optimised (branded) page title, along with dynamic URL rather than static URLs (which can be optimised). URL’s and page titles provide key signals of relevancy to search engines; so Ashurst are seemingly not currently maximising their on-page SEO and potential in this area.
Whilst SEO is critical to making law firms visible in the search engines to prospective legal clients, UX is crucial to improving the User Experience after attracting these visitors to their website. SEO working harmoniously with UX can be crucial to website success.
One important factor is to have a firm strategy in place for keeping the website active by updating content as frequently as possible.
It is always recommended that a blog remains on the same domain as the top level domain for SEO reasons, as the content will then directly influence the domain authority (website strength). We have found that "Squire Patton Boggs" take a separate approach, which is to host their blog content under separate microsites, which has little SEO authority on their top level domain.
*Each of the URLs above point to separate blog urls
Although Squire Patton Boggs may be trying to create distinct areas for each of their features. With these areas sitting separately to the Squire Patton Boggs website, a recommended approach may be to find of way of maintaining a distinction between each of these areas, whilst sitting on the Squire Patton Boggs website.
One approach Squire Patton Boggs could adopt to bring their digital properties under one roof is to 301 redirect these blogs back within their top level structure, grouping each under categories (i.e. compensation & benefits, capital thinking etc).
Using social media to leverage brand engagement and interaction
Law firms could be using social media as a tool to retain their existing clients. Social can be a valuable tool for digital PR purposes, to promote corporate social responsibility and efforts within the community, as well as for sharing and promoting blog posts or news content.
The responsive sites already alluded to in this post already succeed in capturing their audience for social media. There are a number of ways to achieve this, by having either a social feed or social icons on the homepage, or both in conjunction as shown within the example (below) from Irwin Mitchell.
Usually, with such disconnect between websites and social media it may prove difficult to gain a following across social media; however this can also depend upon existing reputability and offline success. Hogan Lovells seem to be one such case, gaining much of their Twitter audience away from their website.
Hogan Lovells are a law firm which clearly consider their approach to digital by offering a mobile site; however there are no social icons or feeds across either their desktop or mobile website. As a result, this potentially limits their capacity to capture and engage their website audience with their ongoing activities.
With some fantastic content visible across their social accounts (see image below), it is clear to see why Hogan Lovells have gained almost 11k followers on Twitter.
With such as fantastic following across Twitter, Hogan Lovells should therefore be connecting their digital platforms, making this content from their social accounts readily available to view on their website. By using traffic estimation tools, Hogan Lovells receive approx. 90k visitors per month, so by bridging the void between website and social media, exponential growth may be seen across their social channels as a result.
Learning from this example, other law firms should be looking strategically at the promotion of their activities across social media, using images, videos and infographics to engage their audience. When a community has been built (as we have learnt from Hogan Lovells), the website should look to make the social channels more visible across their website.
The importance of a responsive, stand out design
Based on industry findings outlining the number of web searches now being made across mobile devices, law firms should be responsive to the needs of their existing audience and prospective clients. The danger of not providing great user experiences could result in prospective clients reaching out to the likes of Irwin Mitchell and DLA Piper; not necessarily based on merit or credentials but on ease of engagement across mobile devices.
The legal industry is one which is littered with dated designs which are detrimental to the image of many established law firms. Based on a number of factors, many of which are outlined within this post; many of these firms should look to invest in their brand and their audience, providing wow factor designs.
Simplify user experiences
Law firms should be working to condense their content where possible, tying this into a smart website architecture and intuitive user interface designs which are conducive to smoother user journeys.
Organic traffic is one of the key mediums in which to generate website traffic and leads over time. Law firms should be propositioning their websites for the search engine and always developing their content to remain relevant and optimised.
As referenced within this post, Hogan Lovells should be an example of how other law firms can maximise their social activity. Law firms should manage this process effectively, and look to engage their audience using the most relevant channels, which tend to be Linkedin (B2B) and Twitter across social media.
Never lose sight of competitor activity
Many of the top law firms identified still have a lot of work to achieve to reach an expected level across digital; subsequently missing out on providing the best possible user experiences for their audience and not maximising their conversion rate potential as a result.
From initial findings, Irwin Mitchell should be being benchmarked by many other law firms as an example of how to achieve success through their website, search optimisation (visible through PPC and organically) as well as social media.