The Question We Wanted Answered
Pre-COVID 19, budgets for large law firm websites had skyrocketed over the last 3+ years. It is common to hear of a global firm spending $1,000,000 or more on its redesign. What is driving this huge increase? Is it a well-defined strategy to connect more substantively with buyers of legal services in certain markets or sectors? Are they using analytics and data to make their feature and functionality choices for the new site? Are they talking to clients, potential recruits, even competitors to understand what the buying journey looks like today? Some are, but a lot aren’t and it’s evident in what we see in their website pages.
The over-arching question is, are these redesigns making visitors – and the plum target market of active buyers of legal services – any happier?
According to the 2020 AmLaw Global 50 Websites: Ten Foundational Best Practices research that we finished in late 2019, the general answer is “no.”
Our reason for establishing the Ten Foundational Best Practices (FBPs) for law firm websites, first in 2005, and then refreshing the FBPs in 2006, 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016 and in 2019, remains the same: help law firms invest their money more wisely, design their websites more strategically, write more compelling content, and create intuitive and informational pathways for their target audiences.
The FBPs are refreshed each Study to consider foundational changes that we have witnessed in the broad web industry, as well as changes in visitor expectations and the behaviors of buyers of legal services. We hear the term “best practices” used so often that it often loses meaning. When designing this research, we purposely chose the term “Foundational” as a modifier, because we wanted firms to focus on the most basic and fundamental things that truly matter to website visitors and that actually improve the visitors’ experience. These are not the nice-to-have features and functionality, but the must-have things – the design, tools and content that diverse, sophisticated visitors expect from top professional services firms.
Many law firm websites are broken from a differentiation and visitor experience standpoint – in fact, the majority of them are.
What Are Firms Doing Well?
In the Q4 2019 Study, the highest-scoring FBP was FBP3 - Navigation, with an average score of 94.9 on a 100-point scale. All law firms should score 100.0 here – and 15 did. The lowest score on this FBP was 80.0 and the lowest-scoring attribute was “Easy to navigate across multiple devices – navigation remains intuitive and easy to use regardless of device.” Remember, it's likely that visitors are viewing your site on their desktops and phones at the same time, flipping back and forth. It's jarring when the multi-device transitions aren't seamless.
We were delighted to see how well FBP6 performed in the 2019 Study – Interactivity, Engagement + Social Outreach – with a score of 87.0. Four firms scored 100.0, but 27 more scored “excellent” and 16 firms scored “good.” Although certain of the attributes in 2019 were different, this FBP only scored 63.9 in our 2016 Study.
The last FBP in the top three scorers was FBP5 - Content (Other Than Bios) with an average score for all 50 firms of 83.0 or “good.” No law firm scored 100.0 on the 11 attributes that make up this comprehensive category, but Eversheds Sutherland US scored a 96.5 and both McDermott Will & Emery and Winston & Strawn scored 95.5. The lowest scoring attribute was “Video and multimedia content is featured, produced well and short” with a 51.4 – “fair.”
Where Can The AmLaw Global 50 Firms Most Improve?
Still, too many of the law firm “positioning statements” sound generic and similar. All firms who are considering a redesign would benefit from what we’ve done – review the stated strategies of all your peer firms. For example, word pairs that include both GLOBAL and LOCAL are so prevalent, they are not distinguishing at all. Avoid language that is so common it could apply to any of the law firms in your competitor group.
The 16 firms that scored zero on the first attribute, “Clear and Differentiating Positioning Strategy,” had no strategy on the home page or in the ABOUT section of the website. (In 2016, 20 firms scored zero, so this is nominal improvement.)
Too many firms that scored 100.0 on this (26 of them) ignored the home page and instead featured strategy statements (increasingly in video) on the ABOUT landing page. Based on the analytics we track, visitors are not flocking to those pages, so your distinguishing strategy may be missed entirely. Check your analytics to see what percentage of visitors are seeing these particular interior pages compared to how many land on your home page. Sell your strategy up front!
The Global 50 average for this attribute in 2016 was 45.6 and in 2019 it was 62.1. So – it’s gone from “poor” to “fair.” Better, but loads of room for improvement.
Accessibility Designed for All Visitors
For the 2016 Study under FB10 - Site Hygiene + Usability, we added “Site meets W3C Level A accessibility standards” for the first time. The average score was 87.0, or “excellent,” in meeting the most basic requirements.
In the Q42019 Study, we raised the foundational standard to comply with W3C WCAG 2.0 & 2.1 accessibility standards – Level A and used the Siteimprove tools to analyze the sites. (Siteimprove analyzes both Levels A and AA accessibility, so we actually tested firms on both.) This attribute was scored as a pass/fail — firms were either 100% compliant or they failed. All 50 firms failed. All 50 firms scored zero.
Surprisingly, 13 of the AmLaw Global 50 firms do not have any translated content on their websites. Or, it’s hidden so completely that we couldn’t find it. That’s one firm more without translations than in our 2016 Study.
But, the balance of the firms has done an impressive job ensuring that their non-U.S. English speakers can access the page content, at least on the desktop websites.
We analyzed how many firms make the translated content available to visitors on their mobile sites under FBP9 - Mobility. The average attribute score went from 74.0 for desktops in FBP1 - Communicating your Message to 31.0 when testing for mobile site translations in FBP9 - Mobility. In our latest Study, firms either scored 100.0 or zero on the "alternate languages" attribute. The 74.0 score for desktops is “good,” compared to 2016, when the average score was 40.3 – “fair.” We’re happy to see a much greater commitment to proving what “global” means to these firms.
The firm with the most alternate languages is Eversheds Sutherland US with 19; the next highest is Greenberg Traurig with 11.