I review a number of law firm web sites each month as part of my consulting with lawyers. I continue to see a trend among web sites that gives me pause to opine here. If this borders on a rant, please forgive me; however, if my rant hits too close to home, then I have accomplished my goal.
What is it with law firms putting pictures of their office buildings on the front page of their web sites? True, such pictures avoid the cliché images of a gavel, Corinthian columns, or the scales of justice. However, what do these pictures really accomplish? Do they give a client (or potential client) a sense of the type or quality of the work done by the firm? Maybe clients can guess that the fancier the building, the higher the hourly rates? Maybe it means the lawyers in the firm are camera shy. I really do not know. However, it says something else about such law firms--they need help with marketing.
Legal work is intangible. Clients cannot touch, feel or smell what they purchase from lawyers. Sure, they can feel the estate documents that cost them several thousand dollars, but they cannot touch or see the huge pile of money your expert drafting just saved them.
Consumers want tangible. They want to pick it up, feel the weight, examine the detail, and smell the freshness. Moreover, the more they spend the more tangible the purchase must be. That's why car dealers have learned to spray "new car' scent into every used car they offer for sale, and why real estate agents often suggest painting at least one room in a seller’s house--it makes the house look and smell new!
Although lawyers are not used car salespersons or real estate agents, it remains incumbent upon us as business people to metaphorically put the pile of cash on the conference room table and the "new car" smell into all our legal work. It is up to us to take what is intangible to our clients and turn it into something that is tangible. It is what our clients want as consumers. However, it is not all they want.
While it is true that lawyers sell such things as documents, depositions, and advice, that is not exactly what clients are buying. Clients are really seeking trust, experience, attentiveness, wisdom, security, understanding, loyalty, leadership, foresight, peace of mind, and certainty. These things provide value to the client for which they willing pay. Again, note the list of client needs does not include building architecture. Note too, that the list of what clients seek is just as intangible as the legal services a lawyer sells. Now we are getting somewhere--neither buyer nor seller has a complete and distinct tangible concept of what it is they really want to buy or sell. And we wonder why legal marketing is so difficult!
So how do lawyers convey their ability to meet the client's needs in such a way as to persuade clients we have what they seek? Even more important, how do we convey our abilities to attract potential clients?
The answer to the former question is easy: Once clients hire us, we must address our client's needs--sometimes characterized as "exceeding their expectations". Not just produce the legal documents or represent the client in court, but address the real needs: In every aspect of the legal work, we must build trust, show loyalty, communicate understanding, instill peace of mind, reduce uncertainty, and provide leadership on the legal issues at hand. We do that through such skills as active listening, effective case management, and strong client communication, just to name a few.
The answer to the second question--conveying our abilities to potential clients--is more difficult.
Until a few decades ago, lawyers could not advertise; they could not inform the public--i.e., potential clients--that they understood their needs and had the ability to meet them. Instead, lawyers used visual cues to convey these concepts to potential clients. They used icons and images such as gavels, marble hallways, dark wood paneling, and a close proximity to a courthouse to telegraph trust, respect, leadership, security and certainty.
However, with the restrictions on advertising long lifted, lawyers need not rely on these same icons and images. They do not need gavels and scales. They do not need pictures of office buildings. Lawyers can use the right images to convey the right concepts, but better yet, we can now use words to tell potential clients about our services.
This brings us back to pictures of office buildings on law firm web sites. Instead of buildings or cliché images, I encourage law firms to use words. Simple, understandable words. Words that quickly create positive images in the minds of potential clients. Words like value, service, dignity, understanding, and integrity. Words that address the client’s need for solutions, not a recitation of how good the firm thinks it is. And, yes, it’s OK to include pictures, but ones truly related to the firm and client needs. If lawyer web sites focus attention on needs of clients and potential clients, then web site visitors won’t need to focus their attention on law firm buildings. They will be too busy calling your firm for an appointment.