Creating a Website for your New Practice

Starting a law practice requires having a website.

Apart from giving clients your contact information and a bit of information about the services you provide, a website can also include a plethora of resources to help people resolve their legal problems or recognize the need for a lawyer. Although word-of-mouth is still the greatest source of clients for most Ontario lawyers, it goes without saying that web-marketing is also an important way to attract new clients. A website is really only one piece of developing a strong “web-presence”, which can also include podcasts, blogs, and facebook and twitter accounts, among other things.

I chose to create my own site rather than pay to have one made by a professional web designer. It isn’t as difficult as one might think, especially with the help of a good web-editor and the willingness to set aside your free time for a few weeks/months to develop the content and design of the site. For this site, I’ve been using Rapidweaver on an Intel-based Macbook. There are still a few bugs, but having created this site from square-one means that I’m usually able to modify the design and navigation with relative ease.

Here’s a few lessons that I’ve learned while developing this site:
  • Having user-friendly navigation is essential: early on, I was using another editor (iWeb), which didn’t easily allow for the creation of collapsible navigation menus. After creating more than a small handful of pages, the importance of a collapsible navigation sidebar became obvious and prompted a switch to Rapidweaver.
  • Create a blog: blogging is a great way to add content to your site and share interesting information and experiences with other lawyers and readers. It’s also a good way to stay on top of developments in your practice area. When I hear about an interesting decision or concept, I add it to a growing list of items to research and blog about.
  • Test your site in different browsers: in different browsers, the text and other elements of the page will show differently. Make sure you’re using web-safe fonts. Experiment with different layouts too, as a theme or layout may turn out slightly different in each browser.
  • Don’t use legalese: even if some of your pages and blog-posts are intended for an audience of lawyers, using plain English will help make your site more accessible for everyone. If you need to use a technical term, include a definition. You could also include a glossary, such as this real estate law glossary.
  • Avoid excessive sales pitches: if your site or blog posts are styled as information resources, it’s probably a turn-off to include things like testimonials, examples of your successful decisions and other promotional content. People are usually more likely to read and share your articles and blog posts if they include useful information on practical issues rather than blatant self-promotion.
  • Use your site to differentiate your practice: although your site should not glare of self-promotion, it should be part of an overall marketing strategy that is designed to differentiate your practice from other law firms. Although how you do this is a matter of personal choice and business strategy, your website can help establish an identity and offering of services that sets you apart from other lawyers in your practice area. Easier said than done, of course.
  • Optimize your site for search engines: so far, this has been the most difficult part of creating a website. Optimizing your site for search engines (known in the industry as Search Engine Optimization (SEO)), is about creating your site so that search engines, such as Google, Yahoo and others, display your site at the top of the hit list when someone searches for particular keywords (i.e. “North York employment lawyer”). SEO is difficult because search engines don’t disclose how they determine which sites show up first in a keyword search. To do so would allow unscrupulous developers to exploit the search engine’s method so that irrelevant (i.e. advertising-laden) sites appear as the top hits. Thankfully, there is a healthy community of website designers who are willing to share their thoughts and experiences about optimizing their own legitimate sites. Although I’m still a novice, learning and contributing to this community has been a particularly interesting part of my web design experience.

I’m always happy to share more about my experiences in web design and starting out as a lawyer -- if you’re a lawyer or other professional starting a practice and/or website, please feel free to
contact us.