Stories & advice from two legal marketers on a quest to shake things up in the law firm community. Learn from our mistakes.
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Facebook and The New York Times recently announced updates that will simplify their now cluttered and complicated websites. And they’re taking a page out of the mobile book to do it.

A couple weeks ago (eons in tech-time), Facebook announced the company reinvented its news feed to remove the “clutter” (Zuckerberg).  You can find a good synopsis of the changes over on Mashable (including a few snapshots of the redesign). Not long after, the The New York Times released its website prototype; a similar transformation.

Gone are the large-format, small-print, printed newspapers; and clunky, flashing, complicated websites. In its place: clean,  uncomplicated, intuitive web-layouts.

An obvious perk to these designs is its responsiveness. They convert well between web and mobile (see responsive design via Great Jakes); a perk to the company. But these sites really have the user in mind. Instead of providing a sensory overload, it neatly packages information in a way that makes it easy to read and navigate.

Face it. With the short attention-span of your average reader, you’ve got just a few seconds to persuade them to stay. So instead of throwing everything you’ve got into single webpage, simplify. Make it easy for the reader.

And law firms should take note of the things that make these designs successful.

Navigable navigation

Instead of cramming a multitude of elements and links on a website, narrow them down and put it a logical hierarchy. Give the user the minimal amount of information to get where they’d want to go. This doesn’t mean you have to cut out portions of your website. You can throw whatever you’ve got at ‘em – but you need to give them a choice to opt-in. Let them come to you (if social media had a motto…).

A great law firm example: Bennett Jones. They’ve narrowed it down to just three main navigation options! And yet, you can still get to every important section of the website in a short amount of time. (Nice work, Bennett Jones.)

Is that white space?

Look at it! Nothing is flashing in my eyes.

There are quite a few people out there who spend a lot of time looking at a computer screen; some of us even do it for employment. The point is, we’re over stimulated, and all that white space might be a welcoming site.

Short, to-the-point headlines with images

Headlines. Well, headlines aren’t part of the design – but I have to admit, I like it when the headline actually tells you what you’re getting in the content. And it’s something law firms can control. Make it short and uncomplicated.

Font. We don’t need to argue font choices (ban comic sans!). It’s a no-brainer that fonts should be easy to read, but be careful with purchasing font packages. Font types aren’t always readable across browsers and operating systems. (Or at least select a good default font.)

Images. They really are the highlight of the technology era. And yes, they can “speak 1,000 words” without actually saying anything – capturing a user’s attention much quicker than a short headline. Make them a focal point. (And yes, substitute videos for images.)

The navbar

Many websites have used the navbar as a social sharing tool, but NYT & Facebook use it as site navigation. Much like Facebook mobile’s app, the navbar on the web includes a link to the site’s entire navigation (typically as an expandable sidebar). And a top navbar gives you the bare essentials, like search, home, and news feed updates. It’s a tool that stays with the user no matter where they go.

What else do you notice about these new website designs? Do you think this is a good trend?

(And here, we thought the mobile design was limiting!)

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Web marketing. Flashing advertisements. Billions of tags, categories. Trillions of #hashtags. Click here! Top 10 tips! Follow me! Share this or you hate the world. Buy my NEW BOOK. Did you know I wrote a book? Buy my book for $99.99.

I understand the concept of web advertising, using your blog as a form of revenue; there’s some necessity to it, you could argue. But the rampant self-promotion on blogs is beyond annoying. It’s almost insulting. You’re trying too hard—the proof is visible. Like I can’t get the hint?

This applies to websites and blogs across all industries, and law firms are not immune.

Did you know?

It’s unnecessary to include more than 10 tags on a single post, all variations on “Minnesota trial attorney.”

If I’m subscribing to your content, do you think I need to be reminded to buy your eBook after opening your site with a browser pop-up, and at the end of every post, and in every newsletter, and after I follow you on Twitter…(so many channels, so many opportunities to show your product/service down my throat!)

Kevin O’Keefe posted a thought-provoking discussion on RLHB about whether law firms should brand their lawyers’ blogs per the firm’s brand. While I’m sure there are blogs that are up to their law firm brand standards, it’s hard to pull off without coming across sales-y.

Like the too-long list of practice areas. A stiff description of the authors (which is a copy of what’s on their law firm bio). Over-zealous, aggressive SEO tactics.

It’s hard not to notice these things. The internet is big, and it’s getting bigger. And that means I’m consolidating, and your blatant pitches for my business aren’t staying on the list.

I want to read content written by a good author, who has a passion for his/her blog (and the topic). Who’d blog regardless of internal pressure or someone tells you it’s the only way to get business (the lies!). I’d hope consumers are able to read between the lines…

Give me some personality. Be authentic. Relate to me. Teach me something, but don’t hit me over the head with it (or act like you know it all).

And the next time you think about putting that 11th tag in the post, or promote your new book for the hundredth time, remember this:

If I want to read about it, I’ll have no trouble finding it.

And now, bringing it together…

As marketers in law firm, our credibility is all we have, and the same goes for our lawyers. We can negate all of our good work by coming off as clueless about this part of the sales process. Make sure you’re going for authentic and not pushy.

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Photo from Live Positive Way

It’s taken me a while to get back into the swing of blogging after spending an inspirational week with my legal marketing friends at LMA12. However, recent commentary about our industry as a whole lit a fire under my ass, so here I am.

During LMA President Alycia Sutor’s opening speech, she pumped us up as any organization’s president should, urging us to look at our jobs beyond the day-to-day and analyze whether we are considering the big picture (“What if?” – Check out Heather Morse-Geller’s re-cap). As inspired as I was by Alycia, I realized during her speech that LMA is truly transformative. Here’s why: no matter your level of experience as a legal marketer, this conference provides a forum to stop and reflect on our current place in our firms, where we want to be in our firms, and whether we are living up to the expectations set by both our attorneys and ourselves. That’s the “big picture” surrounding each year’s LMA meeting.

When other “professionals” put our entire industry on blast because of panelists or other legal marketers whom they feel lack credibility, they are being shortsighted. In response to Laura’s unexpectedly controversial post, I don’t think she was proposing a new world order of social media rainbows and butterflies. I think she was simply bringing to light the irony of professionals who specialize in image and branding painting a very negative view of themselves using a social media platform. That’s simply my interpretation. I will say that in many of our firms, there is certainly room for a positive person to encourage attorneys to get involved in the community, coach them to make a call to a brand new contact (I call this the “first date”), and reassure them that despite pursuing a goal for two years, perhaps, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. That’s one of the reasons that we “delicate teacups” have jobs.

Scott Greenfield’s reactions to Laura’s post indicate exactly why attorneys employ marketing professionals: to more strategically target an audience and to better understand that group. Our blog is geared towards legal marketing professionals who may not understand the implications of looking like jerks on Twitter to the people who may be reviewing their resumes in a few years. Just a simple word to the wise.

As Heather Morse-Geller clarified in Laura’s comments, there is a clear difference between constructive criticism and using the anonymity of the internet to be disruptive. Kevin O’Keefe states it best in his comments:

Some lawyers don’t know the first thing about what to do with the fact that they can do good work and then how to use relationships and word of mouth (something that comes as naturally as breathing to most folks – especially those outside the law). These folks may need some help with marketing and business development. Not fluff, but business development founded on being a good lawyer dedicated to working their tail off for their clients.

Having visited Laura’s firm and having met their lawyers and their director of marketing, I believe her firm’s business development is founded on those principals.

What we are trying to do in our daily jobs, with our countless tweets and LinkedIn conversations, and during our annual conference has nothing to do with “making legal marketing look legitimate.” It’s as simple as taking the time see how we stack up to our peers, find out what makes them better at their jobs and take those principles back to our respective offices. Because legal marketing is a real thing, and if business development trends in the legal industry continue in their current direction, we aren’t going anywhere.

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Defeated. That’s how I feel when I have to use the “forgot password” link on a login screen. I wish I could get away with using a single username and password for every site, but that’s impossible. (Especially when I feel the need to test out every network that comes along.) Social networks account for a few of the sites I have to remember, but let’s not forget about the directories, email marketing tools, CMS systems…even spam filters. And that’s just for work.

For those of us who need it, password managers are a great way to “remember” all of the login information we deal with on a daily basis.

The logical software for this would be Microsoft Excel. But, I hate having to go through the hassle of opening a spreadsheet to find a lost password. I did some (excessive) research, and below are some tools to help you keep track of your passwords (please leave your favorite password tools in the comments!).

  • Microsoft Office Sticky Notes. This works best for everyday use. I made one sticky note for each site, include the email it’s associated with, the username, and password. In Office 2010 (and 2007, I believe), you can color code these to your specifications (if you have categories). If I forget a password, it’s easy to copy and paste.
  • Firefox, the browser. Firefox is my favorite browser (can’t beat their add-ons). The browser itself has an option to save passwords, with another option to have a master password, in fear of others using your computer. It works well, for the most part. There are a few sites that aren’t remembered, even if I check the “remember me” box. Small price to pay for convenience. Also, there is an option to export passwords.
  • Firefox, the add-ons. Firefox has quite a few add-ons that keep track of passwords. I’ve had a good experience with LastPass – it has the capability to remember contact information as well as passwords, and even credit card information (I don’t recommend saving that anywhere). Same issue as Firefox’s browser – it doesn’t work for every, single site.
  • Passpack. If you want password security, Passpack is your site. It’s free (or paid). It’s got a form feature, so you can fill out the appropriate blanks, like URL, email address, etc. It scrambles passwords so that only when you click will you see it. It’s accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection. The only con about this site, and it’s not really a con, is that it requires one password and one security phrase to get into your site.
  • Springpad. Springpad is not an inherent password manager, but I like to use it as one. I can access this from my phone, the Internet, and via a Firefox add-on. I can create notebooks, which contain tasks, notes, to-dos, etc., and access them from anywhere.

What software or methods do you use to keep track of your passwords?

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Copyright 2011: Laura Gutierrez, Rebecca Wissler. The Legal Shakeup.
Logo and header images designed by the talented Janet Klingbeil.