Designing Websites for Lawyers and the Public

I expect that the needs of lawyers are somewhat different from the general public when it comes to the websites of public bodies, particularly those of regulators and tribunals. What got me thinking about it was a solicitation to provide feedback on the British Columbia Information and Privacy Commissioner’s website as they embark on a refresh or redesign.

I assume that when most public bodies are thinking about their websites, they look at how to make it useful for the general public. Which is obviously important, but I know that I’m a heavy user of a number of government websites and databases, including the Privacy Commissioners’, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, and the Nova Scotia Companies Office. I don’t think a (work) day goes by without looking up something on those sites. I’m sure that if the sites I’ve just listed did a survey, the majority of their hits (and certainly returning visitors) are lawyers.

Does that mean that the websites should be designed for lawyers? Or should they be like pharmaceutical products’ sites, where the splash page presents a link for patients and another for physicians. Perhaps not, but I’d suggest that all of them should closely look at who is visiting, what they’re doing and how can it be made as easy as possible.

It may be useful for those who design websites to hear from lawyers about what they want from a site they visit on a regular basis. And I guess it’s up to lawyers to make their voices heard!

So I’ll start the conversation:

  1. The way Federal Government “bilingual” domain names work just sucks. It could be much more elegent. I understand that the Canada Revenue Agency is CRA in English and ARC in French. If you want the Canada Revenue Agency, instead of having redirect to (the english version), it goes to the splash page and asks you English or French? If I’m thinking “ARC”, I’m probably looking for French (and vice versa).
  2. I like the Advanced Search Engine at the Privacy Commissioner‘s website. Though most findings end up on CanLII, I go there to look by industry, section of the Act, principle, etc. Well done, privcom!
  3. I don’t want to have to agree to terms of use each time I visit, as is the case at the Registry of Joint Stock Companies (RJSC) in Nova Scotia. Over and over and over again.
  4. On the topic of the RJSC, I want permalinks to the each result. It’s much easier to send a link to upated content to someone.
  5. Not to beat up the RJSC, “Print Versions” should not have an ugly “PRINT” button and “CLOSE WINDOW” button that appears on the page you print.

Since lawyers are not known for having a shortage of opinions, any other thoughts for usability guidelines for lawyers? Add them in the comments ….

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