It seems an obvious enough question. However, I’ve come to learn over the years that it’s not so simple after all. First off, many firms haven’t ever really considered it before. Secondly, there really are several different possible true answers. I’ve set out six possible responses below that correspond to different types of firms I’ve encountered over the years.
Answer 1: There Isn’t One.
For some firms, the website is just a thing:
“Everyone has a website now, so it’s just another thing my firm is supposed to have, like a fax machine and some telephones. I’d like a website and I’d like it to not cost too much please.”
Answer 2: Partner Art Therapy.
At the other end of the caring spectrum, there are firms for whom the website represents a once-in-a-career opportunity to express their inner artistic muses, and a seeming respite from the practice of law:
“We’ve assembled our 9-person website committee and we’d like to meet bi-weekly for the duration of the project and we’d like to start with colour options. We are thinking about a sort of french blue for the primary colour (but not too light! Sort of a navy-ish french blue) with either magenta or burgundy accents. We are wondering if you can send us pantone colour samples with at least 9 choices for each of those colours – the partners like to know all their options. Also, Bob is the senior partner in Insolvency and he HATES French blue, and likes browns and greens, so we are hoping you have some ideas on that. Can you have the first set of complete mockups to us tomorrow?”
Answer 3: Don’t Embarrass Us.
For many successful firms, the website is still “just a thing”, but at a higher level:
“We are a successful firm. We are very good at what we do. We are already busy and aren’t really looking for more work. Our reputation is important to us though, and we recognize that clients, other lawyers, client prospects and law students all check out our website. The site we have now was put together (X) years ago and hasn’t aged well, to the point that it’s become something of a sore spot for us. We don’t need it to win work for us, we just don’t want it to be the thing that PREVENTS us from getting the work.”
Answer 4: Keep Up With (Okay, Beat) the Jones & Co.’s.
Some firms have a keen sense of rivalry with one or two other firms across the street, or down the block. They’ll be damned if they are going to let “those guys” kick their proverbial posteriors whether it’s on a file, in a charity fund-raising event, in a law school alumni donation campaign or on their respective firm websites:
“The guys over at Jones & Co have recently launched a new website. Have you seen it? It’s better than our current one. We need a new one too. Except ours should be better than theirs.”
Answer 5: Set Us Apart.
Some firms really do want to break from the herd:
“We are a very unique firm. We do X. We do not do A,B,C, Y, or Z. We do X differently than everybody else, and the people that matter in the industry know us for that. We want our website to reflect the fact that nobody else has our depth of experience in X, and that we are a better choice if you are faced with an X situation because of reasons 1, 2 & 3. We don’t care about what other firms are doing and we don’t want to look like other firms. We want to make it clear to clients who need X why we are the only right choice, and to do that we need to look different from everybody else. Please help us achieve that.”
Answer 6: Make Us Money.
Personal service firms tend to look at their website more clinically than business firms do, and more frequently fall into this category:
“Our business model relies on a steady influx of new clients, so we need to constantly be reaching out to them. We used to spend gajillions on yellow pages but that doesn’t work like it used to and we have cut way back on that in recent years. We are looking for a website that makes the phones ring. We are prepared to put money into this thing if it works for us. We don’t care if it has a leopard-print background and giant hooting owls jumping out of the screen or videos of partners going in the dunk tank for charity and a church choir singing pages from Black’s Law Dictionary. Whatever works, we’ll do it. It just has to drive business.”
Some of these rationales are more strategically sound than others, but regardless of where your firm lands, figuring out the answer to the question of “why” your firm website exists can help inform how much and what kind of new website you need, and can help your developers know where they are headed. See if any of these choices fit your firm, or tell me about some other options in the comments.