Close your eyes and picture the average law firm’s website. Chances are, you can pretty quickly conjure up a vision. It likely begins with a masculine color palette and conservative typography and ends with a banner image of a city skyline or the scales of justice.

Sound familiar? That’s because law firms tend to create similar visual work. Lookalike websites make it hard for any one firm to stand out — and they certainly aren’t tailored enough to communicate a firm’s unique positioning and personality.

In short, cookie cutter design solutions meet the minimum standard for the legal space. They get the job done. But they won’t do your firm any favors.

So why is it that so many law firms’ websites look the same? And how can you be sure to select a design partner who will craft a customized design that truly advances your firm’s business?

Why Law Firm Websites Look the Same

There are many reasons why law firms’ websites tend to share a similar visual language.

For starters, law firms are, by nature, conservative in how they market themselves. They don’t want to appear frivolous or trendy. Instead, most firms want their branding to convey a sense of timeless tradition and authority. There’s a strong sense they shouldn’t waste time being overly creative or abstract. (This is especially true of legacy partners, who may question the value of website in the first place.)

Secondly, most law firms don’t have in-house design experts. In fact, smaller firms may not have a dedicated marketing person on staff. And they certainly aren’t in the business of web design. Without a strong branding and marketing perspective of their own, some law firms rely on less experienced or “off the shelf” web designers to fill in the gap.

Third — and this is especially true for newer firms that are still establishing name recognition — there is reassurance in doing what’s been done before. Newer firms may be hesitant to recreate the wheel when they can fall back on a tried-and-true visual shorthand that seems to convey professionalism in the legal space.

Finally, cost is another factor that contributes to widespread design homogeneity. Chances are you would never hire a legal or accounting firm based solely on what they charge, but many firms do just that when hiring a design partner. Without a strong understanding of what differentiates one design agency from another, cost becomes the only concrete criteria on which to base a decision. As a result, law firms often end up going with the lowest bidder — regardless of whether it’s the right partnership to tell their unique story.

The reality is that “off the shelf” design solutions tend to be more affordable. If your firm is at a stage where cost is the determining factor, then you may decide to go that route. Just be sure that you walk into the situation fully aware of what that means. And keep in mind that these “off the shelf” design solutions can be more costly than they initially appear. For example, you’ll likely find yourself needing to redesign an “off the shelf” website more quickly than a truly customized solution.

The truth is, it doesn’t have to be this way.

The Right Stuff: How to Select the Best-Fit Website Designer for Your Law Firm

At Decker Design, we’ve worked with dozens of legal firms. And we know how important it is to lead the website design process with strategy rather than pure aesthetics.

For example, Decker’s design process begins with a rigorous discovery phase. We take the time to get to know the firms we work with, including the individual partners, staffers, and clients. We take pains to understand our clients’ most pressing business goals. And we assess gaps in their self-perception and the way they are perceived in the marketplace.

Throughout this process, we help our clients sort through the factors that set them apart. At times, it’s as simple as elevating a seemingly small but meaningful nuance. And our design process doesn’t begin until we’ve gathered all the right information and arrived at these strategic decisions.

In working with law firms, we also borrow from our experience in the financial services space. Like law firms, financial services firms are fairly conservative. Yet the financial services space is so incredibly competitive that they can’t help but be more advanced in their marketing.

These financial firms take pains to craft truly differentiated brand identities. And they ensure that their brands are deployed consistently across every touchpoint. In addition, they are always looking to adopt the newest marketing tactics. The work we’ve done in the financial services space informs all of our work and offers our legal clients interesting new perspectives.

Asking the Right Questions to Select Your Law Firm’s Web Designer

On its face, the notion of personalized, firm-specific design seems fairly simple. Shouldn’t all web designers be committed to meeting their clients’ individual needs and goals? Unfortunately, cookie-cutter design firms that aren’t forthcoming about their approach make it harder for clients to know what they’re buying until after they’ve bought it.

It’s essential that you choose the right partner in order to create a truly distinctive site that captures your firm’s unique positioning and personality. Ask the following three questions to discover whether a design candidate is the right partner for you:

  1. What is their approach? Design firms can vary widely in their approach to client work, so it’s important to get an upfront sense of your candidate’s approach to design work. Broadly speaking, you want to work with a firm that asks intelligent questions about your practice instead of approaching the work from a purely aesthetic perspective. Ask about their discovery process. It’s usually a good sign if they make time for interviews with a mix of your partners, associates, external stakeholders, and even some of your clients. The more they take the time to understand your unique culture as well as your business objectives, the better the end results will be.
  2. Do they offer truly customized designs? It’s sad but true: Many design firms have figured out how to effectively automate the web design process using a small set of well-disguised templates. The good news is, you can easily suss out this approach if you know what you’re looking for. Start by thoroughly reviewing each candidate’s portfolio. Check for variety and authenticity in the work they’ve done for clients in the past. And don’t hesitate to probe a little deeper when you hear terms like “more efficient” or “cost effective.” Price should certainly be a consideration and efficiency can be a good thing, but these phrases are sometimes doublespeak for templatization.
  3. Do you like them? This last one may seem like a no-brainer, but the value of working with decent, genuine people on your website design project simply can’t be overstated. Look for a partner who has a rich, well-rounded perspective, and who is not just open but eager to hear your thoughts and concerns throughout the process. Your investment in a new website more than warrants the time it will take to find a like-minded partner you can relate to and work well with.

Regardless of how you make the decision to hire a web design partner, be sure to assess your candidates using more than just the price tags. The quality and eventual expiration date of your firm’s website are what’s at stake.

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