“Growing up, I always wanted to be somebody, but I see now that I should have been more specific.”

- Lily Tomlin

Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that, somewhere, there’s a Big Law firm that does actually care about its website and recognizes the opportunity to use it to differentiate itself and attract new business. How might this firm use the vast store of digital marketing knowledge that exists today and what might they do to reimage and reinvent their website?

Here are some thoughts:

  • Look different –Create a visual identity for your website that signals to the client world that you’re a leader and not a follower. Not since Orrick’s famous “O” campaign has a Big Law firm made a bold visual statement that captured market attention. If you don’t believe designers can get creative with a name, check out these examples of40 famous brand logoswith hidden messages.

  • Get the clients in the picture –Partners brag incessantly about their great, long-term relationships with clients. Ask them for help leveraging these relationships for business development and the silence is deafening. Most will claim that their clients can’t or won’t do it. The reality is that they never even asked. Let me be clear..it’s not about asking clients for testimonials or endorsements. But there are many important and interesting legal and legal management issues client GCs are willing to talk about and these outside voices can be featured in a wide variety ways on your website.

  • Become a storyteller –Big Law sites today are largely data repositories (generally coupled with frustrating and inadequate search engines). But data does a poor job conveying the intangibles that differentiate Big Law firms and create relationships – expertise, personality, communications style, humor, empathy. If most Big Law firms do indeed have a culture, as they claim, that culture can only be shared through storytelling. Find the people in your firm who are great storytellers and put them front and center. (For those who don’t think storytelling is important, consider this.  In a recent study of the professional services industry byHinge Marketing, the number one reason why buyers ruled out referralsbefore ever speaking with themwas “I couldn’t understand how they could help me or my firm.”)

  • Lose the stock photos –Find a great photographer, preferably a photojournalist, and set him or her loose to capture your image. Let them wander the halls and create their vision of your firm and people. Forget your lawyerly concerns about releases and copyrights and the other 90 reasons why you can’t do this. All of that can be easily dealt with later.

  • Write less –On average, studies indicate that web visitors read only 28% of the words on a page, yet much of the content on Big Law sites relies on huge chunks of copy. Visuals, graphics and infographics are almost totally absent on Big Law sites, though study after study has proven their effectiveness in raising content engagement. Incorporate them into your website content and actively promote this content to your clients and prospects.

  • Distribute your content throughout the website – In this day of search and link-driven visits, more visitors enter sites through landing and other internal pages than your home page. Every potential landing page attracting significant traffic needs to be content-rich, and not simply a gateway or search box. And don’t bury pro bono and community service content on your “About Us” pages. It often says more to clients about your people than their bios.

  • Video, Video, Video –Short-form video is the fastest-growing form of web content. Ditch the static 20-minute conference room panel recording and focus on professionally produced and branded content that runs for 90 seconds or less. Answer client questions. Showcase your people and let them tell their own stories in their own words (see storytelling above). Short-form video is also easily repurposed across multiple digital channels, providing more bang for your buck.

Finally, Big Law should heed Lily Tomlin’s life lesson.  Growing up, it was fine for firms to simply want to be “somebody.”  More lawyers, more offices, more practices and websites that reflected this.  Now, it’s time for firms to be more specific about who they are, what they do and how they do it. Websites provide a great potential platform to communicate these specifics.

But, tackling these questions and presenting the answers in a unique, creative and engaging way requires hard choices and hard work.  Some practices and partners won’t be happy with less than center stage and most firms aren’t willing to fight these battles.

That just means that those who do will gain even more market recognition for their effort.