Illustration by Mocho (Pixabay)

If websites are the foundation of digital presence in today’s marketing world, then Big Law firms are in terrible, terrible trouble.  Pick out any ten Big Law firm sites at random, strip out the names and try to tell them apart.  You can’t.

In the land of Big Law me-too marketing, the entire webscape seems to be assembled from the same erector set of interchangeable components: the boring corporate logo, the smiling stock images of multi-cultural people who don’t actually work there, the high-rise building beauty shots and the obligatory “we are global” image, all capped with pithy branding statements that say nothing and the token pro bono story.

No clients. No visual or verbal identity. No soul.  Considering the amount of time and money spent on building these sites, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry.

Business operates today in the richest, most fertile world that has ever existed for marketing and communications, yet the Big Law web remains a barren desert.  Opportunities to engage and connect with customers and prospects abound, yet Big Law stubbornly refuses to take advantage of them.  Why?

Here are some of the reasons:

  • In their excellent article,An Rx for Lateral Heartache,” William Henderson and Christopher Zorn highlight “lawyer exceptionalism: a belief among lawyers that other disciplines and industries have nothing to teach them.” Nowhere in Big Law is this more prevalent than in marketing and nowhere is it more exposed than in Big Law websites.

  • At the macro level, most Big Law firms are pretty much the same. The differences lie at the micro and intangible levels: the personalities of the firm’s lawyers, the creativity of client problem solving and the nuances of client relationships. Most partners don’t have the patience or willingness to work with their marketers to capture and convey this “soft” information.

  • Most Big Law websites are built on a “ME, ME, ME” platform. If Big Law firms never stop talking about themselves, why would any prospective client believe that they actually knew how to listen? Is there a client in the world who cares what you did in law school 20 years ago?

  • Faced with the “Good/Fast/Cheap” conundrum, most law firm partners will pick fast and cheap when it comes to building their websites. Creating effective, customized content is hard work. Highly skilled writers, designers, photographers and videographers are hard to find, expensive and always in demand. You would think partners who bill $900 an hour would understand this. They don’t.

  • Most Big Law firms are stuck in the “Information Age.” Memo to biglaw partners: that’s over. Today, successful websites are built on engagement and experience, not data. The good news is that marketers know more than ever about how to engage visitors and have a wide variety of tools to help them create and measure engagement. The bad news is that few Big Law partners are even interested in having this conversation with their marketers, particularly when they could be billing clients.

  • Big Law firms spend too much timerounding up the usual suspects. Big Law firm marketing is an unusually closed system that relies on the same players, the same agencies, the same consultants, the same designers, etc. over and over again.   Is anyone surprised when everything looks and sounds the same?

With the exception of inspecting their bios with a microscope, few if any Big Law partners have spent any time at all looking at their own firm’s website.  That’s probably because few believe that it serves any real role in keeping or acquiring clients (seelawyer exceptionalismabove.)

And, to paraphrase Hobbes, the experience of building a great website is solitary, expensive, nasty, brutish, and long. No one in their right mind who has been through the experience at a Big Law firm wants to repeat it in their lifetime.  As a result, most Big Law sites will remain “good enough” camels that satisfy their partners and clients who need an email address or directions to the D.C. office.

In short, don’t expect the revolution anytime soon.

But, somewhere out there, a disrupter is lurking, perhaps a smaller Am Law 200 firm without a lot to lose, who is going to push reset on the law firm website equation.  When they do, you can be sure that, five years later, they’ll have a lot of imitators.

(In Part II of this column, some thoughts on the reimagined, reinvented Big Law website.)