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A basic website for a professional has four purposes:
To meet those four purposes it should do the following three things:
This article provides a simple format for designing a web site that can meet
the basic goals of a small law firm's web site. It is a simple "how
to" primer that attempts to avoid being swallowed in extraneous details.
The basic site is made from one "cover sheet" web page and four to five attached
or linked pages set up in the following outline:
["Cover Sheet"/Business Card]
[Professional Statement(s) (Search Engine Summaries)]
[Fees and Services Information]
[Other (includes content, if any)]
[Disclaimers (if required by your State Bar
Business Card. This page is what is known as a "splash page" on a web site and is the equivalent of the cover on a brochure or a listing in the Yellow Pages. On the Internet it serves the same purpose that handing your business card to someone does. This is the page that automatically displays when your web address is typed in without modifiers (e.g. http://your_name.com/ -- or, in my my case what comes up when http://members.aol.com/Ethesis/pages/sm is typed). This is also the part of a web site known as the "home page." It should be short, quick and confirm to people that this is your site and that it will connect them to the rest of your information. A sample site for a real attorney is posted at http://members.aol.com/Ethesis/pages/ta and sample sites for fictional attorneys are available at  and .
Resume(s) are linked to the home page and provide the same information
that a full-sized Martindale-Hubbell card provides. This is the place to
list your qualifications, background, skills and resources. Nothing should
be included that you would not include on a resume that you gave another
attorney. Depending on the length and content of the resumes, and the type
of business your firm is seeking, this section may be quite long and may
have a separate page for each attorney in your firm. It may include
Professional Statement(s). This page explains just what it is that your firm does. If the page is concise and to the point, this is also the part of your site that search engines will find and index. Because of this, your professional statement should include both the words lawyer and attorney in it and should also include your address.
Fees and Services Information should be provided on a separate page and be as complete as possible while not taking more than about one page of paper's space.
Other. If your site provides content, includes links or similar material, it should be on a page of its own. You need not provide any links from your site (links pre-date search engines and are rarely as useful), but if you have a collection of links that you use in your own on-line research and connections, this is a good place to keep a copy of them. If you feel a need for a collection of links, feel free to copy mine and use as much of it as you need. Links
Disclaimers. Some State Bar Associations require disclaimers. Many States allow you to place these anywhere on your site and a separate page is a good place to keep t hem if your state bar association allows this. [ethics footnote]. [Sample Texas Disclaimer].
The easiest way to design a web site for a small firm of less than ten attorneys is to start with several sheets of paper. To the first, attach your business card and write below it a, b, c, and d. Write "a" on the second sheet of paper and attach your Martindale-Hubbell material to it, one page for each attorney involved. "b" is written on the third sheet of paper and your professional statement(s) are attached to it -- one statement per page. Write "c" on the fourth sheet of paper and attach your fees and services schedule. To the fifth sheet of paper ("d") attach any disclaimers your bar association requires.
From this starting point create a basic web site of one home page, and three or more linked pages. [tools footnote] What you want is a basic, simple and direct web page that looks somewhat like a firm brochure -- except one that displays on a computer rather than one that is read in print on paper. The business card and "a, b, c, and d" are the inserts or sections of the firm brochure and the materials attached to each are the pages of each insert.
This approach will allow you to create a web page that meets all of the goals that a law firm needs to have met without getting your firm sidetracked into areas that have little to do with the profession of law. Each page will be 30k in size or less and will contain enough information to justify a computer screen, but not so much that substantial scrolling is required. (Studies have shown that the majority of the people who use the internet will not wait for a page that is longer than 30k and will not read past the first screen and a half's worth of material on any single web page).
More detailed design notes are covered at length at my site at http://members.aol.com/Ethesis, but basically you should be working with a white or pale background with black or very dark text without animations, banners or other gimmicks. You do not need graphics or complicated frames to communicate directly, simply and effectively. [information footnote]
For a small firm, a good web site can be designed and installed for less than $750.00 -- less than one year's listing in Martindale-Hubbell. Following the steps in this article will help you understand and guide the structure and metaphor of your site and enable you to make a professional appearance on the World Wide Web.
The following are the most pertinent ethics materials I was able to find. You may want to visit Legalethics for more information.
Ambulance Chasers on the Internet: Regulation of Attorney Web Pages
Ethical Considerations of Legal Nevertising
Authoring a web page is very similar to using wordprocessing software to write a document. In some cases you can even use the same software.
On the Windows platform, if you currently use Corel WordPerfect7, it has excellent tools for authoring Web Pages, as does Corel's Web.Designer. http://www.corel.com. An excellent tool, available for free download with templates and documentation is AOLPress. http://www.aolpress.com. AOLPress is expressly designed to allow the user to browse the web using it and to allow you to copy pages easily (such as the links collection noted above). I have started using AOLPress 2.0 beta (also available for free). I prefer the current version as the best tool for a lawyer's web page. Netscape Composer is available for free and will give you a good look at the future. The current "almost best" (what is "best" changes every month) is Microsoft FrontPage98. http://www.microsoft.com/frontpage/.
On the Mac platform, Pagemill 2.0 from Adobe is the leader. http://www.adobe.com. Visual Page from Symantec Corp. is very similar and considered better by "insiders." 1-800-441-7234.
The tutorials included with each of these software packages are a good place to start to get a feel for how the software works -- and why a lawyer's professional needs are different from the general population's approach to web pages.
These are sources for a beginning look at design and technical issues. For book reviews, guides to HTML coding, tutorials and more, you can check http://members.aol.com/wprg1. For a humorous "ten worst" design features list see gt55133 -- the things on that list define the difference between a professional's home page for his or her business and something done by a design artist or an overactive child. Last and best is the Alertbox, the most widely read Web Page Design Newsletter. [The Alertbox]
Stephen R. Marsh