The largest law firms are failing to provide a modern digital experience for visitors to their websites, with 86 of the top 100 global practices lacking effective websites, research has found.
Despite investing “millions in enterprise platforms with extensive functionality and agencies with impressive credentials”, the sites were riddled with security flaws, ineffective messaging, slow load times and abysmal mobile experiences.
Ultimedia’s Digital Maturity Report warned that law firms which ignored the need for digital transformation would “cease to be relevant in a digital-first world”.
‘Digital maturity’ reflects how effective and innovative a law firm is based on their adoption and implementation of digital marketing and technology.
The digital experience specialists measured the global elite against 10 core factors, including website effectiveness, audience size, digital marketing, personalisation, social media and apps.
Website effectiveness was based on page speed and mobile friendliness, combined with whether sites were multilingual and accessible to those with disabilities.
“Website speed is an area of weakness for the top 100 law firms,” the report said. “We found evidence of bloated websites, on slow ageing platforms with unnecessary imagery and videos.”
Common failings in mobile friendliness included a lack of clickable elements, optimised content or scalable text suited to the screen size of a device.
Only 42 law firm websites provided their website visitors with a translation facility, while two-thirds failed accessibility tests.
The five top law firms for website effectiveness were all based in North America, but when it came to overall digital maturity, researchers rated DLA Piper and Baker McKenzie as joint leaders, followed by White & Case and Allen & Overy. Slaughter and May and Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner were the lowest-scoring UK practices.
In terms of audience size, only four top 100 firms “over-performed”. CMS Law, DLA Piper, Allen & Overy and Gowling WLG all used “multiple tactics to exploit demand for digital information”.
Describing the level of personalisation as “disappointing”, researchers said: “A modern digital experience provides personalised content for different audiences, in different territories with different needs.
“Personalisation makes it easy for users, increases engagement and generates more opportunities for new business as a result.”
The three global law firms that offered their visitors a personalised experience were Pinsent Masons, Simmons & Simmons and US law firm Jackson Lewis.
Researchers said social media was “an exciting opportunity for the savvy legal marketer” but they were “disappointed to reveal that only 37% of the firms we tested are present across all core social media platforms and posting frequently”.
They said law firm audiences had “a thirst for knowledge” and wanted to be able to be able to access and manage information themselves, while apps could also “empower employees and staff to connect with a firm at their fingertips”.
There was “a clear relationship between the overall digital maturity of law firms and organic search marketing performance”, with 82% of highest performers for search marketing achieving rankings in the top 25 for digital maturity.
The big firms tended to “neglect the opportunity provided by Google to grow brand awareness, reach new audiences, generate new business opportunities and be seen as the leader in different elements of law”, Ultimedia said.
“Google processes 8.5 billion searches every day it is estimated that 80% of potential law firm clients conduct their research via this channel.”
Despite email marketing being “the most lucrative channel” for law firm conversions, only three of top 100 law firms achieved a good score – King & Wood Mallesons, Fenwick and Crowell & Moring.
Almost half of firms (48%) did not offer website visitors the option to subscribe to a newsletter.
Craig Johnson, chief executive of Ultimedia, commented: “The inability of the top legal firms to get to grips with digital marketing is staggering. We’ve been through a Covid-19 enforced transition to ‘digital first’ marketing yet simple opportunities remain unexploited.
“There’s a huge opportunity for progressive law firms to usurp competitors, reach new audiences and dominate the sector digitally. Whilst many firms are investing in expensive digital systems there is a lack of execution.
“Even the firms that scored highest in the study, such as DLA Piper and Baker McKenzie, have significant room for improvement.”