The annual Intendance Fast Fifty survey of law firm websites will shortly be published. Here director James Tuke outlines some of the key themes. Intendance is a Legal Futures Associate.

Though websites have a number of uses – marketing, PR, client services etc – that often demand regular redevelopment, the pace of change in the legal sector has slowed. Intendance’s Fast Fifty 2010 Update can reveal that only eight law firm websites that featured in last year’s Fast Fifty report have changed.

The effect of reduced marketing budgets from 2008 onwards is a likely reason for the lack of changes. Many firms have had to put website projects on hold, yet there is an argument that poor economic times are a good time to invest in improving your online communications. Servicing clients better in tough economic times through a functional, appealing website is one way to steal a march on competitors.

The majority of the eight firms that changed their sites have significantly improved their online performance. Of particular merit were the new Hill Dickinson and Mishcon de Reya sites. The latter’s redesign is particularly innovative, as it improves the search capability on the site significantly. One feature of web 3.0 – the next level of web development beyond web 2.0 – is intelligent search. While web 2.0 was partly about user-generated content, one aspect of web 3.0 is about improving access to that content by making search engines interpret our search words and phrases more like human beings.

The Mishcon site embraces this paradigm shift, and gives users another option when looking for content. While the majority might prefer, through force of habit, to navigate around a site manually, searching is another way of accessing the right information. The Mishcon search facility responds to questions, and segments the results into related sub-groups like people or practice area or news.

Tellingly, a much higher proportion of the sites that did not make the final 50 in last year’s report have changed. However, some of them have taken a backward step in terms of adhering to basic web design principles. One particular firm has replaced their clean, ordered and well-branded site with a cluttered site that lacks hierarchy, diminishes the user experience, and gives a less favourable impression of the firm.

The Fast Fifty Update is available on the Intendance website, www.intendance.com.


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