Internet Newsletter for Lawyers
July/August 2003, by Delia Venables

Developments in Irish Firm Sites
by Siobhan Heaney

A number of Irish law firms have given their websites a face-lift over the last few months.

Four of the country’s largest firms - A&L Goodbody, Arthur Cox, William Fry and Matheson Ormsby Prentice have revamped their sites. All are well designed, easy to navigate and, in most instances, updated on a regular basis.

Their design is faultless - crisp, clean, easy to navigate and to read online. The only problem with these sites is the fact that none of them have any distinguishing features. What these firms do have in common is a complement of highly qualified and expert staff and impressive premises, but none of them have used their websites as an opportunity to differentiate themselves from their competitors. The results are faultless, well-designed, content-heavy sites with a very high ‘yawn factor’. Their websites have seemed to converge in style to such an extent that these firms could be mistaken as part of the same practice! Has there been a merger between these firms that we don’t know of?!

Unlike some of the large UK firms, none of the bigger Irish firms provide deal room or ‘client only’ access facilities. (Arthur Cox did, at one stage have such a facility, but this is no longer evident on their revamped site). This is no surprise given that there has been a significant slow-down in corporate activity in Ireland in the last year with the consequent reduction in work in this area of practice for the larger firms.

More Developments

mcaleese caricature McAleese & Co is a new Dublin-based legal practice, established in September 2002. Their website is simple and straightforward, easy to navigate and full of content. While the site has a black background, which can sometimes be difficult to read online and to print, it still provides a good example of how a small firm’s site can be effective and eye-catching.

The publicity page of this site has a number of newspaper articles and radio interviews with principals of the firm. This is an interesting feature, and one which makes a lot of sense, given the firm’s wealth of expertise in the area of media law. It provides a good example of how even the smallest of firms can leverage their knowledge base as a marketing tool. The site is full of content such as legal reviews and case digests, but this is hidden away on each of the practice profile pages rather than being made available as a separate link from the home page.

A distinctive feature of this site is the section giving the solicitors’ profiles. Rather than using photographs to complement each profile, the firm have instead used cartoon caricatures. This not only distinguishes the site and the firm as one with a different approach, but also provides a welcome dash of humour with no negative impact on the credentials or expertise of the firm.

A round of applause to McAleese & Co for daring to be different!

Hayes solicitors have recently launched their website to coincide with their change of name from Hayes & Sons. Again, this is a content-heavy site with plenty of articles on a variety of legal topics.

Ivor Fitzpatrick have redesigned their website, which is a substantial improvement on their previous site. It is clear, easy to read and navigate and continues the noticeable trend of placing legal news and updates on the homepage.

JA Sinnott of Enniscorthy, a small firm whose site has consistently been updated with legal content, has a new website. They have made the decision to place their legal news updates on the site’s homepage with the facility to subscribe to their newsletter and receive it by email.

Two small to medium-sized firms in Dublin have redesigned their sites in the last year. Both TP Robinson and Kilroys have decided that content is king and placed up to date articles on legal developments to the fore of their sites. Both also provide an e-zine or mail subscription facility if you wish to receive the updates by email. Kilroys, like some of the larger firms, places links to recent articles and updates on the site’s home page. Their K-Zine is a newsletter on legal developments relating to e-business and is sent out in html format which is also available in a printable format on the site.

O’Donnell Sweeney has one of the few flash legal websites of which I am aware. (Binchys Solicitors also have a flash-designed site but this hasn’t been updated with any significant content in nearly three years!) There is also an html version of the site. While I am sceptical about the use of flash technology, the site is well designed and easy to navigate. The pages are clear and uncluttered, with pop-up screens. Watch out for the staff photographs which move slightly and can be a little disconcerting! Content-wise it has news and publications which are kept up to date on a regular basis. The 'ODS for Clients' link is not a deal-room facility but instead is the location for storing articles on recent cases and legal developments of interest to clients of the firm. If you stick to the html version of the site you will find it easy to navigate and read.

Conclusion

It would seem that law firm websites in Ireland have reached a plateau with little development in the way of web-based legal services or client-only access facilities. This is perhaps not surprising given the slow-down in corporate activity in Ireland and the taming of the Celtic Tiger. However, it would be good to see some firms, particularly larger ones with more resources, using their websites as a means of differentiating themselves to a greater extent than they are currently doing.

Siobhan Heaney (www.infoconsult.ie) is a legal information and knowledge management consultant. She advises firms on the development of knowledge management strategies and conducts information and knowledge audits on their behalf. She also assists firms with website development, document management and library and information strategies.
email siobhan.heaney@infoconsult.ie.

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