Website Design for Lawyers
by Alex Heshmaty
1. Structure and Navigation
One of the most important elements of a good website is a clear, logical
structure. This makes it easier to maintain the site and also reduces the
likelihood of a user "getting lost" in the site or not being able to find what they
are looking for. On arrival at the home page, the user should be able to see all
the relevant areas of the site and to get to their chosen destination immediately.
A good example is Campbell Hooper's website at
If designed well, frames can offer a good system of navigation, ensuring that a
single navigation bar is seen throughout the site and giving the user some
consistency. However, care must be taken to avoid "frame within frame"
problems and, where there is information that a user may wish to print out, it is
a good idea to provide a "print" button which will print the contents of a single
2. Content is King
Many websites exist solely as a kind of online brochure which can be valuable
in its own right. However, in order to actually gain value from the site, good
content can provide a "hook" for attracting clients. There are various ways to
provide good content. This could simply consist of writing the occasional article,
in-house, on a relevant legal topic and uploading to the site or sending out
regular email newsletters highlighting developments in a certain area.
As an alternative to writing your own material, content can be "purchased" (or
licensed) from companies such as:
* Emplaw, www.emplaw.co.uk
* Conscious Solutions, www.conscious.co.uk
* Words4Business, www.words4business.com
* Editing for Law firms, www.editingforlawfirms.co.uk.
3. Simple Layout and Use of Whitespace
The less clutter on a website the better. A good design will be fresh and crisp,
and have different elements well spread out whilst taking into account the limited
screen acreage. Scroll bars should be used with care as pages which scroll too
far can be extremely annoying and may cause the user to feel like they are
looking for a needle in a haystack. Plenty of "whitespace" ensures that different
elements are kept apart and makes browsing a more pleasant experience. Take
a look at www.capsticks.com
for an example of a well laid out site with good use
of "whitespace" which maintains a simple, fresh and crisp appearance.
It is vital that your website is well maintained and kept up to date. Some web
designers will charge extortionate amounts to make simple updates so if you
intend to have your website maintained externally it is a good idea to agree to
the terms of maintenance in advance, before agreeing to the initial build, or
alternatively, have the website built using a content management system which
can be maintained by your own non-technical staff. Links to external sites should
be regularly checked. Try Xenu's Link Sleuth (it's free) at
5. Use of Web Technologies
applications and server technologies which can be used to build a website. In
general, the more complex the technologies used to build a site, the more
expensive but not necessarily the better. If used inappropriately, some website
"enhancements" can actually have a negative effect on a site. For example,
Flash can be used to add smooth, interactive animation to part of a site or even
to build a complete website but it can sometimes look "gimmicky" and slow down
the loading time of a site. As a general rule, only use the web technology which
is necessary for the design or the usability of your website.
6. Style and Consistency
Choose and stick to one set of fonts and colours. Sans-serif fonts (eg. Arial,
Verdana, Tahoma) are usually easier to read on-screen whereas Serif fonts (eg.
Times New Roman) look better in print. Georgia is an exception to the rule, as
it is a serif font that was designed to be easily read on a computer monitor. As
for colours, it is better to stick to different shades of a small palette rather than
using a large palette. It is also important that the same layout is retained
throughout the site for ease of navigation. A company logo displayed on every
page can strengthen corporate identity. A site which maintains good
consistency, style and identity is Norton Rose at
Accessibility of a site is becoming increasingly important, as described in more
detail in other articles in this newsletter, and there is every likelihood that
increasing pressure will be put on website providers to ensure that their designs
are as accessible as possible to all users. Flexibility is an important element of
accessible design, enabling the user to resize text or change colour schemes.
CSS is a useful language for ensuring that a single page can be displayed in
many different ways, with different colours, fonts and other styling.
8. Browser Compatibility
Although the most widely used browser is Microsoft's Internet Explorer, there are
a wide range of other web browsers which can be used, including Netscape,
Opera and Mozilla. Then there are all the different versions of each browser as
they are constantly being upgraded (IE 5, 5.5, 6 etc), as well as different
platforms (PC, Mac, Linux, FreeBSD etc) and different operating systems
(Windows 98, 2000, XP etc.). Each browser variation can interpret a website
differently but a well designed site will minimise these differences. It is worth
downloading at least one different browser and testing the results, e.g. Mozilla Firefox
9. Loading Time
Although the advent of broadband has reduced the concern for loading time, this
is still an important issue. Heavy graphics and processor-hungry applications
(eg. Flash and PDF) can slow down a website and create a negative user
experience. Badly designed code can also have the effect of slowing down a
site. It is always worth testing your website using a 56k modem before making
it live, as that is the speed at which many users will arrive. A fast-loading home
page is of great importance but do avoid the mistake of the "Click Here to Enter"
welcome page as this just increases needless clicking and can be frustrating.
10. Contact Details
After speedily entering your site, easily navigating to the updated content and
marvelling at the pleasing colour scheme and clear layout, a potential client will
hopefully want to contact you. It could be said that the whole purpose of having
a website is to communicate with clients or potential clients. Therefore it is of
utmost importance that contact details remain prominent throughout your
Aside from all the usual details (name, address, telephone, fax, email and
perhaps departmental contacts) it can be useful to provide a form and maybe
even a ring-back service. Placing a "contact details" link on a navigation bar
which can be seen on every page will usually be enough to ensure that contact
details remain prominent. Hopefully, this will help to convert website users into
Alex Heshmaty graduated with an LLB (Hons.) in English and European Law at
UWE, Bristol in 2000. He became interested in web design and, after training
with an ISP in Bristol, became Systems Manager at DiscLaw Publishing Ltd,
taking charge of the technical side of web operations at
left DiscLaw earlier this year in order to start his own web design consultancy.
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