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Website Marketing: “Smiling Lawyers” Trap

Smiling lawyers – the latest website home page cliché.

For 25 years, I’ve been railing against the obvious, literal visual “Law” clichés — the gavels, globes, columns, skylines, buildings, handshakes, blurry lawyers running, silhouettes by windows, and many others (watch the painful video here).

The most prevalent home page banner cliche on today’s websites is what I call “smiling lawyers.”

That is, rotating head shots of a diverse cross-section of a firm’s lawyers, alongside a caption of their name, office, and practice area: “Jane Smith, Litigation, Chicago. <fade in> Harry Johnson, Real Estate, San Francisco.”

That’s safe. That’s easy. And every one of your competitors also has lawyers working at their firms. So how does showing your lawyers help you sell your firm? Candidly, it doesn’t. It just doesn’t. It’s just taking the easy way out.

We must strive for impact in our marketing.

More creativity works better, it helps you stand out, so that you can use the viewer’s increased attention to convey your message to them in a memorable way. Of course, a marketer’s job isn’t to make art or pretty pictures, or win accolades or awards.

A marketer’s job is to make the firms more money. Period.

The first few firms that used actual photos of their lawyers in their marketing were revolutionaries. But now that every other website uses them, as a viewer I can’t help but think, “THAT’S what makes them unique? They’re a $100 million organization representing clients around the world and the single most-important thing they want prospects to know about them is that their lawyers smile?”

It’s not that you can’t ever use photos of your people, it’s just that there has to be an actual reason for it. See, e.g. the Howard Law Group website, which uses photos of their lawyers, but in support of a strong brand message.

It’s the absence of strategy that’s the real problem.

Portrait, SmileWhen your underlying message seems to be “See? People work here!” then you’re missing a rare opportunity to help your website visitors understand why they should hire your lawyers rather than those from other firm whose professionals also seem smart and had childhood orthodontia. They won’t remember your site two minutes after clicking the Back button.

However, if the firm could agree on their target audience, USP, and how to say it in a way that those clients would find persuasive, THEN for the first time they have something to illustrate. THEN, if the best execution of that strategy include photos of your lawyers, at least it’s in implementation of a plan, it’s not just because the firm couldn’t do anything better, or didn’t even try.

Too many branding firms and website developers simply use those photos because (1) people like seeing pictures of themselves – i.e. it’s easy to get approval, and (2) they couldn’t come up with a brand message or execution that could have helped increase revenue.

Remember, a website is just one of many tools we have to help drive additional business to a firm. And when you analyze it critically and honestly, it’s hard to explain how doing the same thing as everyone else generated significantly higher profits. But as long as the lawyers don’t really expect it to, then no one seems hurt.

If we reinforce the lawyers’ low expectations for their marketing materials, then they won’t value what we do – these marketers will be viewed as people who shovel meaningless brochures out the door, albeit using the internet as a shinier shovel.

© 2019 Fishman Marketing


About this Author

Ross Fishman legal marketing expert  Fishman Marketing

Fishman Marketing develops the legal profession's most-effective brands and websites. Called “one of the leading experts on law firm marketing” by Lawyers Weekly, Ross helps firms dominate their markets and generate revenue. FM has designed 200+ marketing campaigns and taught 10,000 lawyers worldwide how to generate new business.

A former litigator and...