The Judge Rules: Law firm websites – bring back the good old simpler days

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By Judge John Hack on

Modern cyber marketing is flashier, but it lacks the individualistic charm of the earlier generation


Life was so much simpler in 1996.

The Spice Girls and Oasis were in the charts. As were those cheeky chappies Baddiel & Skinner and The Lightning Seeds with “Three Lions” — for that was the year football came home as England hosted the European Championship and Germany won the competition.


Even though the worldwide web had been around for some time, 1996 was the year that law firms twigged to the fact that they had better jump aboard the cyber bandwagon.

Surely the hordes of marketing and business development staff (remind me again of the difference) that have since grown like Japanese knot weed at law firms will have in the intervening nearly two decades made massive improvements to their employers’ sites.

No, not really.

Of course, modern law firm websites are infinitely flashier and slicker than their predecessors, incorporating all the tropes of modernity such as animated GIFs, embedded videos, hi-resolution imagery, mood-enhancing fading page transition gimmickry — and the odd tea-making facility.

But while modern sites at the top end of the City and US law firm markets incorporate enough bells and whistles to give an anti-capitalist march a run for its money, they are all much of a muchness. For the most part, they look and feel the same — and importantly, they more or less spout the same anodyne drivel.


“As one of the world’s leading law firms, we advise many of the biggest and most ambitious organisations across all major regions of the globe,” states Anglo-Australian firm Herbert Smith Freehills.

Likewise, Shearman & Sterling “has been advising many of the world’s leading corporations and financial institutions, governments and governmental organisations for more than 140 years”, say the New Yorkers in a stunning bid to set the firm apart in a crowded market.

Indeed, some firms try so hard to distinguish themselves that they fall into embarrassing traps. For example, that global giant we all take for granted today, Clifford Chance, was just nine years old in 1996, the product of a 1987 merger between Clifford Turner and Coward Chance.

Its 1996 home page has all the hallmarks of an earlier Blue Peter-style era of web design, and is dominated with a charming “Welcome” message.


Perhaps today’s marketing wallhas at CC should have stuck with the homespun simple approach of an earlier generation. Doing so might have saved them the grief of their current home page embarrassment as revealed in our earlier coverage today.

Interestingly, the supposed media-savvy crowd at London firm Olswang seemed to get it wrong then — and now. In 1999 the firm adopted a web design that has something of a naff Teletext feel about it. Today, it has one of the most dull and static home pages in law firm cyberspace.


Indeed, of the 10 sites highlighted by Legal Cheek, the only modern incarnation that catches the Judge’s eye is that of global maritime and aviation specialists Clyde & Co. Massive great hi-res images that fill the screen and are at least vaguely interesting on an artistic photographic level.


As for the text, most of it is clear-cut and simple — three main categories on the home page that are relatively useful. And while the firm also trots out the standard meaningless banalities — “Clyde & Co is a dynamic, rapidly expanding global law firm focused on providing a complete legal service to clients in our core sectors” — it keeps that level of nonsense to a relative minimum.

But to be fair, the modern Clyde & Co effort isn’t a patch on its 1998 version. In those days, it had a chic John Player Special look that almost meant that if the law firm had produced fags, the Judge would have been puffing their brand.



Revealed: How big law firms’ websites looked in the 90s [Legal Cheek]

The Judge rules: Legal profession awards — don’t they make you sick?!!! [Legal Cheek]