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By Vic Peterson, CIO, Stinson Leonard Street LLP
Websites are ubiquitous, yet they don’t spontaneously appear from nothing. A website is a big investment in time and resources. In our case, the website platform we have been using is nearly a decade old. The firm has refreshed the design at least once during that time, and managing the content is a continuous effort.
At our firm, the project is a cooperative effort between Marketing and Information Services, as it should be. Marketing sets the vision for the website, including the design, content management, and need for ancillary products, such as proposal generators or data analytics.
Information Services follows up with the Marketing vision by helping to determine the best products to meet expectations. There are also needs of the firm that may not be foremost in the minds of the Marketing team, but which impact their work and ultimately ensure productivity as a firm, for example, appropriate security, disaster recovery, data integrations, and network performance.
The project process resembles the steps most readers of this publication will be familiar with. However, given the visibility of the end product, I'll identify some basics of the approach to creating a new website. These should be consolidated in a document to be provided to vendors and key stakeholders to ensure common vision, scope, and expectations.
Project Overview–Describe in broad, non-technical terms why the new website is needed. Include Marketing concerns, such as branding and positioning strategy.
Current website–Objectively describe the current website, its downsides as well as its upsides. Implicitly answer the question, why do we need to do this?
Functionality requirements—It is especially important to understand the Marketing staff needs for this item. Modern websites are predicated on Marketing staff controlling the content, with no middleman.
Information Services follows up with the Marketing vision by helping to determine the best products to meet expectations
Technical and security requirements—As a law firm, who are your most restrictive clients in terms of security expectations? Embrace those standards, at a minimum, whether the product is hosted or on-prem. Website hacking and disaster recovery outages are an ugly PR experience.
Budget details—Treat the project holistically. A modern website includes not just the site, but often a content management tool, an RFP process, Customer survey tools, and the site may need to be capable of user interaction or even e-Commerce.
Project timeline—Every stakeholder should be on the same page from when the project begins to when it ends. Vendors who fudge on timelines should be excluded.
Proposal expectations—Be very clear with vendors about what your expectations are, especially the deal breakers. Leave nothing ambiguous.
New technologies are emerging that are important to consider. The buzz in the trade journalism is much more wishful thinking than actuality. At this point, the legal industry at large has not embraced big data analysis or interactive web tools, yet these are emerging among very large firms and niche market firms. Both are making a commoditization play.
Determine objectively whether cutting-edge web technologies are suitable for your firm. Ask: Is your firm in a market that is demanding lower prices for a routine set of work? Does your firm's client base include a lot of Fortune 100 firms looking to save on legal expenses? Does your firm have the resources and patience to take the risk? Additionally, does your firm need to make a statement in the market that it is technology savvy? Or does the "simpler is better" mode apply?
Your website is meaningful only insofar as people look at it and use it to employ your firm. The nature of your website will derive mostly from the clients you have, so you, with marketing, need to understand what they might be looking at. For example, our current website contains extensive practice division descriptions detailing our vaunted expertise, but almost nobody reads them. They do, however, read the attorney bios very carefully. Our next site will contain much abbreviated expression of practice division information and a more vigorous, focused version of the attorney bios.
We have just completed the above analyses steps and will be selecting vendors soon. A year from now we should have a new website up for public consumption. Wish us bon voyage.