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I write many articles about lawyers and legal issues, so I am a frequent consumer of law firm websites. The sites are terrific resources for journalists who need to check the spelling of a lawyer’s name, find out a little about her or him, find a phone number or email to set up an interview, etc. Having seen so many law firm websites, I’ve also seen their common flaws. The good news is, these are often easy things to fix.

The top of my list of pet peeves: Small font size in gray on a white background. I am solidly middle-aged, and even with glasses I have a hard time reading copy on such sites. Unlike your potential clients, I usually have no choice about muddling through to get what I need. But potential clients do have a choice–and many of them have worse eyesight than I do. If your site is hard to read, they’ll probably skip it. So make sure your font color is black and a decent size. An added bonus, black font on white background helps your website’s performance with search engines.

Attorney directories that are hard to navigate. Please don’t make me click three links simply to get to your alphabetical attorney listing. Please don’t make me plug in somebody’s name to look at your attorney directory. Maybe I don’t know how to spell the name correctly, and that’s why I’m looking in the first place. Please do give a couple ways to search for specific attorneys, such as alphabetic listings by letter (not having to wade through the entire list of firm attorneys to find Steve Wallace, for example) and office location.

Flash intros. Flash and similar technologies have their place in good web design, but homepages are almost never that place. This is particularly true for law firm websites; visitors are likely looking for information, not entertainment. They want to get to that info quickly. Let them accomplish that goal by eliminating Flash from your homepage. Your kids may appreciate Flash on Hannah Montana’s or the Batman movie home pages, but your clients won’t.

The root of some of these missteps may be in hotshot designers who have a certain disdain for plain-Jane websites. Or, it may lie with misguided notions from the partners in charge of marketing that the latest style will impress potential clients. But stand firm, and use your common sense. If the site is hard for you to read, others will have that problem. If you have a hard time finding info on your own website and you work there, imagine the difficulty outsiders will have. Putting glitz on your website for the sake of glitz doesn’t really move you, so why would it move your clients? They’re not dumb either–after all, they hired you, right?

Jennifer Alvey helps law firms structure their websites so clients want to visit. She thinks Steve Krug, author of Don’t Make Me Think!, is a web usability genius, and pretty good at titleing books, too. She can be reached at jalvey AT wordsolutions DOT biz.

If you don’t keep up with the publishing industry, you may not know that the Washington Post recently shed a slew of its experienced copyeditors in a downsizing buyout. And I’ve been able to tell. I’ve seen many headlines for story links with bad punctuation, wrong words or, yikes! misspelled words. Or headlines that are unintelligible.

Some examples:

A link on 8/1/08 that read: Whose to Blame for Oil Prices? (“whose” is possessive, but “who’s” is a contraction for “who is”, the intended meaning here)

A photo caption on 8/1/08 about Olympic runner Usain Bolt that read “Blot Sets Record for 100 Meters”. Bonus points for this one because in the photo, Bolt’s name was prominent on his shirt.

A caption for a photo on the 7/16/08 homepage: Rose Levy Beranbaum who holds degrees in food science shows chemistry — and good pies — cannot be ignored or rushed. (lacks an appositive comma after “who”)

It’s not just the WaPo, either. Just today, I saw this headline when I signed into Yahoo!:

Magazine over featuring Obamas draws criticism (AP)

This is exactly the kind of flub that Word and other word processing programs don’t catch. When you’ve read the same text more than a couple times in the same day, you stop seeing errors, no matter how excellent your editing skills. Short turn-around times nearly always equal bloopers, in my experience.

Yet even if you have vast savannahs of time, there’s no guarantee of perfect copy, particularly if yours are the only eyes reviewing. More than once, I’ve been so grateful to have the luxury of a proofer or copyeditor who caught some whoppers, despite three others on staff who had edited the copy twice each previously. Those editors weren’t incompetent, just overburdened and constantly rushed. Sound like anyone you know?

Here’s a fun story by Gene Weingarten at the WaPo about the importance of copyeditors. See if you can find all 57 errors. If not, let me know and I’ll send you the list.

Jennifer Alvey is a writer, editor and trainer who gets equally irritated at avoidable mistakes in copy and endless debates over which and that. She can be reached at jalvey AT wordsolutions DOT biz.

My hat is off to William B. Chandler III, the chief judge of the Delaware Court of Chancery. He combines heavy-duty judicial opinions on high-profile corporate cases with pop culture references. His prose is engaging, and gets you reading. Put his latest opinion (on sufficient disclosures to stockholders for a proposed merger) on your bedside reading list. Here’s the intro:

World of Warcraft, the market-leading massively multiplayer online role playing game, entices millions of paying subscribers to immerse themselves in a virtual online world. These subscribers create their own characters, and through these avatars they interact with other players, develop skills, create a unique jargon, join guilds and alliances, engage in battles, and embark on quests. The game has been described as highly addictive, has had an impact on popular culture, and has made an extraordinary amount of money for Blizzard
Entertainment, a division of Vivendi Games.
In some ways, perhaps, the world of Mergers and Acquisitions is a massively multiplayer role playing game as well. Like in World of Warcraft and other games, the participants in the M&A field take on certain roles, interact in their own community, hone specialized skills, and even develop a unique, somewhat curious vernacular. One particular quest in the world of M&A is
disclosure litigation. In the instance of disclosure litigation presently pending before this Court, the world of M&A meets the World of Warcraft.

Thanks to the WSJ Law Blog for the post that alerted me to this great piece of legal writing.

Jennifer Alvey trains legal writers to have fun with their writing while getting their message across more persuasively. She hasn’t dipped her toe into World of Warcraft . . . yet. She can be reached at jalvey AT wordsolutions DOT biz.