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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.