Blog Post

Let’s Blow Up the Practice Areas List

5 comments

About halfway through virtually every large law firm website redesign, this question pops up: “What should we do about the practice areas landing page?” That question is followed by statements such as:

  • “Our practice list is too long.”
  • “The entire page is unnavigable.”
  • “It’s a miracle that anyone can find what they are looking for.”

My Past (Not-so-great) Advice

For years, I gave the following advice: shorten the list. Evidence shows that visitors are more likely to flee in frustration than they are to wade through a scrolling list of 100+ ambiguously named practice areas. So, a shorter list seems like an obvious solution.

“And if partners push back,” I would add, “tell them that nobody is visiting the practice area pages, anyway.” That’s a fact. The practice areas section typically accounts for an anemic portion of site traffic (less than 9%). So, instead of obsessing over practice area pages, it makes more sense for firms to focus on improving attorney bios – where the majority of traffic goes.

Partners Go Ballistic

Shortening the list is great in theory. However, in reality, the plan routinely proved to be unworkable. Practice area leaders were simply unwilling to surrender their patch of real estate on the firm’s website. So, despite the efforts of the marketing department, the practice areas list inevitably launched unchanged.

Eventually, it became clear that our “less-is-more” advice on this issue caused more problems than it solved. So, we searched for a better solution.

Technology to the Rescue

After reconsidering the problem, we devised a technological solution: predictive search. This new approach allows users to entirely avoid the unwieldy list of practice areas. Instead, users can locate a practice area using a predictive search field placed atop the page. As a user begins typing a practice area name into the search field, the system instantly offers matching practice areas.

Predictive search proved to be an excellent solution. It’s quick and easy for users. And it presents no political challenges for the marketing department. A win all around!
 

Another Problem: Naming

As quickly as predictive search solved one problem, another was revealed: everybody calls practice areas something different. For example:

  • Is it “Corporate Law” or “Business Law”?
  • Should I look under “Divorce Law” or “Family Law”?
  • Is it clear that “Corporate Investigations” falls under the “Criminal Defense” practice?

Because there are so many possible names for each practice area, we decided to enable each practice to be found under multiple names. We call this feature, nicknames.

Practice Area “Nicknames”

With our nicknames feature, any practice area can have several alternate names. For example, your Trusts & Estates practice could have nicknames like “Wills,” “Probate,” and “Wealth Planning.” And if you typed “will” into the practice area search field, the system would instantly suggest, “Trusts & Estates (Wills).” Any number of nicknames can be assigned to each practice, and it takes only seconds to add a new nickname in the CMS.

For a live example of nicknames, visit Fox Rothschild’s practice areas page and type “will” or “divorce” into the search field at the top.

The End of the Practice Areas List?

Predictive search (with nicknames) is much quicker and easier to navigate than a traditional practice areas list. As law firms embrace this new feature, it will likely push them (and their website designers) to reconsider many aspects of the practice areas list. For example:

  • Can the practice areas list be replaced entirely by a predictive search field?
  • Does the practice areas list offer an important “branding opportunity” for a firm?
  • Does predictive search allow us to make the practice areas list even longer and more granular?

What do you think? 

Am I overstating the impact of functionality that makes it easy to find a practice area? Are my questions on target? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Comments

5 comments... read them below or add one.
  1. kathy phelps says:

    Hallelujah!

  2. Rob Kahn says:

    It needs an “I’m Feeling Lucky” button.

  3. Cara S says:

    Love it!

  4. Simon Robinson says:

    This is interesting but I have two questions:
    Will clients actually use it – have you implemented this somewhere and found measurable results?

    Will it work properly on mobile devices? A majority of older devices don’t work well with predictive search (they’re too slow) and indeed the network around where I live is too slow for predictive search to work even on a new phone. This is a major hurdle in my eyes seeing as so much traffic is on mobile devices now. Ultimately this would mean that you wouldn’t be able to get rid of the practice areas page on mobile anyway.

    It seems to me that this search function is just a band aid for an ax wound.

  5. Lloyd Pearson says:

    Nice (sort of), but aren’t you creating more work for the user?

    Hovering and clicking over “M&A” using your mouse takes a second.

    Clicking the main “practice” button, then moving your hand from the mouse to the keyboard and typing adds a few more precious seconds….

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