“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This maxim is true for many things in life, none more so than a Web site.

While most law firms are professional in their day-to-day business operations, many still haven't learned that a poorly designed Web site can damage the firm's credibility and impair its image.

To enhance the firm's image and strengthen its credibility, it's important to field a Web site that's professionally designed. Most prospective clients who see a badly designed site wind up taking their business to a competitor whose site strengthens that firm's image of professionalism.

The Internet is fertile ground for law firms. According to Martindale and other “find-a-lawyer” sites, thousands of people use the Internet to search for a lawyer. The findings from the study in Minnesota Law & Politics are as true today as they were when the study was first published in February 2001: “A well-designed and easy-to-use Web site can be invaluable for firms trying to connect with potential clients.”

In a misguided attempt to save time and money, many smaller law firms use a generic template to create their site. The decision to use a solution that's easy but inferior can impair the firm's ability to attract potential clients via the Internet.

There are solutions for firms that want to limit their costs while mounting a site that reflects positively on the firm's professional capabilities. In fact, the quality of a Web site can be assessed using the following four criteria:

Design: What's the overall look and feel of the site, not simply the graphics? How would you assess the splash page, the home page, the internal pages and the specialty sites? Some of the most effective designs contain only the simplest graphics yet are effective in their layout, their structure and their download time.

Content: How does the site reflect the quality, quantity and availability of the firm's knowledge? How detailed are the attorneys' biographies? The practice area descriptions? Publications? Does the site offer unique informational materials? It's fascinating to see the depth of resources on some sites… and the sketchy brochureware on others.

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Lomit Patel Lomit Patel is the President of Integrated Marketing Gurus. IMG is a consulting firm that provides Internet business solutions through website design, strategy and online marketing with proven results. For more information, go to http://www.imgurus.com. Lomit can be reached at lpatel@imgurus.com