August 31, 2003

Regardless of marketing strategy, service offerings, budgetary considerations and technological wizardry, we were clear from the outset that our Web site ( had to be different to any others that we had seen. What had struck me about all the sites I looked at as part of my research and in the course of my work was that, although many sites (by law firms or otherwise) were well designed and attractive to look at, most were not particularly interesting.

We were clear that the site needed to

· Be visually striking, reflecting our personality as a friendly law firm of individuals

· Be easy to use and, importantly, quick to download

· Contain something of value to the visitor rather than bland marketing ‘blurb’

· Be easy and quick to maintain and update.

One of the advantages that firms of our size have over large firms is that with a much smaller team working on the project, the people with the initial vision and the overall strategy in mind are also those who are responsible for implementing the project and now maintaining it. The project was delegated to a small team – the entire business development team of two (we have since expanded by 50%!), the firm’s IT partner, and our consultants and web designers Activelawyer, with whom we had an excellent working relationship as they had created our previous site. We were able to make decisions quickly and painlessly, presenting the firm with the finished prototype in February 2002.


Collyer-Bristow’s business development has always been based very much on the premise that ‘people buy people’. The personal relationship between the client and lawyer is essential. This determined our strategy for the website. We wanted to introduce all our lawyers – not just the heads of department, or the partners – to potential clients. Most sites do not list anyone below partner level.

People are a key feature throughout. The home page displays random photographs of partners in the firm, which loads simultaneously with a personal quotation from the relevant partner about their approach to clients and work. The person and their corresponding quote changes randomly as the page is refreshed or revisited. Getting partners to provide the quotes proved to be our biggest challenge of the whole project and was even more difficult than getting the photographs. Many partners were reticent about blowing their own trumpet or were concerned about being seen as flippant or simply didn’t know what to say. However, with a combination of gentle encouragement and heavy handed persuasion we succeeded and all the quotes came directly from the partners. This was important as we wanted to reflect that, just as there is no typical Collyer-Bristow client, there is no typical Collyer-Bristow lawyer.

The photographs click directly through to biographies and direct contact details, reinforcing the message of being accessible. On each page throughout the site there are images of people – on the main service pages these will always be one of the two main contacts for that service. On all other pages, including the homepage, images are randomly picked from the entire complement of partners. The ‘team’ pages show the full legal team for each area of work, including associates, assistants, paralegals and trainees. We even have a support team page introducing managers of the support functions.


We have been very careful to ensure that visitors to the site have access to any section of the site from virtually any page without constantly having to use the back button on the browser. The drop-down menus in the top navigation bar enables this to happen. We have deliberately not used graphics in the navigation to allow flexibility in adding new sections and pages.

All the service pages cross reference to relevant articles, case studies and guides and this is updated automatically as new material is added to the database.

Thinking about our client base, we knew that many people would be likely to access our site from home computers, so we have ensured that the site is fast loading on a standard domestic modem. In spite of the large number of photographs on the site, we have avoided weighty graphics and programming enabling visitors to skip through the pages relatively quickly.


We wanted to give the visitors to the site something useful to take away, in the form of good practical guidance, or even solutions, that would appeal to the kind of clients we want to attract. This determined our content. Firstly, main areas of work were divided into ‘business’ and ‘personal’, to reflect our client base, with a section for ‘advisors’, providing information for all the other professionals we work with. Each of these main areas was then divided into key service areas, in which we wanted to emphasise solutions to clients’ issues rather than merely provide a list of what we do. For each area the challenge was then to come up with five or six typical issues we are asked to deal with by clients. By clicking through from these, the next level gives practical information and guidance on each of these issues, reflecting our knowledge in this area and what help we can provide. Rather than sticking to strict rules about the format of these pages, we have been flexible and been driven by what our partners and assistants felt their clients would want to know.

With over 20 main service areas, the project management of collating the content was one of our biggest challenges and at times I confess that we felt we were drowning in documentation! The project management spreadsheet provided by ActiveLawyer was a great help in this, as we could see at any time what was complete, what was in draft and what had still to be embarked upon.

The key to the main sections is that most of the material is written by partners or fee earners who have taken on the role of section Web-editor and are responsible for keeping the information current and up-to-date. We already had a considerable library of articles, seminar notes, checklists and guides that is constantly updated, and decided that we should utilise this. To help users, we have linked the most recent relevant material to each section. This means that a user can visit the section on issues that interest them and, directly from that page, access practical and useful information, articles, guides and links to other pages that may be relevant. Most importantly, direct e-mail or telephone contact details are easily and readily available on every page.

Other features on the site are:

· Our online art gallery – this enables us to feature works from recent and forthcoming exhibitions in our real gallery.

· Pages in other languages including Thai, Portuguese, Spanish, French and Italian.

· A section featuring Olympic sailor Ben Ainslie, who we are sponsoring in the run up to Athens 2004.


The content management technology provided by ActiveLawyer means that the site is wonderfully simple to update through the password protected administration panel – no more difficult than creating or editing a Word document. After only two hours’ training, any one of the three of us in the business development team can make changes instantly. The great advantage of this is that there is no time delay between agreeing editorial content and uploading it. If we don’t like how it looks, it can be changed again immediately. Because the system is Web-based we can do this from a PC with an Internet connection anywhere. This leaves the technicians free to concentrate on programming for new developments and initiatives, and providing occasional support when we need it – in reality, weeks can go by without a support call being necessary.

The challenge is always in keeping the material relevant and current, and the team of Web-editors has a crucial role in this. The Web site remains a standing item on all business development agendas so that we are constantly looking for new ideas and suggestions and of course we meet regularly with the designers and technical experts.

And what do the clients think? The feedback has been fantastic and we know that we have gained new clients as a direct result of them liking what they saw on the Web site. Within the profession, reaction has also been positive. Interestingly, as a firm with 26 partners, not only did we come top of the Intendance survey of medium and smaller firms Web sites, we have now been shortlisted for the e-LOTIES award for the best large firm!