What makes a good legal website, and which firms are achieving the best online engagement?
Law firm websites have a troubled history in India. For a long time they were effectively, if not explicitly, prohibited by Bar Council of India rules, which were drafted long before anyone had even thought about the existence of the internet. As a result, all but the most audacious of law firms refrained from having them.
This changed in July 2008, when a Supreme Court ruling, in VB Joshi v Union of India & Ors, paved the way for the amendment of bar council rules to account for the existence of websites. The bar council prescribed a list of permissible facts that law firms and lawyers could publish about themselves online.
“Great news,” proclaimed a memo from the Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF) at the time. “Your firm can now have its website legitimately.”
This situation persists. “Websites are permitted, subject to the conditions set out by the Bar Council of India,” says Lalit Bhasin, president of SILF. “Websites of Indian lawyers cannot legitimately be as exhaustive, informative and detailed as websites in jurisdictions of developed countries, like the US, UK, Europe, Australia, Japan, etc.,” adds Bhasin, because “in India, we still recognise law as a profession, and not as a business that should be advertised and publicised.”
For this reason, Indian law firm websites require visitors to agree to a disclaimer acknowledging that the website is not a means of advertising or solicitation, and that they have come to it voluntarily because they wish to find information about the law firm.
Embracing the digital age
After receiving the green light in 2008, law firms up and down the country set about building websites. Many were (and still are) rudimentary affairs, providing little more than contact information and a list of lawyers. But some were more ambitious, with blogs and articles – and lately even videos – on every conceivable aspect of the law and doing business in India.
Then came the pandemic, and with face-to-face interactions all but shut down, online engagement tools came to the fore. Lawyers scrambled to engage clients through websites, social media and other interactive technologies, including video meetings and webinars. The legal profession vaulted into the digital age, and lawyers, not always known for being early adopters of new technology, had little choice but to embrace it.
In pursuit of online engagement
So, which law firms are doing the best job of maximising engagement through their websites?
To find out, we turned to Alexa Internet (alexa.com), not the ubiquitous smart speaker, but another subsidiary of Amazon that specialises in internet traffic analytics.
Alexa estimates the “global rank” of websites. This is a measure of how a website is performing in relation to other websites in terms of its global engagement, or popularity. Alexa says the rank is determined “using a proprietary methodology that combines a site’s estimated average of daily unique visitors and its estimated number of pageviews over the past three months”.
The smaller the number, the higher the level of global engagement. So, unsurprisingly, at number one, we find Google, the most visited website in the world. Facebook comes in at number seven, and Flipkart, the most highly ranked Indian website, is 78.
For law firm websites, where mass-market appeal gives way to specialist interest, the rankings plummet. International law firm Linklaters, for example, is ranked 338,186, while Allen & Overy is at 416,162. The majority of Indian law firm websites rank somewhere between 500,000 and 1.5 million (figures correct as of 25 October 2021).
Leading the field
Our researchers looked at the website rankings of more than 200 leading Indian law firms. Since Alexa rankings can change from one day to the next, they calculated each firm’s average ranking between 19 April and 18 October 2021. These are the top 30 law firm websites, listed in rank order:
Top 30 Indian law firm websites by global engagement
*Average Alexa global engagement rank from 19 April to 18 October 2021.
** Recently changed from llpartners.com
Topping the league table is Nishith Desai Associates, with an impressive average Alexa rank of 210,718. The firm is known for its emphasis on research, so it is no surprise that its website is packed full of content.
Thousands of research papers on just about every area of law are freely available to visitors, while sister site Nishith.tv offers up videos of webinars and interactive panel discussions conducted by the firm. The website includes secure log-in areas for clients and staff, and a repository where clients can upload information relating to their legal matters.
SS Rana & Co, which takes second place with an Alexa rank of 350,281, also features an extensive archive of newsletters and explainer articles on issues relating to intellectual property, as well as corporate law.
In third place is Khaitan & Co, with a beautifully designed website offering a contemporary user experience. The site contains an extensive thought leadership section and a dedicated set of resources for managing the legal challenges associated with covid-19. It is one of the few Indian law firm websites to include a section on diversity and inclusion, and an alumni function to maintain contact with previous lawyers and staff. Khaitan & Co’s website has an average Alexa rank of 418,819.
Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan’s website – which takes fourth place with an Alexa rank of 423,595 – is one of very few Indian law firm websites to offer Chinese-language navigation. The site is attractively designed, with good use of fonts, colours and other design elements, and includes professional-quality videos on contemporary legal issues.
Attractive design and professional-quality video content are also hallmarks of the Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas website, which is notable for its special section on legal innovation. It receives an Alexa rank of 454,590, the fifth-highest of an Indian law firm.
Next on the list is Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas, with a rank of 527,930. This website exudes simplicity. The clean design is easy to navigate, yet has all the features one would expect of a modern law firm website, including an extensive knowledge base of articles, reports and research papers.
Obhan & Associates’ website includes notable innovations including Think Wings, a resource to support startup companies, and a fee calculator. Meanwhile, India Law Offices offers an online business match-making service, connecting companies with investors, distributors, joint venture partners, technology suppliers, outsourcing contractors and much more, in 17 different countries.
Content is king
“I have seen a huge improvement in Indian law firms’ online presence in recent years,” says Leo Long, the head of media at Vantage Asia, which publishes India Business Law Journal and Law.asia. “Just half a decade ago, most Indian law firm websites were hard to navigate, unattractive and contained dreadful photographs of the lawyers, but these days more and more Indian law firms have websites that compare favourably to those of international firms. I think this shows a greater awareness of the importance of online branding.”
According to Long, common characteristics of best-practice law firm websites include: frequently updated content, which is crucial for search engine performance; sections on thought leadership, corporate social responsibility, diversity and inclusion, and pro bono work; a newsletter subscription function to retain visitor engagement; and technologies to facilitate direct interaction with clients, such as chatbots or WhatsApp messaging.
Colour combinations, fonts and other design elements should be carefully considered, and websites should be optimised for use with mobile phones and tablets, as well as desktop computers. Social media links can amplify the reach of online resources, while the inclusion of videos gives websites a more contemporary feel.
Content is king when it comes to engaging an online audience. The law firms that are succeeding are doing so with content-rich websites featuring innovative technologies that offer much more than rudimentary information about their services.