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.