It has been a steady migration rather than a stampede, but just about every large corporate law firm in Washington now occupies its very own corner of cyberspace. Some of these Web sites are pretty spiffy, others are forgettable. Hearsay this week reviews the offerings of six of Washington's best-known firms. The list goes from best to worst.
Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld
Easily the snazziest of the bunch, this site crackles with color, originality and surprising features. It is the only legal site Hearsay tested that could pass for a state-of-the-art, fully-interactive, alive-and-kicking Web site.
The recruiting section features a gallery of photos of smiling young people, presumably Akin, Gump associates having a grand time on a night off. Click on the "senior partner focus" section and there's a downloadable movie of resident rainmaker Robert Strauss and Chairman R. Bruce McLean, opining about the firm. Hearsay would review the show, but it requires software that Hearsay's computer could not download.
A "Day in the Life" section offers a snapshot look at the firm in action in satellite offices across the globe. Click Los Angeles on the world map and a window pops up that reads "7 a.m. -- After a six-mile run and a cup of espresso, I start my day with a joint defense conference call dealing with a range of substantive and logistical issues for Phase II." Hearsay has no idea what "Phase II" means, but it sounds way cool.
Kudos for: linking "ESPN SportsZone" Web site in the "Useful Links" section.
Points off for: boasting on the site about awards the site has won. Then again, if you've got it, why not flaunt it?
Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering
A graphically ambitious site, Wilmer's greets visitors with a nifty screen where the words "integrity, excellence, dedication" melt away in a slow fade that is positively George Lucas-like by the competition's stodgy standards.
The deep blue-green backdrop is visually sumptuous, and there are engaging graphic touches throughout. Put your cursor on the words "our lawyers" on the home page and a couple of chess pieces pop up in the background. Not-so-subtle implication: Hire us and we'll corner your enemies.
Kudos for: the appealing colors.
Points off for: the flat, uncatchy motto: "A law firm with global experience." Folks, hundreds of law firms have "global experience." Only a handful, though, have superconnected Washington fixers such as Lloyd Cutler. So run with it. Try something like "Where Cutler Makes His Calls," or even "You need Rolodex, We've got Rolodex."
Howrey & Simon
While other law firms have tiptoed toward commercialism, Howrey has lunged at it. In the early 1990s, the Washington powerhouse became one of the very first corporate firms to advertise at all, and it recently hired New York ad mavens Saatchi & Saatchi to polish its pitches.
So it's no surprise that Howrey's Web site is far less timid than the competition. It's bigger and richer, and it doesn't shy from its purpose -- recruiting clients and maybe making a few bucks. There's a news ticker at the bottom of the home page that displays firm-related developments, updatable throughout the day. "Howrey & Simon ranks high on American Lawyer's Pro Bono Honor Roll," reads one recent bulletin. Nifty graphics are sprinkled throughout. The library section is a feast, though many of its best features are off-limits to everyone but Howrey lawyers.
Kudos for: quoting Hearsay columns in the clippings section.
Gets points off for: On many of the pages, there's no link to the home page, so users must click their browser's "back" button over and over to backpedal.
Covington & Burling
For years, Covington & Burling maintained an if-you-need-us-you-can-call-us approach to recruiting clients and new lawyers. So the mere existence of a Covington site is shock enough and proof, if any were needed, that law firms are fully embracing the Internet.
Viewers won't find many frills or visual gimmicks on this site; just lots of yellowish-white backdrop, red lettering and a decent guide to the firm's practice and personnel. A list of "Our Lawyers" features color photos and skeletal bios, with handy links to e-mail addresses. An encyclopedic publications section lists articles by attorneys. A list of "Our Offices" includes photos of satellite operations in Brussels, London and San Francisco, plus some decent shots of the Washington office. Car buyers want to see what they're buying online, so why shouldn't a corporation get a gander at the office and the talent when it needs legal help?
Kudos for: including photos of associates and humanizing details in associate biographies, such as hobbies. (Adriana Luedke, we learn, is "proficient in Dutch and French and enjoys scuba diving and golf." Go Adriana!)
Points off for: photo of the San Francisco office, which appears to be a shrub in a shadow.
Arnold & Porter
Hearsay would not want to be the guy assigned to design Arnold & Porter's Web site. Too much frippery and the firm seems silly. Too stodgy and the firm seems stiff and impersonal. The trick is finding that middle ground -- eye-catching but not pandering, dignified but not aloof.
A&P's Web designer erred on the side of caution, coming up with a pretty buttoned-up site stylewise. It boasts a faux-parchment background and ruby-red lettering that seems only faintly campy. Practice groups get lengthy descriptions and there are links to partner biographies, each of which features nifty black-and-white photos. Trade 'em and collect 'em!
A public service section crows about pro bono work and a publication section features articles by A&P partners. If you've been looking for a sense of how the OCC's subpar rule could spark changes in banking structure, look no further.
Kudos for: referring to the firm's most controversial client, cigarette maker Philip Morris.
Points off for: an overview that undersells the firm's achievements, sticking to generalities that could apply to any self-respecting corporate defense operation. ("The agility to balance action on several fronts at once.") Gents, toss in some testosterone and try something like, "We eat other lawyers like Doritos."
Steptoe & Johnson
A pretty tepid, almost half-hearted effort by one of Washington's best-known firms. The graphics are a snooze and there's little vitality to the presentation. It seems as if Steptoe's leaders are either ambivalent about the whole online phenomenon or simply wanted a big enough patch of cyberspace to say, "Yes, we have a Web site."
Kudos for: the "For Clients Only" section, which can be entered only with a firm-supplied password. Whatever is behind the curtain might be mundane, but it has to be more scintillating than what's in the rest of the site.
Points off for: the lack of photos and other eye candy.
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