|Oregon State Bar Bulletin OCTOBER 2007|
Flubs and Dubs
By Robert J. Ambrogi
How effectively do law firms use their websites to recruit summer associates? Last month, we began to answer this question with a review of some of the more effective and creative recruiting sites of AmLaw 100 law firms. This month, we survey some of the flubs, dubs and missteps we found.
As might be expected of big firms with big budgets, their websites are generally professionally conceived and produced, with no outrageous pratfalls. Thus, the criticisms in this second part fall closer to nit-picking than condemnation.
Notably, in the month since I first reviewed these sites and finished part one of this two-part column, some of my criticisms became moot as law firms revised their recruiting pages.
For example, when I first viewed the careers site of Wilmer Hale, www. wilmerhale.com, I found some pages to be out of date in both content and execution. In the month since, the firm launched a new careers section, www.wilmerhalecareers.com, which now stands out as one of the better recruiting sites.
Another example is Kirkland & Ellis, www.kirkland.com. In part one of this column, I praised several firms for their compelling use of web video as a tool for law firm recruiting. By contrast, Kirkland’s use of video struck me as an example of how a good idea can be poorly executed.
Rather than use a format that would embed the videos within a web page, in the style of YouTube, Kirkland posted its videos in Windows Media Player format. This made them clumsier and much slower to open — particularly for those of us who use browsers other than Internet Explorer.
But in the month since I first looked at Kirkland’s site, the firm launched a whole new website and all new career pages. The revamped career pages now appear to have banished videos altogether.
But while some firms fixed their flubs, others remain. A still-standing example of how a firm can adopt the good idea of videos and disappoint in its execution is Womble Carlyle, www.wcsr.com.
A link on the main careers page invites the visitor to view its "Career Center Video Library." Click that link and a video viewing pane drops down, instructing, "Please select a video from the library on the right." Look to the right and what do you find? One video. One video does not a library make. This is a flagrant case of over-promising and under-delivering.
Another disappointing use of multimedia comes from Debevoise, www.debevoise.com/summerassociates/. It has the right idea: a collection of interviews with associates sharing their war stories, greatest moments and experiences with the firms. But it posts the interviews only as MP3 audio (or PDF transcript). As you listen, you want to see the people who are talking, the faces that go with the voices. Why would so prominent and affluent a firm skimp on production in this way?
There is no excuse for failing to design websites that are compatible with all major browsers. Sure, Internet Explorer continues to command the bulk of the browser market. But why would a firm exclude users of other browsers from its site, particularly when it is often the more tech-savvy users who opt out of IE?
This is the problem with the careers page on the website of Patton Boggs, www.pattonboggs.com/careers/. It works fine in IE, but try to open the page in Firefox and it comes up as a screenful of black. Switch to Opera and you get the same. Did no one at Patton ever test this page in a browser other than IE?
In what is to some extent also a browser issue, I find myself completely befuddled by the front recruiting page of Fried Frank, www.ffhsj.com/recruitment/. Bells and whistles are fun, but webpages should be simple enough in their design that the concept does not overshadow the content. In the case of Fried Frank’s site, the opening page so confused me that I was distracted from the ultimate message. I am hoping that someone will point out to me that I am simply dumber than a fifth grader for failing to get it.
From the firm’s home page, click the link for "recruiting" and a page opens that is composed in the multimedia authoring tool Flash. The firm’s name appears briefly, dissolving to a grey page with a horizontal bar across the bottom showing hours and a vertical bar, positioned at 7:02 a.m., labeled "Rise and Shine."
Presumably this is the beginning of a day-at-the-firm timeline. But my frustration is that I could not get it to work. Using Firefox, the page remained completely static, with no way to move along the timeline. Same with Opera. But if I opened the page in IE and hovered over it with my mouse, something appeared that I had not seen with the other browsers: a pop-up that said, "Click to activate and use this control."
I took the bait and clicked, only to have nothing happen. Was this page supposed to do something? I did not know. I could bypass this frustration by clicking the "skip intro" button at the bottom of the page or the "recruitment menu" button at the top. Either one took me to a page from which I could navigate through successive pages of the timeline by clicking an arrow icon. But by now I’d spent several minutes trying to "activate" a feature that seemed inoperable. Was it me or was it the site? I shouldn’t have to wonder.
Truth be told, I debated whether to include among these flubs the recruiting site of Goodwin Procter, www.goodwinprocter.com/careers/default.asp. Its breezy creativity could easily have put it on my list of favored sites. But after much discussion with myself, I concluded it was just too over the top for a recruiting vehicle.
The site uses a series of Flash-style videos, characterized by exaggerated text and images, to portray themes such as passion, flexibility, confidence and courage. One partner seems to turn somersaults through the air. A mike-in-hand litigator adopts a rock-star pose. A real estate partner appears to bungee jump. A litigator leans back at a precarious 45-degree angle without visible support.
Everyone appears to be defying gravity and having way too much fun. Even the firm’s managing partner and hiring chair are shown shoulder-to-shoulder, smiling broadly and gesturing in poses that suggest a musical comedy duet. All this is no doubt great if you are recruiting astronauts. For recruiting attorneys, however, it strikes me as just too much.
A few other dishonorable mentions:
Simpson Thacher, www.stblaw.com. Scattered through the firm’s recruiting pages are New Yorker-style cartoons that seem gratuitous and incongruous. Worse yet, some play to the worst stereotypes of lawyers. One, for example, shows a client sitting with his lawyer reading what is either a script or a transcript. The client says, "I love my testimony. You’ve really captured my voice." The suggestion is that the lawyer either scripted or manipulated the client’s testimony.
Morgan Lewis, www.morganlewis.com. From the front page, click "Careers," then "Law Students," then "Testimonials of former summer associates," and you come to a page that says only, "Coming soon!" A basic rule of web design is that if a page is under construction, keep it to yourself until it is ready to launch.
Arnold & Porter, www.arnoldporter.com/recruiting.cfm. The recruiting page opens with an impressive list of work/life honors. But with one exception from 2006, the honors all date from 2005 and earlier. One wonders, why nothing since? Is this a failure to update the site or to win further honors?
Venable, www.venable.com/legal_ recruiting.cfm. What distinguishes Venable from other firms? Two words: rooftop bocce. Are law students really that shallow?
Winston & Strawn, www.winston.com. A well-done series of video testimonials is almost hidden behind an unassuming link labeled, "Click to view feature."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robert Ambrogi, who practices law in Rockport, Mass., is the former editor of National Law Journal and Lawyers Weekly USA. He is internationally known for his writing about the Internet and technology..