Friday, March 17, 2006

When a Lawyer Writes a Web Site

When a company places a statement of policy on their corporate web site, they really should take a close look at it to make sure their message matches their intent. I recently discovered a boast that ended up sounding like a disclaimer which was in fact a promise to deliver inferior service.

As a web developer, I often randomly scour the Internet for inspiration. I pick up ideas here and there and incorporate them into — I mean steal them for — my own creative efforts. I search for both form and content, looking for the best and the worst of both.

It was during one such random wandering that I stumbled on the web site of — well, maybe I had better keep the name of the company confidential. After all, it was a law office. The last thing this struggling webmaster needs is a bunch of attorneys mad at him!

Here’s what the notice said:

Because of our philosophy of service, attorneys and staff at our law firm are accessible by regular appointments which are available between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Hmmm. Just what is “our philosophy of service”? Surely they intended to imply their philosophy of superior  service. Or at least good  service. Didn’t they?

So I looked all over the site. Nope, no claim was made anywhere on the site that offered service better than their competitors. Heck, they barely offered any  service at all.

Okay, so the lawyers aren’t going to make any claims that they can’t deliver on. I guess we should expect that. So let’s take it at face value. They’re going to offer, uhm, service. Just that. They have a philosophy, and that philosophy is to do what they’re supposed to do.

Let’s continue.

They’re available at “regular appointments”, eh? You’d better call ahead, because if you just walk in off the streets, these guys aren’t going to see you — even if they’re just hanging around the water cooler talking about the next ambulance they’re going to chase. Nope, you gotta have an appointment. Oh, not just any appointment will do. It has to be a “regular” appointment.

But wait, there’s more!

Just when can you expect to make that “regular” appointment? Why, on their schedule, of course. They work nine-to-five, five days a week. Period. They’re sorry if that’s inconveniently at the same time that you’re supposed to be earning an honest living. They can’t help it that the mortgage company down the street boasts of their evening and weekend extended hours. They’re sorry that my insurance agent will drive across town to meet me in my office to get my signature on a policy. No, if you need their legal advice, you’d better ask your questions during their 8-hour window.

As an aside, a few years ago, I had some legal work done (not by this  firm) and I was surprised when I got the bill that I was charged $35 by my lawyer to read an email that I had sent him. Gosh, if I’d known that, I would have included a chocolate chip cookie recipe in the email to give it at least some semblance of value. (Lawyers are the only ones that can send you a Christmas card and then charge you for the stamp.)

So, this law firm started with what should have been an opportunity to differentiate themselves from their competitors, turned it into legal mumbo-jumbo that defies reason, and ended up bragging about the fact that they offer their services under utterly crummy conditions.

Some people think I think about things too much.

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