A cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
How much should a law firm website cost?
[Picture my pinky finger slowly rising, inverted, to the corner of my mouth.]
Should it cost one million dollars?
Believe it or not, some law firms pay over $1,000,000 for new websites.
Read on to learn what your firm should consider paying and why some websites are more expensive than others.
What factors drives price for law firm websites?
As a general rule, the following factors play a big role in the final bill for a law firm website:
- The number of custom page templates that need to be designed and built
- The number of pages of content on the site
- Necessity of redirects, pruning site library
- The number of custom blocks designed (WordPress)
- Data entry requirements
- The number of attorneys
- Integrations with APIs, CRM, and case management software
- Experience of developer
- Experience of designer
- Backend features and custom software
- Agencies that have built a “proprietary” or custom CMS tend to charge more
Law firms with over 500 lawyers
Price range: $200,000 – $1,000,000
Major price factors: Firm size, number of pages, integrations, custom software
Although the value they get is dubious, often very dubious, it’s not uncommon for large law firms to spend close to $1,000,000 on a website project (design & development).
For example, a legal marketing agency in NYC, called Great Jakes, lets potential clients know up front that bills can run high.
They quote fees on their website as follows:
Pricing for a website engagement begins at around $99,000. Large-firm websites can exceed $850,000.
You and I are having what lawyers call a “meeting of the minds” moment if that $850,000 number seems a bit on the high side.
But, to be fair, some of Great Jake’s clients are law firms with well over 1,000 lawyers. These engagements are complex, require tremendous organization, and Great Jake’s seems to have an excellent reputation in the legal community. However, great reputation and client roster notwithstanding, a review of the Great Jake’s website features an underwhelming set of tech features which reads more like a listacle for WordPress plugins than anything forward thinking or cutting edge.
Beware the proprietary CMS
Perhaps in some cases, these ultra high end price tags for law firm websites can be justified. CRM integrations, APIs, and using code to arrange data are all hard to do and expensive to get right.
However, as an entrepreneur familiar with building projects in both Python and WordPress, I am skeptical of any marketing agency that has built its own CMS, as Great Jakes has. I am skeptical because of the massive open source code base powering WordPress.
Why not use that code when so many other institutional operations (universities, museums, large corporations, and yes, law firms) do?
Building a new CMS, “just for law firms,” when we have Genesis, strikes me as a waste of resources, and yet, I suspect it’s the lingering tech-phobic attitude of the legal community that is probably to blame for the proliferation of platforms like these.
It’s not that a “proprietary” CMS doesn’t work, I am sure they “work,” but they are also redundant technologies that, due to massive disadvantages of sheer scale, can’t compete with WordPress, or even Wagtail for that matter.
The $1,000,000 WordPress plugin
As a for example, we added a Search Suggest plugin to a site we own a few months ago. The site we use it for has a large library of content (approaching 1,000 pieces of subject matter expert written content) and the feature does seem to make a positive difference for user experience on the site. You can download plugins like this for free and pay for a couple hours of development time to have it added to almost any WordPress site.
At Great Jakes, the exact same feature is listed as part of their technology, repackaged as “Facebook style” predictive search.
Quite remarkable. On the one hand, a simple WordPress plugin written by one of the core contributors to WordPress, Konstantin Obenland, is sitting out there for free. Take the elevator 50 floors up and the same feature, written in a slightly different way, but with the same function, is sold as part of a “technology package” with a price so high it would make Jackson Hole real estate brokers blush.
Let’s assume the firm is building software
In reality, the only way you get to a $1,000,000 website for a law firm is if software is being built. Our team has built software over the last two years using Python, Django, and using Wagtail as the CMS.
The current market rate for Python developers is between $50 – $180 dollars. We have paid at the high end of this scale when we want to be absolutely sure our code is top notch and that the product works, but have also worked with developers who charge less who are excellent. I have no issue overpaying for great design and development work, but let’s compare what an agency like Rooster Park out of Seattle would charge to build custom applications vs. Great Jakes (and we don’t know if Great Jakes is building software for clients).
Rooster Park, as a place startups like Moz, and even ESPN, have gone to in the past for top notch development talent, would come in at the $180 per hour, per developer price range.
The $850,000 law firm website price tag would buy the firm 4,722 hours of Python work from some of the best developers in the country. But why would a law firm need this much full stack development time? What could they possibly be building that would require these resources?
Mid-size law firms
Price range: $50,000 – $250,000
Major price factors: Firm size, content library, integrations, custom software
Next up are mid-size law firms. Most of these firms will spend in the range of $50,000 – $250,000 for a new site.
Much of the analysis for a mid-sized law firm (I am thinking of a firm with around 100 lawyers), just as it does for larger firms, centers around what is being built “back-stage” and whether custom software is needed, or whether there are some tricky integrations with a CRM.
Absent the need to hire a full stack development team, these sites can be built efficiently using WordPress.
A basic site map for a mid sized law firm might look something like:
- Mortgage backed securities
- Mortgage backed securities
Many of the pages listed above would require a custom design, and were the site to be built in WordPress, you’d want a number of custom blocks as well. However, at their core, sites like these are content sites – they are “front-end heavy,” meaning the main tasks are using HTML / CSS / Java to build on top of an existing CMS.
This can brings the price down considerably from the lofty heights of the $1,000,000 website offered by Great Jakes.
Boutique and small firms
Price range: $3,500 – $50,000
Major price factors: Number of attorneys, data entry, state of current site, design ambition, custom blocks, custom page templates, integrations
Thus far, we have established that law firm websites can be priced too high.
And that may be true, but it doesn’t mean they should be cheap either. Far more common than overpaying is the firm that under-budgets. There are still a large number of law firms who don’t want to pay for “web stuff.”
These are the firms who get a friend of the office manager to build their site, and as the saying goes, “you get what you pay for.”
In the case of a boutique or small law firm, it’s likely you can throw out the software option. This gets rid of the analysis we did above on the cost of Python developers.
Instead, you are looking at a straight content site and that means pricing will be a function of the size of the site and the design requirements. If there are 10 or 15 custom page templates to build and a number of custom blocks are required, the cost can add up fast.
For example, let’s think about how we would tackle a new design for a personal injury law firm. Would the firm like a custom results page where it can display some of the largest settlements and verdicts? We usually recommend this, but any custom page design will add to the bill.
What about blocks? These are “widget” like features that can be automatically added to the various pages on the site with a click of a button. For example, a client of ours, Dyer, Garofalo, Mann & Schultz, is known as the “Ohio Tiger.” To break up a large pieces of content and to add visual interest, we built a “Tiger Tips” box that can be added to any page or post. Features like these also add to the bill.
When firms don’t need a new site
By contrast, some firms don’t need a new design, they need an existing site transitioned to a better platform. For example, the firm who has a number of technical SEO, and design errors on its current WordPress theme will sometimes be able to simply rebuild the design into a better theme.
We just did this with the JSO Digital site you are on right now. We love our design, but the WordPress theme we originally built on, Enfold, was no longer supported and the site would crash when we made updates. We took our design files and rebuilt the site in Genesis.
Depending on the size of the site, projects like this can be sometimes be done for under $5,000.
To accurately quote pricing for a law firm website, the first line of demarcation is determining whether the site is “just a content site.”
Content sites can be complex and expensive to build, but are also straightforward once the site architecture has been properly organized.
If you can rule out creating your own software, you’re left with design complexity and site size as the two main drivers of cost.
In 95% of cases, agency built CMS platforms are best avoided in favor of open source platforms like WordPress or Wagtail.
If you have questions, email us, we can help.