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E-commerce is the boom industry of our time. And if you want the evidence, check out what Mashable recently had to say on the matter. They reported that online sales spread globally exceeded $1 trillion in 2012 for the first time in history.

More significantly again was the news that online sales are expected to grow in 2013.

According to the data, the UK is ranked 3rd in the world by e-commerce transactions. In 2011 $109.03 billion of digital sales were made. In 2012 the figure rose to $124.76 billion and for 2013 is projected to hit $141.53 billion.

These are powerful and persuasive economic indicators that paint a picture of changing social and commercial behaviour. Consumers and companies are increasingly moving business and conducting affairs online. It’s a major social and commercial trend that touches all industries – law included.

According to Lexis Nexis law firm websites are a key marketing tactic. Take up of websites is strong and according to Steve Corney, senior digital marketing manager at LexisNexis International. He added that online content is effective for lead generation and works well alongside traditional offline techniques.

Law firm websites are also key to reputation management, recruitment and to pushing into innovative business practices.

However, in a recent report by digital benchmarking company the Last Exit, the UK’s leading law firms are running “dry” and “staid” websites.

This echoes the disparaging remarks made by the former Dragon, James Caan who slammed UK law firms for running “cobweb” sites at the NetLaw Media Strategic Leadership Forum in October 2012.

But all is not lost. There is hope for the legal sector and there are a few leading lights noted in the Last Exit report. These firms were commended highly and it is they who are showing how law firm websites should be done.

The methodology looked at 34 touchpoints, some of which were: design and technology, marketing and social media. From this the researchers then looked at the following: “search functionality”, “user personalisation”, “identification of user types”, “recruitment sections”, “calls to action”, “thought leadership content”, “topicality of communications”, “richness of content”, “global credibility”, “reputation management”, “search engine optimisation”, “integration and usage of social media” and “share buttons”.

Here’s how the top 30 UK law firms ranked by web presence and how exactly they scored:

  1. Berwin Leighton Paisner – 126/170 (good)
  2. DLA Piper – 126/170 (good)
  3. Allen and Overy – 125/170 (good)
  4. Hogan Lovells – 118/170 (good)
  5. Eversheds – 114/170 (good)
  6. Wragge & Co. – 108/170 (good)
  7. Pinsent Masons – 105/170 (good)
  8. Squire Saunders LLP – 104/170 (good)
  9. = Bird & Bird, CMS Cameron McKenna – 103/170 (good)
  10. = Simmons & Simmons, Norton Rose – 102/170 (good)
  11. Herbert Smith – 101/170 (mediocre)
  12. Irwin Mitchell – 101/170 (mediocre)
  13. Withers – 100/170 (mediocre)
  14. = Clifford Chance, SJ Berwin, Macfarlanes – 98/170 (mediocre)
  15. Linklaters – 97/170 (mediocre)
  16. Ashurst – 95/170 (mediocre)
  17. Field Fisher Waterhouse – 94/170 (mediocre)
  18. Nabarro – 93/170 (mediocre)
  19. Clyde & Co.  – 92/170 (mediocre)
  20. Taylor Wessing – 91/170 (mediocre)
  21. = Slaughter & May, SNR Denton – 89/170 (mediocre)
  22. DAC Beachcroft – 86/170 (mediocre)
  23. Freshfields – 85/170 (mediocre)
  24. Addleshaw Goddard – 82/170 (mediocre)
  25. Holman Fenwick Willan – 78/170 (mediocre)

The research paper tells a mixed story. Many leading law firms are running mediocre websites and by doing so, failing to maximise the potential of the online world.

There is reason for optimism. The likes of Berwin Leighton Peisner were commended for running rich and topical content, for being well organised and for maintaining a strong graduate recruitment section.

The tops scorers have set the benchmark and others can now follow suit.