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The consequences of failing to prioritize web accessibility can go well-beyond decreased effectiveness of your law firm website. Keep reading to learn more about three possible ramifications of having an inaccessible site.
Most lawyers understand that web accessibility is an important piece of an effective law firm website. While web accessibility undoubtedly plays a key role in legal marketing strategies by helping lawyers better connect with clients from various backgrounds and with varying abilities, the importance of web accessibility cannot be overstated for numerous other reasons too.
Nonetheless, major accessibility laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), have a relatively short legal history compared to other bodies of law. Likewise, the frequently changing digital landscape remains a new frontier in many ways – personal computers have been commonplace in homes for less than 50 years. The relative newness of both key laws and digital technology only increases the likelihood that a website will have accessibility problems.
In this post, we are exploring three possible consequences your law firm may face due to an inaccessible website.
1. Increased Risk of Litigation
Lawsuits over digital accessibility have risen in recent years. According to a 2021 Wall Street Journal article, approximately 3,500 lawsuits over web accessibility were filed in 2020 – up from 2,900 in 2019 and 2,300 in 2018. According to the same report from UsableNet cited by the Wall Street Journal, this equates to more than one digital accessibility lawsuit being filed per hour.
Whether the ADA applies to websites has indeed been an area of litigation in recent years. In a now-vacated opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit found that the ADA does not require all websites to be accessible (full opinion available here). However, the Ninth Circuit previously interpreted the ADA to apply to the Domino’s website as a place of public accommodation.
While the question of law may still be subject to debate, the fact remains that any litigation over web accessibility opens your firm up to the costs associated with such a case, including attorney time (or fees for outside counsel), filing fees, and discovery costs. Additionally, ADA violations could subject your firm to penalties of up to $75,000 for a first violation.
It is also important to remember that the ADA is not the only law that could potentially spark litigation over web accessibility. Some states have their own laws about web accessibility, others may argue additional applicable federal laws, and other countries also have legislation on the issue. As such, you should try to remain in compliance with accessibility best practices whenever possible.
Related Post: The Law of a Law Firm Website
2. Damage to Your Brand & Reputation
Despite all of the bad lawyer jokes you may hear, lawyers tend to be very cognizant of their reputations and with good reason. The legal profession requires a great deal of trust and professionalism. Building a strong reputation is important for growing and maintaining a successful practice.
For lawyers, this reputation ties into your law firm brand. Branding is an important piece of digital marketing for attorneys and is a key piece of ensuring members of your community continue to know and trust your firm.
If you have significant accessibility issues on your website, it is going to make it difficult for persons with certain disabilities to access information and contact your law firm. This reflects poorly on your firm’s reputation and brand, as well as the reputation of individual attorneys in your firm.
Additionally, if your practice handles any ADA or accessibility litigation as a plaintiff or a defendant, you do not want to have an inaccessible website either. This is another instance where it reflects poorly on your firm and you are more likely to receive negative feedback for asking someone else to be compliant when your own law firm isn’t – even if you are not actually on trial.
No one is immune from the occasional accessibility issue. Even federal government sites have accessibility errors. However, if an accessibility issue arises on your site, you should make fixing it a priority.
Prompt action to remedy the problem in this situation can go a long way in avoiding any long-lasting impacts. Should you choose to ignore the problem, however, an accessibility issue is likely to cause more serious damage to your brand and reputation, especially in the age of social media and viral posts.
3. Missed Opportunities to Connect With Clients
More people are living with some form of disability than you may think. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 61 million (or 26% of) adults in the United States are living with a disability. When you do not have an accessible website, you are missing out on the opportunity to connect with many of these people who may be searching for legal representation.
Moreover, 68% of participants in a 2020 Digital Accessibility survey reported that their organization felt compelled to be inclusive of people with disabilities. This means that there is a pretty strong chance that at least some of your competitors are prioritizing accessibility in their digital presence to increase inclusivity and access. If you are not also taking the time to focus on web accessibility, then you are falling behind these other firms.
Benefits of Web Accessibility
By prioritizing web accessibility for your law firm, you mitigate some of the risks discussed in this post while also better connecting with people looking for legal representation. You demonstrate a commitment to inclusivity for all people. However, the benefits for your firm can even go beyond the obvious.
For example, many of the strategies used to improve web accessibility also improve the overall user experience on your website. Why? Compliant websites are generally more well-organized, making it easier for people to find the information they need on your site.
Compliant websites are also easier to navigate and offer options that allow someone to use your website functionality in various circumstances. For instance, someone in a library may not be able to watch a video with the volume on. However, with subtitles, which increase accessibility, that person can still consume your content wherever convenient for them.
Similarly, many practices that are good for web accessibility are also good for SEO (search engine optimization). For example, providing alternative image descriptions and various labels helps Google and other search engines better understand and index your website content. This benefit improves access for people living with a disability, but also helps expand your reach to new clients without a disability through increased visibility.
Final Thoughts: Why Do You Care?
Web accessibility helps ensure that persons with disabilities have equal access to the resources and information available on the internet, including information on legal representation and the law available through a law firm’s website. By prioritizing web accessibility, you help your firm better connect with clients and avoid the (potentially costly) risks associated with inaccessibility.
Need help building an accessible law firm website? All Justia Elevate websites are designed for optimal compliance with web accessibility standards.
Disclaimer: The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from Justia Inc. or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter.
No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this Post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country, or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.