The conventional wisdom of web design is that you shouldn’t use stock photos because they don’t help create any unique branding for your site. But yet, most law sites use them because after a couple obligatory pictures of the attorneys and perhaps their staff, and a pic of the outside of their law office building, those other iconic images of a law practice seem expected and even necessary. A picture of a gavel or the scales of justice provides an instant reference that you’re an attorney. However, a stock photo of a model playing an attorney should be avoided at all costs, because you don’t want a stranger’s face representing your law firm, even if that stranger is really really ridiculously good looking.
You’re probably aware that because of copyright restrictions you can’t just use one of the photos from those Google searches. But there are lots of places you can find legally usable free legal imagery to use (did I just make a tongue twister there?), before you shell out money to purchase images from a commercial site. A good start is usually to find a blog post where someone has already done the work in finding the good sites for you, like this post or this one.
In addition to searching the sites in those posts, let me offer a few other tips. Even though they charge for their photos, it’s worth glancing at the home pages of the pay stock sites, because some of them may give you free photos regularly just for registering. Istock and Shutterstock will give you free content every week. If the weekly free photos they offer turn out to be something you can’t use, like women laughing alone eating salad, then just come back the next week and see what you find.
There are sites that aren’t labeled as free stock photo sites but still offer lots of photos with creative commons licenses. These licenses allow the owners of the photos to keep the copyrights to their photos and still allow others like you to use those photos on your web site. You can find such photos using a broad search site like Wikimedia for this purpose. A search for “gavel” for instance brought up over 400 results on Wikimedia. Some sites like Photopin search major photo sharing sites like Flickr for open license images.
If you’re not limiting yourself to images that are traditionally associated with lawyers, there are really interesting places to find creative commons licenses. If you’d just like some nice classically artistic pieces to decorate your site, in the same way you’d hang some nice artwork on your office walls, check out the Walters Art Museum, which offers free licenses on its images.
Similarly, some sites also have photos that are historical and in the public domain, so again if you are creative you can use these elegant images in your site. Examples of this include New Old Stock and Getty’s Open Content site.
With a bit of caution I also feel compelled to let you know that Getty, which is the 800-pound gorilla of the pay stock site world, recent began another initiative. It will let you use many of its expensive images on your site, but you simply can’t download and use its images any way you want. You have to embed the images on your site in a strict way by using the exact code that Getty makes you put on your site. Some other web sites have written interesting critiques of this approach, mainly focusing on worries about what Getty’s code will do once its unleashed on your site.
If you want to really go old school, remember that you can always go back to the early days of the net and dredge up some classic clip art. Although Microsoft doesn’t prominently display it in their commercials, you can still search their pretty line drawings to find the cute legal imagery.
So now with all these options, I suppose I have to revisit this post sometime and add some nice free photos myself!