Visitors to the Thomas Jefferson School of Law homepage don’t need to fish around the website to find important information. A Georgetown study has ranked the new TJSL homepage 35th out of the 200 ABA-approved law schools, higher than the other San Diego law schools. TJSL scored 79 out of 100 possible points.
The new website, which was up and running in August 2010, is both aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate. The homepage illustrates the major transformation TJSL is undergoing by showcasing an image photo of the new campus and featuring stories about the law school’s latest events and accomplishments.
“The old homepage wasn’t as dynamic and vibrant as it needed to be with what’s happening at the school,” said James Cooper, TJSL’s Chief Information Officer, who heads the Information Technology (IT) Department. “We do a much better job now at representing the energy here.”
A year ago, Cooper and the IT and Communications Departments began the project to restructure and redesign the entire website to better serve the different audiences. Their goal was to focus the website on catching the attention of potential students, reaching out to the alumni and promoting TJSL to the greater legal communities. This goal proved to be an attainable one, as traffic on the website has increased and visitors have stayed on it longer. The website also caught the eye of researchers in the Georgetown study, who ranked the TJSL homepage up 45 points from 80th place last year.
Twenty people provided input for study, including design developers, law school professors and librarians. These researchers used three categories to evaluate the criteria: Design patterns and Metadata, Accessibility and Validation, and Marketing and Communications. TJSL was especially strong in the Marketing and Communications category, scoring points for including social media links on the homepage as well as featuring news headlines. TJSL also earned points for having proper headings and a search form on the homepage.
The study noted that a whopping 34 law schools did not list an address on their homepage and 55 schools did not list a telephone number, something that potential students may want to find quickly. TJSL racked up points for including both of these.
Law schools should begin addressing the trend toward mobile internet access, the study noted, but TJSL is already one step ahead. The website is currently accessible via several smart-phones, including the iPhone, and should be accessible by more in the future.
“We have tested it with large screen phones and we intend to specifically design themes for mobile users this year,” Cooper said.
Alongside the development of the new website came the development of the TJSL Docket- a portal exclusively for students to access when they utilize the school’s wireless service.
“We thought we would be able to better serve students by creating something separate but better for them, which led to the development of the Docket,” Cooper said.
The Docket features easy access to online tools such as MyVillage and Twen, as well as financial aid services. It also allows students to quickly obtain recorded lectures and past exams without having to search through online folders. The Docket soon will even have a student marketplace, similar to Craigslist.com, where students can sell books and look for roommates.
The IT Department also plans on providing student organizations with the tools to maintain content on their websites. “We have already worked with several groups - for example, the Student Bar Association,” Cooper said. “We encourage organizations to contact us if interested.”
Cooper expects TJSL to earn even more points in the study next year, as new features are added to the homepage.
“We are already working on three areas that we didn’t receive points in,” Cooper said. “We will add multimedia content and RSS feeds for example.”