For most people, working with a lawyer is like going to the emergency room. It’s expensive, intimidating, and something they do only when left with no other choice. Nearly three out of four Americans say they dread the thought of calling a lawyer, according to a 2012 study commissioned by LegalShield. The same study found that seven million full-time working Americans experienced at least one significant legal event in the prior 12 months, but only 60 percent of them actually sought out a lawyer’s services.
Unfortunately, this isn’t surprising. Those of us who work in the legal plan arena are very familiar with the barriers that prevent most people from working with attorneys. The primary barrier, of course, is financial, and legal plans tackle this barrier head-on by using group buying to drastically reduce client costs. Another barrier is psychological: people hesitate to speak to attorneys because they associate their involvement with adverse life events.
Legal plans have the power to change this mindset. Because they typically include a variety of services that proactively address issues before problems arise—preparing a will or reviewing a lease, for example—they can change the prospective client’s perception of the law from one of emergency medicine to one of preventative medicine. Instead of dreading making that phone call to an attorney, clients begin to see the call as an opportunity to get sound advice that will help them avoid trouble. As a result, they’re more likely to make that call as a matter of course, not just recourse.
At a time when many attorneys are feeling increasing pressure to acquire clients, this is welcome news. Legal plans offer a way to build client relationships that are grounded in the notion that the clients are doing something good for themselves rather than merely correcting something bad. It’s not hard to imagine that you’d feel very differently about a dentist whom you only saw when you needed a root canal versus one you visited regularly to keep your teeth sparkling.
With that shift in perception comes the opportunity to talk with clients about concerns that go beyond the boundaries of the legal plan, into additional proactive services that the attorney can provide. Just as importantly, if the client does find himself needing reactive legal help, the relationship forged in a preventative context makes the client more comfortable with the prospect of reaching out.
Despite the ubiquity of advertising channels in this digital age, the most effective client acquisition method is still the word-of-mouth referral. Legal plan clients who have good experiences with their plan attorneys refer them to others, regardless of whether they’re on the same or any other legal plan. Thus each legal plan client—acquired at no cost to the attorney— has the potential to bring in more clients.
It’s easy to fixate on saving money as the main reason for a client to subscribe to a legal plan. But from the attorney’s standpoint, there’s something subtler at work. By assuaging a client’s anxieties about runaway bills, legal plans create a space for lawyers to redefine their roles in client’s lives. They get a chance to become clients’ valued partners—true counselors—and not just hired emergency help.