Walking through the Edinburgh airport in 2008, I saw an IBM advertisement that said: “Stop selling what you have. Start selling what they need.” True then, truer now. Today consumers are in the driver’s seat. In the olden days—think 1950s—it is said that lawyers wooed clients on golf courses and in private clubs. They listened to a problem, said they could handle it and shook hands on the deal. The client was pleased with the final result and gave all their business to that lawyer forever. Not only that, they told their friends, who then also flocked to that lawyer.
That scenario is rapidly disappearing. Lawyers are no longer in a separate class, exempt from typical consumer buying patterns. Legal services are purchased in the same way consumers buy cars, insurance and shoes. Buyers are accustomed to the service provided by Amazon and other customer-friendly sites, and they want that type of service from lawyers.
What Do Consumers Want?
According to the survey data in the Clio Legal Trend Report 2019, potential clients are looking for affirmation. They want to know that the lawyer they select can help them with their specific problem and stands ready to help them now.
- 80 percent want to know what process they have to follow
- 77 percent are interested in the lawyer’s experience and credentials
- 72 percent want to understand what kind of cases the lawyer handles
- 70 percent want to understand the legal process as it relates to their situation
- 66 percent want a cost estimate
Online searchers also want to assess chemistry. Can they relate to the lawyer? Will they get along? Will the lawyer be a forceful advocate? Will there be mutual trust?
- 82 percent think responsiveness, as measured by timeliness, is important
- 81 percent want immediate answers to their questions
- 64 percent care about the lawyer’s friendliness and likability as measured by the tone of voice and content of their responses
They also want the lawyer to speak to them so they can understand what is being said. Consumers want all their questions answered.
People want to work with people they admire, like and trust. Before entrusting you with something of supreme importance to themselves, it is only natural that consumers want to get a sense of you. Consumers, prospects and clients all assume that the way in which you, the professional, act in marketing encounters is indicative of how you will act once a person hires you. Similarly, your written materials and social media presence offer samples of how you think and act.
Online consumers also look for responsiveness, as measured by the time lag between when they ask to talk to the lawyer and the lawyer gets back to them—79 percent of the Clio survey respondents want a response within 24 hours.
Lawyers tend to flunk the social media definition of responsiveness. Almost two-thirds of respondents said that when they reached out to a law firm, no one got back to them. Lawyers also failed to provide the information they wanted.
- 65 percent didn’t learn what to do next
- 64 percent didn’t get a sense of how much it would cost
- 62 percent said they were told but didn’t understand how their case would go forward
- 61 percent couldn’t understand the lawyer’s explanations
- 52 percent said the lawyers didn’t sound friendly or likable enough
To be fair to lawyers, some of what consumers wanted to know is usually not discussed with prospective clients. Confidentiality requirements present some issues. On the other hand, consumers typically don’t know this. For many of them, their view of lawyers is derived from TV shows. As consumers, they are just asking lawyers to conform to the kind of vetting they use with other vendors. Knowing the kind of questions consumers want answered, lawyers need to have prepared answers where they can or an explanation as to why they can’t provide an answer.
How Do Consumers Find Lawyers?
The short answer is the way they look for anything online. They ask for advice and use it as a jumping-off point to surf the web. According to statista.com’s 2019 survey of 2,000 respondents, 57 percent looking for legal assistance sought a referral: 32 percent from friends and family, 16 percent from another lawyer and 9 percent from someone else. Only one-third used the internet.
Some check out suggestions from friends and family online. But, according to Clio’s 2019 survey results, 57 percent searched on their own: 17 percent went to lawyer websites; 17 percent began with search engines, primarily Google; 44 percent said it is necessary to shop around; and 57 percent contacted more than one firm. In a Martindale-Avvo survey, Hiring an Attorney 2019, 77 percent contacted three or more attorneys before hiring someone.
At the same time, 42 percent of Clio respondents said if they liked the first lawyer they spoke to, they wouldn’t need to speak with others.
What Can Lawyers Do to Meet Consumers More Than Halfway?
Clearly, first impressions count. Lawyers should take care to present their brand consistently through their website, social media materials and targeted content. Then they need to live the brand, whether it be answering queries on the phone or networking or sharing their expertise in webinars and articles.
Lawyers can address the responsiveness issue and immediacy with technology.
Online, the first place to begin is with their website. Consumers, especially younger ones, want websites to be mobile-friendly, visually attractive, easy to navigate and fast. They want to be able to reach the lawyer quickly. So, firms need to not only have a click-to-call phone number on the site, but also a way to email or text with the prospect. A typical contact information form could also become responsive by including an option to schedule time for a telephone or video call using one of the appointment-calendar apps.
Websites could also answer the kind of questions consumers ask. For example, you could address some of the consumer’s procedural questions by summarizing how the process works for various kinds of cases, the array of factors that influence timing and outcomes, the way the firm or lawyer processes a matter, and the client’s responsibilities. You could use stories to showcase your experience in handling particular types of cases.
You should think about ways to encourage site visitors to stay awhile. Use FAQs, blogs, newsletters and white papers to provide free information and at the same time show off your bona fides. Or show off your “human side” and turn some of your information into a quiz, crossword puzzle or board game.
Law is one of the few remaining industries without established price ranges for work product. You could clear up some of the financial uncertainty about costs by discussing money specifics on the website. In a nod to the impact of the pandemic, you could offer payment plans, extended payment options, mobile-friendly credit card payments, a discount for full payment, etc. You might even set out the fee schedule for partners, associates and staff. Consumers know that it can be expensive to hire top-quality talent. At the same time, they might be surprised that your fees are more reasonable than they expected.
Some lawyers may want to use the opportunity to analyze how long different kinds of cases take or the cost of staff and attorney time. Once compiled, the data can be analyzed as a basis for developing some forms of alternative fees, such as flat fees for specific matter stages with options to renegotiate should certain conditions arise. Other lawyers might want to offer limited scope cases where the lawyer works on specified parts of the case.
Rankings, Ratings and Recommendations
It makes sense that consumers, looking to hire a lawyer to deal with an important issue in their lives, want to know if the person can be trusted. According to the Martindale-Avvo survey, 46 percent of legal consumers vetted attorneys by reading their online reviews. Prospects look at both the tenor of the comments and the number of reviews. The survey also reported that 44 percent of respondents would not hire someone with negative reviews. According to “The Consumer’s Journey When Searching for a Law Firm Online” on the ilawyermarketing.com website (Feb. 21, 2021), “89% of consumers said they would not hire a law firm if that firm didn’t have a review rating of at least 4 (out of 5) stars.”
Just as modern consumers trust the accumulated insights of thousands of strangers when they seek to buy masks, face cream or fitness machines, they also look for such crowdsourced input when it comes to lawyers. Consumers will check out their top lawyer picks on Avvo, Yelp, Lawyers.com or Google My Business. They also look for clients’ opinions on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Knowing this, you should:
- Be sure that your footprint on any social media site continues the branding themes and viewpoint expressed on your website.
- Take time to craft a complete profile on LinkedIn that highlights your areas of expertise, breadth of experience and some bits of personality.
- Become comfortable asking clients and colleagues to provide testimonials and recommendations online.
Lawyers can ask for recommendations at the conclusion of a matter, on the bottom of their invoice or as part of their email signature. Similarly, they can ask satisfied clients and colleagues to refer them when appropriate.
Recommendations also come from referrers. For some lawyers, referrers are their primary new business resource. But, as this data shows, almost as many people use the internet to find lawyers or to reinforce a referrer’s recommendation. In the Martindale-Avvo survey, 46 percent of those receiving referrals read online reviews and 45 percent went to the lawyer’s website. Only 36 percent said they hired the attorney who was recommended.
To meet today’s consumers where they are, it is essential to use both avenues. Both help you to build authentic relationships and communicate the value of your services. Referral strategy requires a solid contacts list and opportunities to get to know a variety of potential referrers. The internet requires attention to details that highlight you in a flattering yet truthful light. As Dan Jaffe says on LawLytics, “Your potential clients are now in control. But you can be too. It’s not mutually exclusive. And when you are, it feels like you’re dancing with them rather than trying to lure them in.”
Understand that everyday consumer consumption habits and attitudes now apply to finding, vetting and hiring lawyers, which requires you to adapt your prospecting efforts. Accept that it is a buyer’s market. Make it easy for them to find you, show you understand them, drop the legalese in favor of clear English, and help them connect with you quickly and without difficulty.