Not so long ago, legal consumers had one option if they needed answers to a legal question – talk to a lawyer. You were their first and last stop on the road to finding a solution to their problem. Finding new clients for your law practice wasn’t necessarily an issue.
Today, legal consumers start their search for solutions online, not in your office. And they are searching for answers, not attorneys. So instead of searching for “employment lawyer,” they are searching for “how to handle a wage and hour claim” or “do I need a social media policy for my small business.”
You get the idea.
And as they search for these answers, they are discovering they may not have to hire a lawyer at all. For you, this means you’re not only competing with other lawyers, you’re competing against a whole host of options that weren’t available to your prospective clients until recently.
The consumer may realize early in the process:
- Their potential issue isn’t really an issue at all, or at least it’s not as
urgent as they thought, so they can put it on the backburner for the time being.
- They can handle the issue themselves. A consumer may be able to find
the form they need through a government website. Or a corporation may realize they just need to use someone in-house to handle their issue.
- A legal service provider who is offering a clearly defined alternative
solution that more than meets their needs at a transparent price. Legal service providers can include Avvo, LegalZoom, or e-discovery vendor to help with document intensive litigation.
- Finally, they may realize that they need to hire an attorney, but it may the
least desirable option. Even then they’ll have to figure out which lawyer is best suited to help them.
Why are you last on their list?
- Online presence is not optimized. (They can’t find you.)
- You’re not sharing valuable information. (So you can’t get their
- You’re not clear about what you offer. (They don’t think you understand
them or their problem.)
- They don’t understand the process of working with you. (They are worried about all the unknowns.)
Look, nobody becomes a lawyer because they excel at sales and marketing. And as a profession, we’ve generally made it difficult on ourselves with quirky ethics rules and the like. So we have to cut ourselves a little slack.
But here’s the deal. Legal consumers are running the show, and dictating the changes befalling on our profession. It’s clear that lawyers can’t regulate away their competition. It’s time to get with the program. The survival of your practice depends on your ability to generate business. And business is happening online.
So how can you connect with today’s legal consumer?
Understand how to use the Internet to reach them.
Technology and the Internet are the means to reach your prospective clients, not the end. Business development is still about your reputation and relationships – and you can use the Internet to build both.
Far too often, however, I hear about lawyers who are chasing the next new technology, or conversely, still have their heads in the sand. Neither approach will work.
Show you understand them and their problems.
Today’s consumer has an expectation of personalized information from the companies they do business with. If you are listing a variety of practice areas on your site so you can appeal to a variety of potential clients, more than likely you aren’t connecting with anyone. And you are losing business in the process.
Provide valuable information to get noticed.
Your online content has to do more than talk about you and what you offer. You have to share valuable content that empowers and educates your prospective clients. By sharing what you know, you’ll build trust and credibility with potential clients who are finding you first online.
Offer ways to engage even if they aren’t ready to buy.
It’s time to think bigger than the lonely “Contact Us” form on your website. I’ve talked to several attorneys recently who told me a few months after they launched a new website, they actually tested the contact form “just to make sure it worked.”
The point is, it doesn’t. There’s a high probability that the first time someone visits your site, or your social media profiles, they are just researching and they don’t want to contact you – not yet anyway. Provide a helpful guide that addresses their problem, or invite them to subscribe to your blog or newsletter. (For which you consistently publish content on a specific topic.)
Ask for small commitments that will keep the relationship moving forward.
Explain the process.
We lawyers aren’t the most open people in the world. At least not if you judged us by our websites. And many of your potential clients are intimidated about the thought of reaching out to you. Information on your site that explains what will happen when they email you, or call you for a free consultation, can ease anxiety, instill confidence, and generate more leads for your practice.
Provide limited scope engagements to start a relationship.
Package introductory services into products. For a client who has not worked with you before, the thought of signing on for an unknown amount of your hours for their dollars could be overwhelming. And a reason enough not to call.
Offering a limited scope engagement as a way to get started is a step in the right direction. They’ll have an opportunity to test working with you before making a big commitment.
So for example, if you practice workers compensation defense, you can offer to work with employers on auditing their accident forms, investigation process, and reporting procedures for a flat fee.
Optimize your online presence to show you are the best choice.
Remember, you aren’t their first point of contact in the buying process, so you can’t count on that consultation as a way to show them you know your stuff. For those legal consumers who discover they have to hire a lawyer, the next challenge is figuring out which one.
For those of you who may be thinking, “I get all my business through word of mouth referrals – I don’t need to worry about all this online stuff,” what do you think is the first thing they do? They Google you. It’s too easy and too convenient to do their due diligence online.
Like I said, successful business development is still about reputation and relationships. Just as it always has been. Legal consumers want to hire attorneys they know, like and trust. They want to hire a lawyer who gets their issue. But the Internet has changed the way you go about meeting new clients and gaining their trust.