Clio recently launched their 2019 Legal Trends report in which they “secret shopped” 1,000 law firms via email and 500 law firms via phone. They surveyed 2,000 consumers who were recently in the market for legal services, which should hopefully give lawyers some critical insight into what their potential clients are thinking and looking for when researching a lawyer to potentially represent them in their legal matter. They also surveyed 2,507 legal professionals.
Before I go on, I want to clarify. I am not actually an attorney. I am an SEO consultant who has been in the legal marketing field for the past 12 years. I’ve worked with hundreds of firms, across a wide variety of practice areas, but I’m not involved in the day-to-day operations or marketing strategies of law firms. I am simply a provider attempting to offer a service and any marketing advice I can. I do, however, believe that this outside advice can be helpful to lawyers who might not take the time to attempt to understand the intent and behavior of potential clients.
In reading everyone’s responses and feedback on social media sites and elsewhere, I believe that this report does present some very valuable data that lawyers can use to improve their own marketing process.
What The Study Doesn’t Mention
Not all lawyers are the same in terms of how hands on they with their marketing efforts.
Some managing partners are able to hire capable marketing managers to stay on top of a variety of marketing channels- SEO, paid search, content, social, email, traditional internal marketing (mailed newsletters, direct mailing letters to those recently arrested, etc.), newspaper and print, television, radio, and more.
Some prefer to be more hands on when it comes to managing marketing efforts for their law firms. According to the 2019 Legal Trends Report, the majority of firm marketing managers are confident handling their own marketing efforts:
Yet the majority of managing partners and lawyers who I’ve worked with over the years continually express that they are too busy to manage their firm’s marketing.
One of the issues that I take with this report is that it generalizes all lawyers as the same. Every lawyer and managing partner doesn’t have the time to manage multiple marketing channels in-house. Are they confident in their firm’s marketing because they have a good marketing manager in place? Are they confident because they know which outside providers to use? This is all unclear.
Not all lawyers are the same in terms of how tech-savvy they are.
Of the 2,000 legal consumers that were surveyed in the study, 59% sought a referral, 57% searched on their own, and 16% did both.
In SEO, the main goal is to make a website and law firm more visible on search engines. We want to improve the number of keywords (money and long-tail) that a firm is found for. We want to improve how a law firm’s website ranks on Google.
Because consumers who are looking for lawyers use Google, Bing, and Yahoo! to search for lawyers. Consumers research multiple lawyers, read reviews, visit law firm websites to research lawyers and make an educated decision on who to contact and potentially retain for their legal matter.
Of the 57% of people who searched for a lawyer on their own, here is the breakdown of methods they used to search:
Social media accounted for 5% of the 57% of people searching for a lawyer on their own, with SEO-related methods (lawyer’s website, online search engine, online reviews, map or service app) accounting for the vast majority of people who were searching for a lawyer.
What does that mean for social media? Does it mean that lawyers shouldn’t spend time on improving their social media marketing from a branding perspective? Of course not, it would be stupid of me to say something like that.
Does it mean that people don’t go on neighborhood groups on Facebook and other social media sites and ask for a legal referral? No, but are we considering someone posting a recommendation request on social media as a referral request, or as a search?
The majority of lawyers that I’ve worked with aren’t as tech-savvy as everyone arguing about this on social media channels. They don’t have the time to manage their own social media marketing and networking on a day-to-day basis, nor do they have the understanding of how social media can be effective as a long-term marketing strategy. So the lawyers who are implying that social media marketing is important for long-term referrals, networking with potential referral sources, and overall marketing are 100% correct, but they’re also among a minority of practicing lawyers who are tech-savvy enough to research online legal marketing on a daily basis, and stay up-to-date on tech-related legal marketing. This is not, from my experience, the majority of lawyers who I’ve come across over the years. Outside vendors exist because lawyers don’t have the time, or knowledge, to manage it themselves.
Not All Law Firms Are The Same.
A law firm could handle cases in a number of different practice areas. Some of these practice areas may be more reliant on the quantity of cases they bring in, versus more niche practice areas where they handle only a handful of cases at a time.
Bankruptcy, criminal defense, family law, these are generally types of legal matters in which a law firm might need to work with more clients at once. There are more potential clients searching for these types of lawyers.
Personal injury law, mass tort law, business law, wills and estate planning, these are more niche practice areas which multiple firms are competing for. Personal injury law keywords are ridiculously expensive on Adwords because there are a lower number of potential personal injury clients searching for a law firm, and of course the cases yield a higher amount of revenue. There are more firms competing for less cases, so comparing marketing efforts for a niche practice area like personal injury, which can be harder to target potential clients, to a bulk-based practice area like bankruptcy or criminal defense isn’t always apples to apples.
There are also a number of B2B (versus traditional B2C) law firms in which methods like SEO and social media marketing might not be as effective, since it’s more based on referrals and networking.
Without going into too much more detail, I believe that the three main problems with this report are that:
- It’s assumed that every lawyer and managing partner are the same in terms of how much time they have to spend on marketing, and how tech-savvy they are.
- It’s assumed that every law firm is the same in terms of their practice areas and how their potential clients are searching for them.
- The “how clients searched” categories are extremely confusing and broad. How can someone search for a lawyer on the lawyer’s website? How did someone search for a lawyer on a lawyer’s blog, videos, or articles? It says that people searches for lawyers via online reviews, was this on Google Local, an online directory, etc?
All lawyers and law firms are not the same. Social media marketing may be working for you if you have the time to spend networking on social media sites, but the topic of the marketing section isn’t “how to improve client referrals”. The topic is “how people searched for a lawyer”, which I believe is being lost in translation by those saying that social media should be used to improve referrals, branding, and even lead generation in some cases. I do believe that there is a lot of value, for any business, in social media marketing.
Either way, the purpose of SEO is to get your law firm information (website, Google My Business profile, firm name and brand) in front of potential clients. It should be the primary goal of a law firm to understand how clients who are searching for a lawyer in their practice area, those interested in finding out more about a lawyers’ qualifications and services, are actually searching. I don’t believe that the primary issue with this report is how law firms are marketing to potential clients, we can argue about that until the cows come home. I believe that the primary issue is that firms do not take enough time to understand what their potential clients are looking for, and what their expectations are for the lawyer they’ll eventually hire.
What Lawyers Can Improve and Learn From This Report
Managing Clients and Expectations
At the beginning of the report, in the very first paragraph, the main issue and concern for lawyers is basically summarized:
The market for legal services faces a critical paradox. On one hand, the vast majority of law firms say they want to increase their revenues, yet they have trouble finding business.
On the other, clients struggle to get help with their legal problems.
I am a small company with limited resources. I left a position at an agency 8 years ago which managed multiple law firms because it was practically impossible to provide the amount of service that clients expected, due to juggling multiple clients and projects at once. Long story short, the agency never turned business away. They took on every law firm which contacted them, regardless of whether they already had a client in that prospective client’s geographic area or practice area. I’m not throwing shade at them, I’m just describing the same issue that every business struggles with.
Every business needs to take into account how much time they can spend servicing multiple clients, and at which point they will turn away business because they’re not equipped at the time to manage additional clients.
However, this report confirms what we all know and rarely discuss. Law firms, like every other business, rarely turn away business. They take on as many clients and cases as they can, to improve revenue and grow their firms. This may not be the case for all law firms, but according to the report:
While growing firms increased their number of lawyers by 32% over five years, the number of cases they worked increased by an impressive 57%. The same goes for the gravity-defying revenue growth among these firms, which saw their total revenues jump by over 100%.
To put this in perspective, revenue growth for these firms increased at three times the rate at which they brought on new lawyers, and casework increased at twice the rate…..In other words, these firms increased the number of clients they worked with while also increasing the amount of revenue collected from the work they performed.
Cases go up, revenue goes up. Lawyers may not experience the same amount of growth (since hiring additional in-house lawyers could affect revenue), and it’s unclear if hiring additional support or admin staff to help manage this growing number of clients was considered.
Growing firms took on increasingly more cases and clients
Generating more business. Growing firms increase the amount of work they bring in compared to the number of lawyers they have.
Every lawyer I’ve ever worked with or spoke to wants more cases. But as firms continue to add more cases, how are clients being serviced? How are potential new clients being responded to? How solid is the firm’s intake process?
Referrals are important, social media marketing and networking is important. However, this study shows what is important to prospective clients who actually went through the process of researching and hiring a lawyer, and it shows that firms are having a hard time providing it.
Here’s what’s most important to potential clients, according to the clients themselves:
79% of legal consumers who were surveyed said that it’s important for a law firm to respond to them within 24 hours. Yet 69% of people who said that they contacted a law firm never even got a response. Some additional stats as it relates to client intake and setting expectations:
- 65% didn’t get any indication on what to do next.
- 64% didn’t get a sense of how much their case would cost.
- 62% didn’t understand the process for their case.
- 61% didn’t get enough information they could understand.
- 52% said the lawyer they spoke with wasn’t likeable or friendly enough.
As law firms continue to add clients, as law firms continue to focus on generating more leads, it appears obvious from this study that a majority of firms have a hard time communicating with potential clients, preparing clients for the cost of representation, or taking the time to communicate to clients what to expect and next steps.
This, from my experience, is usually a big problem. I read client reviews all of the time, “he/she is a good lawyer but I never got a timely update on my case.” If your clients and potential clients can’t get answers to their questions because the firm they’re working with is more concerned with increasing revenue and adding cases than they are with servicing their clients, that could be a problem. Client communication and a seamless intake process which leaves potential clients with a good first impression of the firm is probably as important as the marketing methods used to find the firm, yet lawyers continue to spend more time on how they can get more clients and less time on how they can convert clients and keep them updated.
Again, not all law firms and lawyers are the same. I am not trying to generalize lawyers, but it should be more of a primary concern, coming from a non-attorney on the outside looking in, for lawyers to focus on what their clients want and are expecting.
Give The People What They Want
So what are potential clients actually looking for when researching attorneys to represent them in their case? Well, in addition to the important factors listed in the section above (be up front about pricing, respond in a timely manner, set the right expectations and adequately prepare potential clients for next steps), the study clearly lays out what lawyers’ potential clients are actually paying attention to from a marketing perspective:
- 77% want to know a lawyer’s experience and credentials (also ranked the most important).
- 72% want to know what types of cases they handle.
- 70% want a clear understanding of the legal process and what to expect.
- 66% want an estimate of the total cost for their case.
The study goes on to survey both younger (Gen Z and Millennials) and older (Gen X and Boomers) generations on what they are likely to care about as it relates to a lawyer’s online presence. These are ranked below in order of importance, which is the same for both younger and older generations:
1) Reviews– important to 99% of younger consumers and important to 64% of older consumers.
2) Website– important to 97% of younger consumers and important to 55% of older consumers.
3) Brand/Image– important to 81% of younger consumers and important to 47% of older consumers.
Younger consumers are important for potential long-term referrals. Making sure they’re aware and followers of your social media presences is very important for brand awareness. But what consumers, both old and young, are paying attention to when researching lawyers is your law firm’s website, lawyers’ qualifications, a clear understanding of what they can expect during the process, and cost.
The information that a law firm provides on their website should reflect this important information, minus cost in most cases. Informative articles and blog posts are very important, they will help keep potential clients informed and can take a load off of attorneys in terms of educating potential clients on what to expect during the process.
Prospective clients want to know that they’re working with a qualified expert in the practice area they are researching, so the more informative that your law firm’s website is, the more likely they are to come away with the impression that your firm understands everything involved with their legal matter.
Reviews are obvious, they are non-biased and come from others who have worked with the individual attorney or law firm in the past. Online reputation management and knowing what reviews are out there about your firm is still critical, and this goes back to understanding your potential clients and what they’re paying attention to. Prospective clients will do a Google search for the individual lawyer’s name and the firm name. If you have negative reviews out there which haven’t been responded to or addressed, that should be your #1 concern as an attorney trying to understand what your prospective clients are actually looking at. You can generate leads by the bucket load, but if someone searches for you after an initial phone consultation or meeting in person and are left with the impression that your business isn’t making an effort to reflect a positive online brand which cares about their clients, it goes without saying that you’d want to improve this.
Once again, I’m not a lawyer. But if I were, I would focus more on how to keep new potential clients informed on what to expect. I would make sure I nailed down a solid intake process where potential clients are provided with informative resources detailing what they can expect during their legal process. Ask yourself why every personal injury law firm active in online marketing has 5 free downloadable reports on their websites to try to generate new business, yet (from my experience) the only information that new potential clients are provided with during the intake process is what the lawyers or paralegals tell them in person.
Provide your prospective and new clients with the information and attention that you know they are expecting. Overwhelm them with service, and there are automated ways to do this. Show them you’re the most qualified and experience attorney they can hire by showing them that you understand how important it is for them to be informed and confident in their decision to hire you. Send them PDF reports and informative emails from the beginning of the process, showing them that you know the answers to their questions before they’re even asked. Send descriptive drip campaign emails and follow-up emails that remind them what to expect during the process moving forward, which in exchange reminds your prospective clients that they made the right decision. Spend as much time on developing a process to inform clients, setting the right expectations, and leaving potential clients with a good first impression as you do marketing to clients. If the main benefit of social media marketing is to network and build your referral base, how is it possible that lawyers are not spending more time doing whatever they can to keep prospects and clients, their most important referral sources who are likely to leave important reviews at the end of the process, informed and satisfied?
Once again, I’m not an attorney. I know, from my own personal experience, that lawyers are busy and that every law firm doesn’t run like a well-oiled customer service machine. I know that, in a perfect world, every phone call would be answered, every email responded to, and every client would leave with a positive first and last impression. But from the outside looking in, I do believe that more lawyers could focus on how to maximize conversions and develop an internal process that provides prospective clients with the information they desire. If the only information that a prospective client is receiving is the information communicated to them by the lawyer via phone or email consultation, that may not be enough, and they might not retain 100% of this.
What if, after the prospective client fills out an intake document where the law firm captures their email address and other information, the prospective client was sent an informative email following their phone consult listing FAQ’s (linked directly to the firm’s website pages, the same FAQ pages which may be bringing in quality organic search visits), describing the ongoing process, and also listing additional firm resources such as how to make online payments, how to find out more about the lawyer with links to lawyer bios, Avvo profile, etc., where to find the firm on social media sites, and how to read and leave reviews? You know what information your clients are looking for, so why not develop a process to provide them with this information and show your potential clients that you understand what they’re looking for? Why wouldn’t law firms want to spend the same amount of time developing internal documents to keep prospective and current clients informed as they do developing resources from a marketing perspective?
This, from an outsider looking in, would be more important to me than arguing over which marketing method is going to bring in more cases and leads. Yes, there are multiple marketing channels that law firms need to manage and maintain moving forward to 2020. But I do believe that law firms, in general, could spend more time on maximizing conversions and keeping clients informed.