What do prospective clients expect from lawyers online?

Whether they come to you via word of mouth referral, a referral from another lawyer, or performing research online, your prospective clients expect to be able to quickly and easily find information about you online. But what specifically do they want to know? How can you communicate with them in a way that satisfies these expectations?

You may have already this survey from Moses & Rooth. It reveals some key-insights about how people find and hire lawyers and what role the internet might play, even with regard to word of mouth referrals.

We compiled some of our thoughts here:

Feel free to download, share and embed as you see fit.

We’ve also expanded on some of these thoughts below.

References from People They Trust

It should come as no surprise to you that people turn to the people they trust for recommendations. Whether it be for books, catering, and yes, lawyers, people largely prefer to purchase and work with products and services that the people they know and trust have used. And the respondents to the survey were no exception. But you already know this. You know that your best clients from referrals from clients, friends, family and colleagues. So, the question becomes how can you get more of these people to make referrals? And what role, if any, does the internet play in generating more referrals?

The answer is: Real Law Firm Stuff. But let’s explore that a bit more:

  • Email – Sending emails, to people who want emails from you, remains one of the best ways to remind people that you’re accepting new clients. Of course, your email shouldn’t say, “Hey, I’m accepting new clients.” Instead, focus on sending personalized emails to friends, family, colleagues, clients, etc. Keep these folks updated about what’s going on with you and your practice. Obviously, sending individualized emails to all of these people doesn’t scale very well. That’s where tools like Aweber and MailChimp can help. If you need help implementing email campaigns, we’re happy to help.
  • Facebook – Facebook? Yes, Facebook. But instead of solely auto-feeding your blog posts on Facebook, use Facebook as a real person. Connect with people you know. Share stuff you’ve read elsewhere that you think people you know will be interested in. It doesn’t even have to be related to your practice. Stop marketing with Facebook and start networking with it.
  • Google Plus – You might be surprised to know that there are actually a bunch of lawyers using Google Plus. You can find a couple lawyer Google plus communities here and here. You might be skeptical about Google Plus today. And you might be reluctant to join yet another social network. But one day, Google and Google Plus will be synonymous. Unless you think Google is going away, I encourage you to get to know Google Plus.
  • LinkedIn – Same thing for LinkedIn. Don’t advertise your services there. Find people you know. Both lawyers and civilians. Join their groups. Participate in their discussions. Share cool stuff that you think might interest them. Don’t create internet trash by regurgitating news stories or seeing how many versions of “blank blank lawyer” you can fill your status updates with.
  • Blogging – Like SEO, blogging is one of those umbrella terms that’s often abused and misused. No one is going to refer you to a friend after reading your crappy, canned blog posts. In fact, it’s not accurate to call them blog posts. You think you’re casting a bigger net by paying someone to hit publish every day. Instead, you’re making yourself look cheap. You want to be cheap? You better call Saul. In order for your blog posts to turn into referrals, you need to get readers. That actually like what you write. In fact, they like it so much that they subscribe to get more of what you write. They like it so much that they share it with their friends. They like it so much that they look forward to what you’re going to write next. And you’re on the top of their mind. And when someone they know says, “Hey, who do you recommend for this kind of work?” they think of you.
  • Speaking – Have you ever attended a CLE? No, a good CLE? Did you introduce yourself to the presenter? Exchange business cards? Find and connect on LinkedIn? Send an email to say you appreciated their presentation? Cool. Now you be the presenter. Get it?
  • Community – There’s great opportunity for lawyers who participate in community events. And yet, so few lawyers take advantage of community participation. Which means, there’s even greater opportunity for those who do. Whether it’s a sponsorship, talking to students, taking on a leadership position, or some other form of community participation, engaging your local and even hyper-local community is one the best ways to motivate referrals. In fact, aside from providing great service to your clients, it might just be the best way to grow your referral network.

People who are referred to you expect to be able to get references from people they trust. What are you doing to motivate the people who know and respect you to sing your praises both online and offline?

A Reputation for Doing Good Work

Again, you already know this. Your reputation for doing great work is the cornerstone of your practice. But just doing great work might not be enough. People expect to able to find examples of your reputation for great work. Sometimes, it’s necessary to marshal the evidence of your reputation.

In order for this to happen, you first have to do great work for your clients. But that’s just ticket to entry. Next, you have to encourage clients and colleagues to tell others about your work.

The first step is to simply let them know. You might be surprised by how many of your happy clients simply don’t realize that they can say nice things about you online. You should have a system for collecting online reviews. If you’re going to use your clients reviews, make sure you get their permission, preferably in writing.

While client reviews and reviews from other lawyers are perhaps the strongest ways to communicate your reputation, there are a variety of other ways that you can be recognized. Many of these are the same types of things that we discussed in motivating referrals. Which makes sense. It is logical that many of the things you do to encourage referrals will also provide evidence of your reputation. Here are a few more:

  • Being interviewed by a local journalist.
  • Submitting a guest article to a trusted local publication.
  • Writing a book.
  • Guest lecturing at a law school.
  • Doing pro bono work.

And for you rankings junkies, many of these offline activities will have an SEO benefit too.

Your prospective clients expect to be able to find information about you around the web. Not just on your website. Not just on your blog. Not just in your social media feeds.

Information Demonstrating your Knowledge, Skill and Experience

Depending on your practice area, publishing content that demonstrates your expertise on your subject matter might just be the most important thing you can do. I know, writing is a lot of work and takes a lot of time. Even worse, good writing that will actually make someone think, “Wow this person really knows what they’re talking about,” is really, really hard. Which is why it’s so valuable.

Whether it’s the written word, a video or some cool interactive tool or presentation, this is the stuff that gets you recognized. It’s the reason that blogging can be so effective. It’s what search engines want to deliver. It’s what people who are doing research on the topics related to your practice want to find. And when they do, it’s what motivates them to give you a call to see if you’re the right attorney for them.

Your potential clients expect to be able to get a window into your knowledge, skill and experience from what you say, what you write and what you create.

Do you have to give them what they want? Of course not. And they don’t have to call you either.