A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for his client.
When many lawyers hear things like do-it-yourself legal forms, online legal tools and online legal question and answers they immediately cry: Harm!
And there's little doubt that legal services consumers, like consumers of other professional services, who rely solely on information on the internet, are likely to exacerbate their issues.
Does that mean that lawyers should boycott the internet? Should they ignore the demand for online information and answers? Of course not.
Since our founding in 2008, we've been thinking and writing about how legal services consumers use the internet. Back in 2010 we briefly discussed two common ways in which consumers used the internet to perform research and look for law firms.
We've also discussed how lawyers can learn about attracting potential clients from their local search behavior. Lawyers who add information to their sites that other people find useful and trustworthy will continue to enjoy an online competitive advantage over those who do not.
And we continue to observe how the behavior of legal services consumers evolves with technology.
No matter who your clients are and how they begin their lawyer decision-making process, at some point, for some purposes, they’re going to go online.
Avvo recently wrapped their annual Lawyernomics conference. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend this year. Thankfully, through the magic of Twitter, Periscope and Dan Lear (@rightbrainlaw), I was able to follow some of what was going on from afar.
Of particular interest to me was Avvo CEO Mark Britton's (@Mark_Britton) State of the Union. Over the years, I have had the good fortune to get to know Mark and, from my perspective, there are very few people who understand the legal landscape as well as he does.
Hopefully, by now it is clear to you that people turn to the internet for information and answers about legal issues. But just in case:
— AttorneySync (@AttorneySync) April 10, 2016
If you're a lawyer who still questions the relevance of the web to your potential clients, I wish you luck.
To me, the real question is not whether, but rather, how lawyers ought to respond to this demand for information online.
Not Your Parents' Do-It-Yourself
As discussed above, lawyers think of legal do-it-yourself'ers as fools. Undoubtedly, there are limitless examples of this proverb holding true. But let's face it, lawyers also have a thumb in this war. If people could solve all of their legal issues on their own, well, there would be a lot less lawyers.
But there are also some sets of circumstances in which hiring a lawyer might not be the right move.
Regardless, the overwhelming majority of life issues that might eventually give rise to the need for a lawyer start with questions that have nothing to do with looking for a lawyer.
The truth is, most people have no idea whether they need a lawyer until they are told so. And then, even when they suspect that they might, there are a variety of reasons that make them reluctant to hire one.
Furthermore, there's at least some misunderstanding of what do-it-yourself really means. Traditional concepts of d-i-y tend to be binary:
The very definition of do-it-yourself legal means without a lawyer.
But from the perspective of a legal services consumer, this isn't always the case:
— Avvo Lawyers (@AvvoLawyers) April 9, 2016
85% of people who complete a form online want to talk to a lawyer. #Lawyernomics
— John Skiba (@JohnSkiba) April 9, 2016
You see, in the digital age, people have been empowered to exercise much more autonomy over their lives. However, they are still able to recognize that there are limitations to self-help and advantages to professional help.
Genetically Cheap, Pain Adverse
If you think it's expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.
- commonly attributed to Red Adair
Many people don't hire a lawyer because they don't think that they can afford it. Others, who might recognize that they need a lawyer, will begin their search based on price.
However, even the most "genetically cheap" among us are also adverse to pain.
Often times the challenge is that we aren't very good at conceptualizing the potential pain that can result from choosing cheap.
This is where smart lawyers have an opportunity to communicate the value of their services.
Give Them What They Want, "Sell" Them What They Really Need
Britton suggests that lawyers give legal services consumers what they want:
— Victor Li (@LawScribbler) April 9, 2016
— Victor Li (@LawScribbler) April 9, 2016
In other words, lawyers ought to supply do-it-yourself'ers' demand for information, and at the same time, help them understand the risks and costs associated with declining professional help.
By fostering legal services consumers' independence in seeking answers, lawyers can build trust and help consumers draw their own conclusion that they actually need the lawyer's help.
Start a Conversation
Furthermore, lawyers ought to make interfacing with potential clients frictionless. For many lawyers, this presents significant challenges.
Too many lawyers seem to believe that creating contact barriers is essential to their ability to get work done. Sadly, these barriers lead to the most common complaints that people make against lawyers: lack of responsiveness, lack of communication, failing to keep clients informed, etc.
Instead, lawyers ought to encourage legal services consumers to start a conversation with them.
Does that mean posting: Free Legal Advice everywhere you can?
Of course not. What it does mean is that lawyers should communicate how they can be contacted. They should set expectations about communication. They should build intake systems that help qualify whether or not they would be a good fit for the potential client. They should be explaining:
Who they help. How they can help.
How to Get Started
If all of this is new to you, I encourage you to start by listening to people. If you have them, listen to your existing clients. Ask them how they looked for information about the issues they were facing. Ask them what types of things they found most appealing about you.
— John E. Grant (@JEGrant3) April 9, 2016
You should also listen to what people are asking online. Look at your Search Console data:
Search Console data, great way to find what people are searching. pic.twitter.com/34QKQxk6qR
— AttorneySync (@AttorneySync) April 10, 2016
Filter query data containing questions words like:
Once you understand how legal services consumers are searching for information, you can explore ways to supply that demand:
Of course, you should also explain the risks and costs associated with making certain decisions. For example, the advantages of working with a lawyer, as opposed to, trying to do-it-yourself.
You should also learn something about how the web, social networks and search engines work. For example:
Of course, you can also hire people to help...
Finally, if you'd like to learn more about bringing your law firm website into the twenty-first century, join us for this upcoming webinar:
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