If I want to find a nearby library or a landmark, I start with Google. If I want to find the nearest fast food joint, I start with Google, and I’ll maybe try a directory app like Yelp.
But what about finding a lawyer? Do people really just Google their way to adequate representation? Do they, much to the consternation of a lawyer I once knew, really turn to Yelp, where lawyers are reviewed like “[darn] donut shops?”
Some do, according to the 2017 Legal Trends Report, though the majority still look for lawyers the old-fashioned way: They ask a lawyer, friend, or family member for a referral first.
According to the report, here’s how most consumers surveyed said they found their lawyer, ranked from highest percentage to lowest. A keen observer will note that the below figures add up to more than 100%—this is because prospective clients will often do more than one of these things to find you. Even referrals will Google you at some point, if only just to find your number.
62% get a referral from friends or family members
How do you get more referrals from John Q. Public? Networking. And while the term networking can terrify shy folks, if you don’t view networking as the objective, it’s a lot less scary and sleazy. In fact, lose the term entirely: To me, the term means forced social events held for the purpose of career advancement.
Instead, just be you—in public. Be in sight, and in mind, for a lot of people. Have a strong reputation for integrity. And pursue genuine relationships with others outside your small circle of lawyer friends by joining groups centered around hobbies, for example. Let it slip occasionally while amongst these non-lawyer friends that you are a licensed attorney. Do that, and after a while, you’ll notice friends and family will start passing around your name.
Additionally, there’s an even stronger source of referrals out there: your former clients. Build strong relationships with your clients by communicating, treating them fairly, and depending on your area of practice, winning your cases, and they’ll reward you by telling their friends about their “divorce guy” or “wills wizard.”
37% use an online search engine
The phonebook is dead, and that snake oil SEO salesman might be onto something (so long as you don’t hire one of the bad ones).
Here is the truth about search marketing: It’s no longer just about your website, though your website and search engine optimization (SEO) are still extremely important. Go search for a particular type of lawyer in your city and see how much stuff is crammed into Google and Bing results these days: First, there are paid ads, local maps results (with reviews!), and after all that come the unpaid (organic) search results that everybody talks about.
The crowding of the search results page is a double-edged sword: It means more opportunities to show up (paid ads, local results, reviews, or regular search results) but it also means more opportunities to lose a potential client’s, or even a referral’s, interest—sure their friend recommended you, but you have a few recent bad reviews that show up when your name is searched, so do they really want to hire you?
SEO can help you attract new prospects, but it’s best to have multiple channels by which you’re bringing in new clients.
31% get a referral from another lawyer
I used to practice family law. As a cynic might guess, my referral and call volume spiked after I moved out of state and stopped handling divorces. What do I do with those calls now?
I send them to a lawyer that I am certain will not only do well for them, but will care about their cases and their families, because I want these clients to get even better service than I would’ve provided. Plus, this attorney was a mentor for me back in the day and we maintained a strong relationship up until I left the state—both common reasons why lawyers send other lawyers clients.
What about attorney referral agreements? Formal ones between lawyers are tricky, ethically speaking, though informally speaking, I would definitely be more likely to return the favor if someone had sent me a client in the past, so long as I thought the other lawyer treated their clients well.
What about those paid referral services? Your luck may vary, but myself and others I worked with had none: All referrals we received from these services were low-value cases looking for free or near-free legal help.
28% Look in a directory listing
Online marketing today is multi-channel: Yes, you need a great website that makes it easy for consumers to learn about you, decide that you know your stuff, and contact you. But you also need reviews on Google, Yelp, and Avvo.
Here’s a little story about Avvo: A mid-sized firm I worked at in a small-ish suburban town had more than half a dozen “Avvo 10.0s” (the perfect lawyer rating), all with positive client reviews as well. We would regularly get calls for family law cases from their directory, and some people would call twice … or three or four or five times.
Why? They’d work their way down the list of lawyers in our town, and since our directory and online reputation game was strong, they’d see us first, second, third, etc. Some would get frustrated after the second or third call, but most would end up setting up a consultation by the time they reached the end of the page.
There are other directories you can list yourself in as well. Some are paid, such as FindLaw*, LawInfo, and SuperLawyers, while others are free and ad-supported, like Justia, Yelp, and Avvo. One could even make a strong case that Google Maps’ local business listings are a valuable directory as well—maybe even the most valuable directory, since everybody uses Google. Yelp review ratings, meanwhile, are prominently displayed on Siri (iPhone) search results, as well as Bing.
Which directories should you pay the most attention to? To find out, look for lawyers in your area on Google and Bing, and look at which directories show up in the search results consistently. Directories’ rankings vary by geography and practice area, so checking close to home is a great place to start. Or you could just start with places that let you advertise for free.
Read about other consumer behaviors that can affect your law firm’s business and marketing strategy in the 2017 Legal Trends Report.
*Full disclosure: I work for Thomson Reuters, which owns FindLaw, SuperLawyers, and LawInfo.