The Most Surprising Finding From the 2018 Legal Trends Report

There are a lot of window shoppers out there. Ask any associate, paralegal, or junior partner who has to cover law firm phone intake and consults: Some people will call a law firm to gauge costs, others just want to vent, and a few even try to use a free consult to map out their pro per strategy. So, to me, it’s not too surprising that 68% of consumers surveyed for the 2018 Legal Trends Report spoke to a lawyer they did not hire—What was surprising were some of the reasons why they don’t hire a lawyer. For anybody stressed over their perceived river of window shoppers, this report is mandatory reading.

It may not be the money

Personally, I don’t come from affluent circles—let’s just say mom had to work two jobs to raise her five kids—so I was blown away when I first heard what lawyers charge per hour. How can any “normal” person pay $300 per hour? Heck, even while I make a comfortable living today, I’d balk at paying the going lawyer rate, absent an utter emergency.

All this to say that if someone told me consumers weren’t hiring lawyers due to cost, I wouldn’t be shocked. I’ve taken enough calls from people seeking pro bono help, or who can only afford to put a “few hundred down until the state stops garnishing their check for back child support,” that my gut tells me that’s the case.

Guess what? It may not be the money.

There are many interesting components included in the consumer survey portion of the Legal Trends report that address the money factor, and, to be sure, money is on consumers’ minds—for the 22% of respondents who said they’d prefer to avoid hiring a lawyer, 54% agreed that you can “never know how much a lawyer will cost,” 42% said lawyers are “never affordable,” and 21% said that lawyers simply “aren’t worth the money.”

But, in a separate measure, the surveyors wisely asked what impact those factors had on their preference to avoid lawyers. For all the above money factors, the impact was between 0% and 5% Consumers agree that legal services are pricey, but cost isn’t the determining factor in whether or not to use a lawyer—not by a long shot.

What are determining factors? Many respondents (39%) felt that working with lawyer is simply overwhelming, while 32% of respondents agreed that hiring a lawyer is just too much trouble.

And, of course, there were also responses from clients it may not make sense to take on anyway—who think that they can handle their legal issues themselves (21%) or believe that having a lawyer isn’t necessary at all (11%).

Tips for converting new clients

Of the consumers surveyed for the report, 68% spoke to a lawyer that they did not hire. While some of those people don’t have the means to hire you, and others will hire somebody else, many potential clients simply get overwhelmed, or think it’s unnecessary to hire you at all.

How do you convert more of these 68% of consumers into paying clients? Make it easier for them to hire you.

Communicate clearly, and often

Communication starts before the first consult—once the potential client initiates contact, keep the lines of communication open until a firm yes or no has been received. A great way to do this is to use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM), which can automate email communications and set reminders for phone follow-ups. This isn’t just for the sake of getting a retainer, by the way—it also demonstrates to the client that you will be in touch throughout their case.

Make it easy to sign engagement agreements

Speaking of retainers, if a client doesn’t sign on the spot, how do you get that signature? If your answer is “make them come in” or “send them something to sign, scan, and email back,” you are far behind the times—adopt e-signatures and electronic retainers now.

Sending a retainer electronically gives hesitant clients time to think about it, and sending a few follow-up emails will keep you front-of-mind if they decide to move forward with the assistance of counsel.

Show your value

Before clients hire you, you need to prove the value of your legal services to counter thoughts like “lawyers aren’t worth the money” or “lawyers aren’t necessary.” While lawyers can’t guarantee outcomes, clients need to feel like you are the best representation they can afford. Here are a few ways to communicate that value:

  • Clearly explain the possible outcomes and strategies for the case.
  • Show past results and measures of client satisfaction (review scores and verdicts help).
  • Talk to them about how your firm works. How often will they receive status updates? When can they call or email with questions? How soon will they hear back on those questions? What happens with billing and billing disputes?

If you handle those questions in the initial consult—and with written materials or emails—you’ll show reticent, overwhelmed consumers why they need to hire you over another lawyer (or embark on a misguided DIY adventure).

In fact, survey respondents who did hire a lawyer reported that they did so because they understood the lawyer’s value proposition: They knew they couldn’t do it alone, they knew a lawyer would help the outcome, and they trusted the lawyer they ended up hiring. Money, again, surprisingly, wasn’t a top factor in the decision.

New for 2018: In-depth insights into why consumers hire

The Legal Trends Report, since its inception, has been an invaluable look at small law firm processes, measuring efficiency, billable hours, and rates.

The 2018 report adds more in-depth insight into what consumers consider before and after hiring a lawyer. Knowing what goes into their hiring decision better equips us lawyers to address consumer concerns—and, hopefully, retain them as clients. More importantly, knowing what influences both positive and negative client experiences helps us to improve client satisfaction, generate repeat business, and earn new referrals.

We covered a lot of insights into the buying process here, but the robust report contains a lot more surprises—such as which lawyers actually bill at the highest effective hourly rates (once billing and collections are accounted for) and the counterintuitive communication preferences of millennials. Check out the free report now, and let us know what the biggest revelations and actionable takeaways you find are in the comments below.

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