There was a time when effective legal advertising consisted of having the largest possible ad in the phone book and some strategically placed local billboards. But technology has shifted the way consumers research, find, and connect with legal services. That means law firms need to shift their approach, too. 

When deciding to hire an attorney, which factors matter most to legal consumers today? The Martindale-Avvo report, “Understanding the Legal Consumer 2020,” takes an in-depth look at how prospective clients find and hire attorneys so firms can better align their digital marketing strategies. 

Responsiveness Matters Most

Making a positive impression on prospective clients is vital to earning their business. When asked about the most important factors that drove people to choose a particular law firm, most indicated attorney responsiveness was crucial (43%). 

Responsiveness starts with lightning-fast answers to form and email inquiries or quickly returning phone calls. But it can go much further than this for many potential clients. A person with a legal challenge wants detailed responses to every question they ask. They also want to get a clear sense of the costs involved in resolving their issue and need to know what the full process will look like for their case. 

More than half (66%) of respondents contacted two or more attorneys before making a decision. Only 19% hired the first attorney they contacted, and it’s likely that the attorney they eventually selected was one that was responsive to their inquiries.  

While attorney responsiveness isn’t necessarily a measure of experience and skill, it does tell the client that you care about their issue. In general, the faster a firm responds to an inquiry, the greater chance they have at converting a prospect into a case or retaining an existing client. 

Word of Mouth Isn’t Enough

Finding the right attorney can be a challenging process for consumers, whether they have experience hiring a lawyer in the past or not. And there is often no shortage of people willing to offer advice or guidance on how to solve a legal matter. 

However, when asked, more than half (56%) of legal consumers claimed that they didn’t get any outside recommendations when selecting a firm. In truth, some people view legal matters as private and will refrain from asking others for help. Of those who did get recommendations, friends and family were the most popular source of advice (26%). 

Whether a consumer eventually seeks advice or not, word-of-mouth referrals aren’t the first step in most legal consumer research. The most popular first step for consumers is to start a search online using a search engine (37%). Beyond what shows up in search results, consumers tend to look at online review/directory sites (19%) and then the attorney or law firm’s website (8%) to match a firm’s services with their needs. 

Client Reviews Are Very Important

When it comes to shopping for an attorney, consumers follow many paths. But it’s evident that the search for legal services now takes place largely online, and firms can maximize their ability to reach consumers through online feedback. 

Legal consumer research often begins with a search engine query that takes a prospect to your Google My Business profile or a legal directory with online reviews. Even if a prospect lands on your website and likes what they see, they are likely to head back to one of these resources to see what your current and former clients have to say about your services. 

When Martindale-Avvo surveyed thousands of legal consumers, a majority (80%) said that reviews and ratings were either “very important” or “somewhat important” in their decisions. This was particularly the case with younger consumers (ages 25-34) who were the most likely to indicate that reviews were “very important” in their search. 

When legal consumers read attorney and law firm reviews, they’re generally looking to gauge the firm’s ability to handle their specific legal matter as well as get an idea about the results firms have delivered for similar clients. Other aspects that consumers might look for in reviews relate to the affordability of services, responsiveness of the firm, and the firm’s ethics. 

Legal Consumers Move Quickly

Research shows that responsiveness is vital in signing cases, particularly because of how quickly legal consumers complete their research, compare firms, and make a final decision. When people have a pressing legal issue, they aren’t willing to wait very long for someone to get back to them. Most want reassurance that there is a plan of action in place to resolve their matter. 

According to Martindale-Avvo’s research, once a consumer realizes they need legal support, they generally make a decision to hire an attorney quickly. In fact, 28% decide to hire a lawyer within 1-3 days. 

When asked about potential red flags that might deter them from hiring a particular attorney, nearly half (49%) said that it was concerning if the attorney was slow to respond.

Understanding What’s Important to Leads is Key to Growing Your Firm

Prospective clients have refined the way they research and choose an attorney. Firms that are the most responsive, have a strong online presence with great reviews, and act quickly to secure new cases have the best chance of earning new business. 

Knowing what’s most important to your potential clients helps you understand the best ways to reach new leads and sign new cases. To get more insights about how legal consumers search for, select, and engage with law firms in 2020, check out our full report