In the recent report, Hiring an Attorney 2019, Martindale-Avvo examined a number of factors about how legal consumers behave when it comes time to hire a lawyer. One of those factors includes what resources clients use to conduct research.

While many start with referrals from friends and family to find an attorney, an equal number also use online resources to search for information and reviews to find and research attorneys.

Personal recommendations are influential, but so is online research

Legal consumers tend not to rely on just one resource to research a potential lawyer. Instead, they use various resources simultaneously. In the survey of 6,300 survey respondents, 43 percent said they use referrals as part of the research process, while 43 percent also list Google searches. Meanwhile, 46.5 percent of respondents report using online review sites such as Yelp, Avvo.com, Lawyers.com and Google and other online directories.

Other studies echo these findings, showing that online research is an important part of consumer decision making. A Local Search Association/SOCi study spoke with general consumers (not just those looking for legal help) and found that 66 percent of all consumers perform research online every time or almost every time they buy a product or service. Younger people are even more likely to rely on online searches and websites, with 80 percent of those under age 35 reporting they perform research online every time or almost every time they buy a product or service.  

Your website may have more sway than your advertising

More than a third (36 percent) of legal consumers in the Martindale-Avvo study reported using attorney websites as a resource compared to just 9 percent who said print advertising was a resource. Even fewer respondents — 5 percent — cited TV/radio advertising as a resource they used to find a lawyer.

A firm’s website was also important to those who received a personal referral to a lawyer; 45 percent of those individuals said they researched a recommended attorney or firm by checking their website before making contact.

A personal recommendation is often not enough

Consumers also vetted attorneys by checking online reviews. In the survey, 46 percent of legal consumers who received a referral to a lawyer said they checked the lawyer’s reviews before contacting them. If you have plenty of positive reviews online this statistic shouldn’t trouble you. But if you avoid asking clients for reviews or don’t think they matter, keep in mind that nearly half of those who obtain your name from a personal recommendation will check your reviews first.

Of those who said they received a personal recommendation for a lawyer, 32 percent ultimately opted for someone else. Only 41 percent said they hired the attorney who was recommended to them.

How to meet clients where they are

For law practices, these findings affirm common knowledge that consumers research everything online — including their lawyers. To give your practice a fighting chance, survey your online presence periodically. Is your website in need of a refresh? Does your practice come up in searches (e.g., [your area of practice] + [your town/region])? Do you have a critical mass of positive online reviews?

If your research tells you that you need more or better reviews:

  • Make sure to ask satisfied clients to review you online (ask just as they are thanking you and at their happiest).
  • Add a request for reviews to your standard closing email.
  • Train staff to offer clients good customer service, especially if you are seeing reviews about rude treatment, slow response times or anything negative about interactions with your office.

If you find that your practice is not coming up in Google searches:

  • Check that you are listed on legal sites (yes, including Avvo.com, Lawyers.com and Martindale.com) and Yelp and Google, etc.
  • Claim all of your online listings and update relevant info, such as a summary of your practice areas, your contact information and any special amenities or offers, such as free initial consultations or convenient parking.
  • Keep your website up to date with relevant keywords for your area of practice and the geographic area you cover. Instead of “the greatest lawyer you could hire,” include specifics, such as, “Denver family law attorney will fight for you.”

Prospective clients will draw on many resources to vet your practice and local competitors. Your job is to make sure that they can find you when they look and that what they find is appealing and reassuring. Don’t make the mistake of resting on your legal community laurels. Keeping your online reputation up to snuff requires some regular maintenance, but the payoff of more clients knocking on your door will surely be worth your efforts.