I’ve heard people with legal issues say that unless you have to go to court, most legal work is not that hard. With so many online resources and software packages, the argument goes, why hire a lawyer to write your will, draft your lease, write your divorce agreement, or incorporate your business when you can do it yourself? Just plug your information into a form and . . . poof!
Besides, as the reasoning also goes, lawyers are dishonest, they’re useless, and they’re too expensive. Right? Well, not exactly.
We already know that most people who have legal issues—and even more who’ve hired a lawyer—don’t think lawyers are all that bad. Maybe lawyers aren’t as respected as teachers and doctors, but that has more to do with exposure than anything else. Throw a legal problem at someone, and suddenly he or she will be singing a different tune.
The need for control
Perceptions of lawyers—whether generally positive or negative—have little, if anything, to do with why people handle legal issues on their own rather than with the aid of a lawyer. Although there are many reasons why people decide to handle legal issues independently, our recent research reveals that the desire to maintain control over one’s case is the primary reason why the thought of talking to a lawyer isn’t appealing. But only 1/3 of legal consumers told us they want control when handling their legal case, and once a lawyer is hired, 60 percent say they want their lawyer to take charge.
And lawyers aren’t useless. Just consider the fact that the 33 percent of Americans who’ve used an online form have also hired a lawyer or that 39 percent who’ve used an online form have also sought a legal consultation or free advice. In fact, of those who use online forms, only 15 percent said they’d never consider hiring a lawyer at all; for the rest, the idea of talking to a lawyer is definitely on their minds.
Among those who do end up talking to a lawyer, whether for a consult or hire, 82 percent do so immediately or shortly after their legal issue is triggered. They don’t wait.
The cost barrier
So, we know the need for control keeps people from handing their case off to a lawyer. But what if they decide they do want a lawyer’s help? What keeps those people from following through and hiring a lawyer?
Cost is the primary reason people consider hiring a lawyer but don’t go through with it. Perceptions of lawyers as expensive aside, some people just don’t have the money, even if they, like 58 percent of those surveyed, think lawyers are worth every penny you pay them. 7 in 10 consumers told us that they considered hiring a lawyer at some point during the course of their legal issue but didn’t go through with it because of the price tag.
If fees and the need for control are preventing people from hiring lawyers, what might make them change their minds?