For any law practice, client referrals are important. They are the foundation on which your reputation. But it would be a critical mistake to assume that referrals are all you need to build a reputation that keeps clients calling and your practice growing.

Consider the data, including research that Martindale-Avvo published in its report, Hiring an Attorney 2019. In surveys of 6,300 individuals in the United States and Canada, our results confirm that consumers often check online sources to vet attorneys recommended by family and friends.

Half of Your Client Referrals Want More Information; A Third Hire Someone Else

In the study, 43 percent of respondents said they received attorney recommendations from family and friends. Of those, 46 percent said they also read reviews online about the recommended attorney, while 45 percent said they looked through the lawyer’s website before making contact. Less than half (46 percent) said they contacted the recommended attorney without conducting online research first.

These results tell us that roughly half of the consumers who receive a personal referral to a particular attorney seek out more information online before they contact the attorney. Perhaps most striking, nearly a third (32 percent) of respondents said they did not ultimately hire the recommended lawyer.

Reviews Help Build Your Online Reputation

In addition to the finding that 46 percent of legal consumers look at online reviews of a recommended attorney, other studies have shown that small businesses tend to undervalue reviews compared to how much consumers say they value them. You can increase positive reviews of your firm by asking satisfied clients to leave reviews on your profile on legal sites, such as Lawyers.com, or other social media, such as Facebook. Consider making requests for reviews part of your firm’s standard procedure by adding language to your usual case-closing email.

Websites Are More Than Digital Business Cards

Don’t make the mistake of treating your website like one big “contact us” page. Your prospective clients will come looking for information about your expertise, areas of practice and what sets your practice apart from other, similar firms in your town. Consider adding a live chat feature to gather information so you can follow up before your referral leaves your site to research other lawyers. Keep in mind that your website leaves an impression the same way your physical office space does. If it lacks sophistication or feels out of date, prospects will lose confidence that your practice is as top-notch as they were told it would be.

Word of mouth is still valuable to the growth of your practice, and it’s important to your reputation. But consumers – whether of cars, restaurants or legal services – have grown accustomed to looking up customer reviews, ratings and business websites. When they are not sufficiently impressed by what they find in those searches, they may well look elsewhere.