In this three-part series, we’ll discuss how lawyers should talk to today’s legal consumers across three primary areas of interest: money, expertise and the legal process. These are the categories in which legal consumers have the most urgent questions. And, it’s imperative for law firms to increase their chances to convert leads to clients by addressing each of these broad topics in ways that place the law firm in the most favorable light possible. In part 1, we addressed how lawyers should talk to potential clients about money. In part 2, we covered the methods by which attorneys should express their expertise to leads. In this last part of our series, we’ll relay how lawyers are best positioned to cover legal process considerations with potential clients.
As we went over in Part 2 of this series, law firms have traditionally been excellent at displaying the expertise of the firm, as well as the expertise level of specific attorneys within the firm, including for niche practice areas — even if that tends to break down when one exits the law firm website, where the vast majority of that information exists. But, even so: attorneys are becoming more aggressive about using social media to promote themselves, even if law firms at large have not necessarily caught on so well. However, having expertise, on its own, delivers only limited value. Attorneys have to also convince their clients that they can be their guide through the legal process. In sum, lawyers can’t just be good at what they do: they also have to communicate to leads and clients what it is that they do, in a way that a lay person would understand.
Legal consumers, as it turns, don’t just want a good attorney. They also want a good attorney who can explain the legal process to them. Legal consumers don’t just want to know the destination; they require evidence of the steps it takes to get there. They’re like FitBit addicts. Nevertheless, attorneys are very reluctant to provide their leads with information about the legal process, because they’ve been conditioned for years to avoid giving consumers more than just a taste of how the sausage is made, and because they are concerned over legal ethics. However, neither eventuality is insurmountable.
In terms of ethical obligations when speaking to leads (you can talk about pretty much anything you want, anytime you want, with existing clients), it’s all about keeping those leads apprised of the current status of the relationship; so, yes: this is very much like the early days of Facebook. Just make sure you have potential clients click through or sign onto disclaimers before you speak with them about the legal process generally — not their specific cases, or case hypotheticals. Then, when the rubber meets the road, sign them up via an engagement agreement, or move on, and send a nonengagement agreement, to confirm that no attorney-client relationship commenced. And, really, that’s what this is all about: making sure that the potential clients is consistently aware that there is no attorney-client relationship, and that that acknowledgment can be documented.
Most lawyers would not be confused with effective salespersons. And, many lawyers think of the term ‘selling’ as an ugly one. This is not entirely surprising, though, for a profession that has only been allowed to sell to the public for a little less than 50 years. And, lawyers still adhere to the old tenet that you don’t give away too much, that you leave them wanting more, while every modern sales mechanism, especially content marketing via social media, is about sharing more and more discreet information about what businesses do. The real fear for most lawyers, however, is likely those DIY client — the ones, they fear, who will represent themselves. But, that’s probably an unrealistic fear, too. If the attorney relays all of the complexities about what they do, a potential client is not going to say: ‘Awesome. I’m just gonna go to law school now, and will let you know how all this went in five years.’ The far more likely scenario is that, if you do a thorough job explaining the legal process to your potential client, you will have cemented your expertise, and made it more likely that that potential client will ultimately choose you. Plus, if you make what you do sound really difficult (which it is) your potential client is far less likely to try it on their own. And, in any event, most legal consumers who actually reach out to a lawyer are substantially motivated to hire an attorney, and don’t manage their legal problem on their own. They want help: the question is how willing you are to provide that help, and how soon.