Welcome back to my 2019 Clio Legal Trends report analysis/opus for Attorney at Work. To quickly review, this year’s Clio Legal Trends Report once again examines current and longitudinal data from law firms and consumers to derive legal industry trends. (Access prior reports here.) The report, now in its fourth year, cuts through the usual conjecture, to a large degree, and effectively uses data to drive law firm innovation.
In Part 1 we examined why some firms grow (and grow) while others stagnate. Part 2 covered the ways consumer habits and firm marketing strategy (or lack of strategy) play a role. Now let’s discuss the report’s findings on what consumers expect — and most want — from lawyers, and what lawyers are unwilling to give.
This is Part 3 of 1-2-3.
This is perhaps my favorite stat pack from the 2019 Clio Legal Trends Report: 89% of law firms surveyed indicated that they responded to client inquiries within 24 hours; but 64% of the law firms Clio called using secret shoppers never heard back from the firm they contacted, while 60% of emails did not receive a response.
I’m done here — try the veal!
What makes matters worse is that potential clients don’t just want to be contacted back: They want to be contacted back hella quickly: 79% of consumers surveyed expect a response within 24 hours. Not only that, 25% want a response within a few hours and 10% want a response within an hour. And, let me tell you now: Every year going forward, response time demands are likely to increase.
But, much the same way that growing law firms really grow, it seems as though the firms that are responsive are very responsive. For example, 82% of law firms that responded to email at all did so within 24 hours.
Getting back to potential leads right away remains important, but the requirement can come with blurred lines. For example, the definition of a “response” can lack clarity — not that it does in the report. It is generally accepted that a response should consist of a human calling a lead back, or a human responding via email or message. But it could also include an automated response or a reply via a staff person instead of a lawyer, or virtual employee or contractor, including a virtual receptionist service.
Of course, this all tracks back to the quality of the response — including what happens when a lawyer gets on a phone call or in email. There are two things lawyers need to relay clearly to legal consumers that lawyers have been unable, or unwilling, to provide: case process and price.
The 2019 Clio Legal Trends Report underscores that clients want a better understanding of the legal process and they want price certainty with respect to the total cost of representation. Yet law firms seldom offer those items. This may be the biggest wedge existing between lawyers and legal consumers because, even if your marketing drives potential clients to contact you, you won’t close them unless you offer viable solutions to these two problems.
Why won’t lawyers talk to consumers about what they most want to know? Let’s examine each in turn.
Lawyers don’t talk about process because they’re afraid of “giving away the farm”— meaning the potential client will take that information and prosecute their own case. This is dumb. First, DIY clients will self-select out of that process on their own. They’re probably not going to call you. (But even if they do, you could have some products ready to sell them that cost less than and are differentiated from legal services.) Besides, the Legal Trends Report dictates that even callers who do want to hire a lawyer still want to know about how the process works. So, do you continue to avoid telling anyone about the legal process, lose DIY clients and also lose the clients who want to hire you? That sounds like biting off your nose to spite your face, at its finest.
Let’s spin this out further: If I call a plumber and he tells me everything I need to know about how to snake my toilet, guess what — I still ain’t snaking my toilet. Lawyers hate to think of themselves as tradespeople, but in many ways they are. Deal with it. So, go ahead and tell your potential clients how to manage their cases — make it sound really hard if you wish. Not only are they going to hire a lawyer anyway — it’s more likely that they will hire you.
Of course, you could be worried about the gray areas of legal ethics: “What if I inadvertently engage an attorney-client relationship, by giving what could be construed as legal advice to a non-client?” OK, then: Make the potential client sign a disclaimer before you talk to them and send them a non-engagement letter after you talk to them.
In many ways, unwillingness to offer a total price for legal services is a fear-based construct as well. Lawyers don’t do it largely because they’re afraid to be wrong and to underprice. Also, lawyers don’t like to guess, because they’re trained to poke holes in guesswork. But while that’s great for picking apart your opponents’ arguments in court, that’s not great for moving forward with your own projects.
So, lawyers are charged with making their pricing more understandable and more predictable for consumers who get that everywhere else in the marketplace. Maybe there’s no perfect solution, but the solution is certainly not inaction. Better to get closer to price certainty and gain some clients than fail to do anything and lose them all.
- Try to configure a flat fee.
- Think about how an evergreen retainer may convey a level of price surety to the right clients.
- Try subscription pricing.
- Use risk collars —you bill over a preset amount, the client pays less per hour; you bill under a preset amount of hours, you collect a success fee.
So you’re not going to be Netflix, but that doesn’t mean you have to be Blockbuster.
Fight It Out
In the past, law firms forced potential clients to work hard to find them. They could get away with it because they were high-end service providers in an analog world. Technology and the internet, however, have democratized intake and consumers are more empowered than ever before. Not only is your law practice competing with consumer services that offer instant access and readily apparent value, but you’re also competing against other law firms that are beginning to provide updated consumer-based experiences.
The stark reality behind the 2019 Clio Legal Trends Report is that, while law firms can be categorized into groups, no firm exists in a vacuum. In other words, every law firm that innovates is taking clients and coopting revenue from every law firm that doesn’t. And it’s clear, from even this small sample size, that firms that innovate are absolutely pillaging those that don’t.
The question now is, are you content to be a hapless villager, watching your way of life die, or are you going to fight, like a Viking berserker?