The internet has been around long enough that attorneys have had time to adapt to how it can make their business more efficient and profitable, how they can use it to market to those they may not have reached before, and how they can even use it as a creative and informative outlet to compliment their legal services.
Yet, with the development of legal websites and blogs, a potential client now has the ability to find legal information on just about any issue within seconds, not to mention a plethora of fill-in-the-blank legal documents he or she can purchase online for a lesser fee than most attorneys charge. The result, especially in this economy, is that many attorneys still struggle with how they can convince potential and even existing clients to value their legal services.
So then, when a client knows that legal information can be obtained for free on the internet and that he or she can buy a fill-in-the-blank document online for a fraction of your hourly rate, how do you convince your client that your expertise is needed?
Nothing I am about to share is new to a practicing attorney, but every now and then it is good to hit the refresh button and remind ourselves that we can change potential and existing clients' mindsets and build value in what we do.
Do a good job - Nothing is better for finding and keeping loyal clients who value your advice and expertise more than a satisfied client. If you can convince that one client of your value, he or she will certainly convince others.
Appreciate that clients may be more knowledgeable than in the past - Attorneys used to have to explain every aspect of a legal issue to a client and then convince the client he or she is the right attorney for the job. Appreciate that the client most likely has already done some research online, so now you can focus more in that first meeting on showing that you are the right attorney for the job. (But remember, not all information on the internet is correct, is from a licensed attorney, nor applicable for your state. Thus, you may have to modify some of the client's pre-existing beliefs.)
Realize that you need to validate your fees - The public generally believes that attorneys' fees are too expensive. Oftentimes, people hear what an attorney's hourly billable rate is, compare it to what they make an hour, and unless they see the value in what the attorney does, draw the conclusion that the fees are outrageous. Part of our job as attorneys is to educate potential clients on the cost of not utilizing our services - I call this the "a good attorney now is much cheaper than an attorney later speech."
Adapt to this economy - Certainly this economy is affecting the legal profession. Potential clients may not be seeking the advice of an attorney, but instead are seeking free information online. Depending on your practice, you may have to change how you find new clients. Many attorneys now offer free legal information in some format (blogs, seminars, free or lower-cost initial consultations, etc.) to educate potential clients about the value of personalized advice.
Highlight what makes your services better - Few attorneys like to be salespeople. But the reality is that most attorneys, especially in small and medium sized firms, have to market themselves to bring in new clients. Focus your marketing on what sets you apart from the free or low-cost legal advice and services on the internet.
Jennifer K. Wendell is a partner with Carter Wendell Law Offices, LLP, where she focuses on business law and estate planning.