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Being a great lawyer and having a successful practice don’t always go hand in hand. In fact, it’s very possible for you to be a great attorney and at the same time lack the business that you’d expect.

So what happens when you know you’re a great lawyer but you’re struggling to build the sort of business that your talent should generate? What is it that some lawyers do differently to get clients? The answer involves three things:

  1. Understanding the process that your client goes through to find an attorney;
  2. Knowing what tools they use to find representation (i.e., search engines and law firm websites); and
  3. Meeting their needs through those tools to inspire them to contact you.

We believe that there is a predictable process that potential clients go through in the “buying process” when they use the internet to find you.

Step 1: Problem Recognition

Your potential client must become aware of a gap between their current situation and where they’d like to be. Whether it’s an arrest, a divorce, personal injury — there’s a problem here that needs solving, and they either know that they cannot do it on their own, or they’re not yet sure. They need to know more about what they should do, they may or may not know that they need an attorney, and they’re going to turn to the internet to find out more. They’ll likely consult a search engine and ask a question, and search engines will return results that are relevant to their query. Your law firm’s website could be one of those results, giving you an opportunity to help frame the issue(s) and to create a demand for your services.

Step 2: Exploring Possible Solutions

Once they recognize that there is a problem, your potential client seeks information to help them solve it. How thoroughly a person will search for information is dependent upon the complexity of the issue they’re facing — and legal matters can be quite complex. (After all, a person will spend less time researching how to make spaghetti than they would researching what they should do if they’ve been charged with a DUI.) He or she then will consider two types of environmental information.

  • The first is what’s defined as “internal information.” That’s what a potential client already knows and can access from their memory. Do they remember seeing a blog post you wrote that was shared by a friend on social media? Do they remember your brand? Do they already have an opinion about your firm?
  • Then there’s external information that goes beyond a person’s memory. In the past a person might ask a family member or friend to refer them to a good attorney, or maybe they’d see a billboard advertisement for your firm. And, of course, they’d look at the Yellow Pages. But in today’s world, the most likely source of external information is the internet. That’s one reason that you may not want to avoid online directories like Yelp, Avvo, and Google My Business. However, your law firm’s website can supply the potential client with much of the external information they’ll need to engage you and hire you.

Step 3: Evaluating Potential Alternatives

Your potential clients are smart, and hiring you likely presents significant cost and risk. They’re probably not going to stumble upon your law firm blog or website and instantly decide that you’re the attorney that should represent them. They’ll compare your online web presence to other law firm websites. They’ll base their final choice on two things: “objective” characteristics (How much information can this attorney tell me about my problem? How enthusiastic are they about what they do? How good are they at winning? How much do they care about my problem?) and “subjective” characteristics (How does their web presence make me feel? Does this person or firm’s online persona inspire confidence in me? Do we have shared values?). As far as subjective characteristics go, having great law firm website design really helps.

Step 4: Making Their Selection

Let’s say that your potential client has examined the alternatives and, based on both the feel of your website and the wealth of information you’ve provided, they choose you. But you’re not done yet, because the decision for a potential client to choose you isn’t where the potential client’s experience ends. They found you online, and when the representation concludes, they then get to influence your future potential clients.

Step 5: Influencing Your Next Clients

What does a client do when they’ve hired you and their case has been resolved? This is the last stage in the client process, but it’s an important one. This stage can have consequences for a law firm, either positive or negative. If the client hires you and has a positive experience with you, there’s a likelihood that they’ll refer a friend or family member to your law firm. They may even be inclined to write a positive review on an online directory like Yelp or Avvo. But a negative experience can lead clients to do the exact opposite, and that can damage your firm’s reputation.

Check out our upcoming webinar that discusses getting good client reviews (and dealing with bad ones).

There are ways to engage your clients, peers and referral sources to maximize the value of each case you take on, and have it work for your firm long after a case has been resolved. But it all starts with your potential clients finding you, and they’re going to do that online. Attorneys who can take control of their law firm’s web presence and know how to make the best use of the internet are often the ones that end up with generous case loads. Will you be one of them?