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New Realities and Habits That Will Form Your Law Firm’s Future

By: Dan Jaffe

Published: 05.29.2020

Habits are the most important factor when it comes to whether your law firm will thrive or flounder in its marketing. This was true prior to the current crisis, and it’s even more so today.

Your habits as an attorney are critical, as are the habits of your potential clients. In this post we’ll look at how habits are changing (perhaps permanently) because of COVID-19 and what it means for solo practitioners and small law firms.

It takes time to form a habit. Current research indicates a range from between 18 days and 254 days, with an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.

The shelter in place orders quickly changed the behaviors and attitudes of most people, and there’s a good chance that some of these changes are solidifying into habits. Survey data indicates that as things reopen, most people are not planning to jump back in.

For those who have the luxury of financial security based on savings, or who have jobs that allow them to work from home, the crisis, and the sacrifices of the front-line workers, have revealed alternative habits that are easier and in some ways preferable. People have quickly adapted to consuming movies at home, buying online, and picking up food and items curbside.

Many consumers who were resistant to doing business online were forced in, and despite previous resistance now like it or even prefer it. For many, the “stay at home, touch a screen or keyboard, and people will bring you stuff” paradigm is preferable (especially compared to the hassle of wearing masks and trying to remain distant from others while venturing out).

Consumers are also getting used to communicating through the internet. These conversations are happening live in applications like Zoom, in real-time and asynchronously on social media, and asynchronously on search engines. Online-first communication is establishing a new reality — and it’s good for a lot of people.

And, though it’s a change that is at first challenging to get used to, it’s ultimately good for law firm owners. Firms have been forced to quickly become efficient — which ultimately makes them stronger and more resilient businesses. Law firm owners have woken up to realize:

◆ That their overhead was bloated with office space, consultants, middlemen, and marketing expenses they didn’t need.

◆ That despite (or perhaps because) paying paid tech people and marketing agencies, they were behind technologically.

◆ That they can quickly and easily cut out the consultants and middlemen, trim their expenses and get down to a sustainable fighting weight while increasing the functionality of their firms — all from home.

I want to point out that, as new habits are established, old habits are naturally replaced. I believe that, for many firms, the crisis will result in the permanent shedding of the habit of helplessness and abdication when it comes to legal marketing and technology. This is because, forced to explore more modern options, lawyers are realizing that modern legal tech solutions are easy to use, save a lot of money, and put them in control of their practices.

And, as they have had time to learn about the dynamics of modern legal marketing and experience it first hand, they realize that legal marketing agencies are risky, that online legal directories have diminished influence, and that social media marketing for lawyers is usually a waste of time. And all of these things are true today because potential clients are the masters of their own domain — they control what they see and don’t see and the only way to market to them efficiently is to give them reason to invite you and your firm into their brains. And their habits strongly influence what your potential clients allow into their brains.

The new habits of your law firm’s potential clients.

As lawyers, we’ve chosen a resilient, and, for many practice areas a recession-proof profession. Potential clients still need you. They’re still looking for you. And when the crisis is done and the economy is fully reopened and recovered, many will need you even more.

But just because they need you, or soon will, does not mean that they will engage you on your terms. Those days are over, and they were coming to an end long before, but were accelerated by, the COVID-19 crisis. Your potential clients’ buying habits are different now. And, when you understand and respect them, they actually make marketing, intake, and client expectation management much easier. Here are the most important habits that legal consumers have formed, and that attorneys should be guided by:

1. Potential Clients Control How They Engage – The internet has put them in control. And they like it. The crisis has accelerated the most important habit of consumers of legal services — potential clients expect to dictate the terms of engagement.

2. They Seek Out Useful and Free Information – Information is free, and lawyers no longer have a monopoly on it. Lawyers don’t have any secrets that potential clients feel the need to pay to extract. If lawyers don’t provide them with answers to their questions in their online marketing (usually through our law firm’s website) the potential clients will not provide lawyers with the opportunity to win their business.

3. They Ignore Advertising – As I discuss in greater detail here, advertising sucks. Your potential clients will go out of their way to ignore ads. In fact, potential clients say that, overall, seeing overt ads from lawyers make them respect the lawyer less and decrease the probability that they will hire the lawyer.

4. They Respond to Authenticity – As lawyers, when we understand that our potential clients want to know us before they hire us, we realize how important what we say on our websites really is. Your potential clients want to feel like they are having a conversation with you, even if it’s a one-way conversation as they are reading your website while you are sleeping. If you come across as authentic on your website, they will respond. If you don’t they will seek out a competitor who they feel is more genuine. That’s why it’s so critical that attorneys either write their own content or choose their proxies with care.

5. They Still Respect Your Authority but… – Your potential clients want to defer to you as an authority. That hasn’t changed. They are still scared, lost, overwhelmed, or feeling helpless about their legal problem. But gone are the days when they gave instant and unquestioning respect to lawyers without the lawyer earning it on the clients’ terms. So, by respecting the four points above, lawyers can still ultimately control the relationship (just not its inception).

6. They Respond to Easy, and Flee From Hard – The internet makes life easier for consumers. Your website needs to be easy to find, easy to navigate, easy to read, and easy to understand. It needs to be easy for potential clients to understand what their next step is, and easy for them to accomplish it. If your website is poorly designed, cluttered, confusing, or has visual elements that distract or get in the way, your potential clients will feel frustrated (which they process as a flight instinct). They will assume that the whole experience of working with you will be frustrating. And they will hit the back button on their web browser and go to one of your competitors.

Viable potential clients are going to retain an attorney — but will it be you or your competitor? The answer will depend on how your potential clients relate to your firm. And their perception will be guided by their habits.

The crisis has revealed — but not caused — the fact that lawyers are no longer autonomous. We no longer get to make the rules about how clients find and engage with us, and we haven’t for some time.

But the new rules of online client engagement are powerful for attorneys who take the time to understand them and take control of their firm’s marketing. Once attorneys understand how to make today’s reality work for them, their new business development becomes easier, less expensive, and more reliable.

Your potential clients are now in control. But you can be too. It’s not mutually exclusive. And when you are, it feels like your dancing with them rather than trying to lure them in. If you’re already a LawLytics customer, then you know, and we’re here to help you every step of the way. If you’re not with LawLytics yet and want to see how easy and intuitive online marketing can be using LawLytics, schedule a free 20-minute demo to experience it for yourself.

About Dan Jaffe

Attorney Dan Jaffe is the CEO of LawLytics. He tried over 100 cases to verdict while building thriving law practices in Seattle and Phoenix in the 1990s and 2000s. After getting burned by a marketing agency, Dan learned how the internet and search engines really work. He used this knowledge to effectively market his own law practices over the course of a decade, and founded LawLytics in 2011 to make it easy for lawyers to have successful websites without paying a marketing agency or struggling with DIY website builders.

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