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Folks Still Find Lawyers the Old-Fashioned Way


Lawyers who have a Facebook page, write a blog and maintain a Twitter account are at the forefront of online marketing, but are they getting a payoff for their efforts?

A recent survey (PDF) conducted for the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services raises some questions about the value of Web 2.0 marketing. The survey found that people searching for lawyers are most likely to consult family and friends. And when would-be clients do go online, they are less likely to consult social media than online directories, question-and-answer websites, and sites that rate lawyers.

The survey was conducted in September by Harris Interactive, which contacted 1,004 adults 18 or older via landline telephone calls. Questions developed by the delivery committee were included in the omnibus survey, which covered a number of topics.

In the initial question about legal services, respondents were asked: “If you needed a lawyer for a personal legal matter, what would be the primary way you would find one?” Some 80 percent of the respondents said they would turn to some trusted source. Nearly half of the respondents (46 percent) said they would ask a friend, family member or colleague, while 34 percent said they would contact a lawyer they knew or had used before. Eight percent said they would turn to the Yellow Pages or some other form of printed directory, and 7 percent said they would do an online search.

In what may be a demographic indicator of things to come, however, respondents from the youngest age segment (18 to 24) were nearly twice as likely—at 13 percent—as the general population of respondents to use online searches to find a lawyer.

A separate question asked respondents how likely they would be to consult various types of online resources to find a lawyer. Fewer than 20 percent of the respondents said they were very likely or somewhat likely to consult Facebook, while 15 percent said they would look at blogs, and 9 percent said they would use Twitter.

Other online tools were much more popular among survey respondents. Nearly half (49 percent) were likely to consult websites where consumers can post legal questions for lawyers to answer. Forty-seven percent said they were likely to look at lawyer rating websites, and 44 percent said they would check a lawyer’s own website.

CATCH THE WAVE

The survey results relating to online marketing came as something of a surprise to Richard T. Cassidy, who chairs the delivery committee. But he says he has no plans to change his own approach to marketing, which includes writing the On Lawyering blog.

Cassidy says other lawyers are his top source of client referrals, and the blog brings referrals from his lawyer readers. It is his experience that most people get information about lawyers from multiple sources. The would-be client may ask a trusted source but then follow up by seeking more information online about a recommended lawyer, he says.

“I think the results tell us that online marketing is growing but still at an early stage of development,” says Cassidy, a founding director of Hoff Curtis in Burlington, Vt. “I do think lawyers who use these techniques are benefiting. They will be riding the emerging wave instead of swimming to catch it as it gains momentum.”

The popularity of the Yellow Pages and other print directories, on the other hand, appears to be waning. Research by the ABA in the late 1980s indicated that as many as a third of American adults relied on print directories to find lawyers, compared to 8 percent in the delivery committee’s recent survey.

While it is impossible to directly correlate the current survey results with the older studies, the committee’s report concludes: “Nevertheless, it seems that the use of the Yellow Pages and similar print directories is less than it was 20 years ago.”

More research is needed to explain the social media results, say Cassidy and the report’s author, Will Hornsby, who is staff counsel to the delivery committee.

Hornsby addressed the issue in a blog comment. Responding to criticisms of the survey’s conclusions made by Kevin O’Keefe on Real Lawyers Have Blogs, Hornsby wrote, “The survey raises more questions than it answers, as I believe all good research does. Let’s agree to use this survey as the initial effort to peel this onion, explore the potential of technology, and better assess the complexity of the decision-making process.”

In other results, the survey found respondents had little familiarity with unbundled legal services, in which lawyers handle some specific tasks for clients who otherwise handle their cases pro se. When unbundling was explained, however, interest among respondents jumped, and two-thirds said they would be likely to discuss the idea with a lawyer handling a personal legal matter.

When asked how they would pursue a personal legal matter without a lawyer, more than half of the respondents said they would turn to judges, self-help centers or free online services. Only 36 percent of respondents indicated they would use self-help software, and only 24 percent would use online legal services that charge a fee. The high percentage of people who would rely on judges “suggests a basic misunderstanding of the role of the judge in our courts” and “a need for better public education about the role of the judiciary,” the survey notes.

“There is a huge volume of unmet need for legal services and many, many lawyers who need clients,” Cassidy says. “Many can afford the services they need, or at least some of them. If we can help clients find lawyers who can help, we are advancing our goals and a part of the core mission of the ABA.”

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