Each year the Law Firm Marketing Club conducts research among existing and prospective clients of law firms around the country, to help partners understand what’s important to clients when engaging with a firm. This article, by Clare Fanner, CEO of Law Firm Marketing Club, focuses on what those clients and prospects expect when choosing a firm and covers everything from communication to technology.
Clients don’t choose in a vacuum
Before asking respondents specific details about how they like to interact, we asked an open question, so that they could choose their own words and expressions: What could law firms do to make it easy for you to find and select the best one for your needs? When analysed by frequency the top three ‘wants’, in order, are Clearer Communication, Service and Pricing.
Your clients’ expectations were changing even before the pandemic. They were becoming more demanding, and more selective, based on their experience of purchasing other goods and services. Covid accelerated the shift, for example by forcing many of your older clients into online banking or onto Zoom. While not all these changes were welcome at the time, many were ultimately accepted as a positive move. Similarly, business clients may have transitioned to mobile banking or accountancy Apps and are now enjoying 24/7 access to information.
However, before we look at the research in detail it’s important to stress that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and that the results of our research need to be applied in context. Within law firms, different priorities will apply according to the legal specialism, the clients served, the nature of legal needs and existing relationships.
Our advice therefore when looking at the results of this research is to ask yourself the question: does this represent our firm and our clients. If you can’t answer that question, consider conducting similar research amongst your own clients.
Attracting new clients
New business is still a priority in the legal sector at the moment so our research starts by asking what’s important when selecting a law firm. The good news is that recommendations from professionals (83%) and from family and friends (78%) remain crucially important to clients. While clients will still seek the advice of friends or other professionals, they are still searching for independent reviews. Legal directories continue to be relevant to business clients (71%), and this demand for independent information will not decrease. If anything, it could increase as technology could power new ways of assessing performance.
As with pretty much every other purchase that they make, clients are also using review sites so the opinions of past clients are important (78%). Those who have no experience of using a law firm express the importance of a firm being ranked highly on Google (67%). This is important as Google has a rating service in the way that it lists them on searches. Google Ads, SEO and improving visibility are important considerations in their own right and should be discussed with your marketing team.
While review sites provide a view on the firm, clients will also conduct their own granular research, specific to their needs. A strong website including lawyer profiles and CVs matter (86%), description of your services (92%) as are examples of how you have helped clients (79%) and even photos of relevant lawyers (52%). Most of these are just hygiene factors and simple to implement, so even if just half of clients think a photo is important, it may be the deciding factor for a prospect.
How firms use social media is also becoming increasingly important. For many firms, LinkedIn has replaced the traditional Tombstone adverts as a way of communicating deal success to corporate and commercial clients. Social media is equally important when engaging with other business sectors especially younger clients: being active on social media matters to clients 30 years of age and younger (54%), this compares to just 19% of over 60s.
Work From Home
Working from home and Zoom calls are likely to become part of a firm’s life going forward and both have proved successful. Furthermore, the research showed that fewer than 20% of clients said they expect lawyers to work from the office. But while clients don’t mind where you work 84% still want to be able to meet their lawyer in person, they also want the convenience of them being in close physical proximity to where they live or work (81%).
Interestingly recent research from the Legal IT Innovators Group (LITIG) showed 80% of law firms staff supported working from home. However, 40% of partners considered working from home as having a negative impact on working practices.
Placed together both studies support the argument that WFH can be a good thing, so long as it doesn’t impact clients or other professional necessities and as long as service, security and responsiveness are not adversely affected.
New channels favoured by younger clients
Phone and email are both ranked as important by over 80% of clients overall. However, when you look at the results by age the under 30s are less keen on using email at 62%. There is also a significant shift in preferences for ‘new’ channels by younger clients. The under 30s are keen on video conferencing (61%) and using the likes of WhatsApp (49%) as an alternative to email.
Accessibility to a business has become commonplace, more so during the pandemic. Many businesses rely almost exclusively on technology for keeping in touch with their customers and while that is not wholly practical for law firms, who offer a more personal service traditionally, it is very clear that clients are expecting more technology-enhanced services. For example, 80% of clients who have used a law firm in the last 12 months expect to see the progress of cases using technology (70% of all respondents)
Service was the second most important factor highlighted in the research. Once again, we asked an open question to respondents: “When dealing with a law firm, which three words best describe your most recent experience?” The two words that stood out were: professional and expensive. But also words helpful, good, easy and efficient featured prominently.
For most firms, improving service should not be too difficult as your clients are not demanding better legal advice, just improved accessibility. Ranked in importance of what clients expect: 84% expect direct contact details of my lawyer/ firm, 84% expect at least weekly updates on their case, 84% expect a same-day response to queries, 80% expect an online account, 65% expect to be able to speak to someone, 60% expect to have a meeting at a place of their choice, 60% expect to have online chat, 54% expect to be able to contact lawyers in the evenings and at weekends. 49% still expect lawyers to be dressed formally.
91% of clients now expect websites to give an indication of pricing. In practice, this should be a straightforward exercise. You know your charging rates so why not outline these on your website?
It will of course present a challenge to firms that have a more traditional hourly rate only approach with varying rates depending on the lawyer involved, which is not untypical for many firms, but you need to have a cohesive pricing strategy for the purposes of what you put on your website. It also needs to be clear and understandable. This is an area that requires some thought to meet the needs of the clients whilst also remaining true to how you charge for your legal services.
Action points for firms
When digesting this research, consider for a moment how you personally have changed your expectations and journey with regard to the providers of other providers of goods and services.
Many of the solutions to the problems already exist within your firm. Ask yourself if you are using your technology to the best advantage. Update your website and social media profiles on the likes of LinkedIn for key individuals. Elevate the importance of your front-line team in terms of fielding clients. Plan now for the needs of future and currently younger clients. Look at developing a technology strategy that enables you to deliver your services and stay true to your business model whilst delivering against client expectations. Conduct your own research, ask your clients what they want. And finally, empower everyone in the firm to be client-centric.