ABA Study Reveals How Clients Find Lawyers For Personal Legal Matters

Mar 25th, 2011 | Law Firm Marketing

A new American Bar Association study about how people find a lawyer for a personal, as opposed to a business, legal matter confirms that printed yellow pages apparently provide just a fraction of the value they had two decades ago. Also, despite the hype about online marketing it’s cultivating the opinions of your current and past clients — that should be the focal point of any law firm’s marketing efforts for personal legal services.

The poll’s questions were worded prospectively.  They did not ask how the respondent had found a lawyer in the past but how they would find one now.

Forty-six percent of those polled said their primary source in identifying lawyers would be a family member, colleague or friend.  Next, 34 percent said they’d first turn to a lawyer they knew personally or had previously retained.   The take-away here is to make sure your law firm maintains top-of-mind awareness to encourage referrals from everyone it has ever served or with whom it has had substantive contact and to have the best and widest bar relations possible.  It’s all about creating positive word-of-mouth.

The next primary source of information, which 8 percent of respondents said they’d rely upon, was printed yellow pages directories.  Surveys by other groups and the ABA in the pre-Internet era pegged as much as 34% of the populace relying primarily on those directories.  The new poll indicated basically no one with an income of more $100,000 would use a printed yellow pages directory in this way today.  However, 25 percent of those with incomes below $15,000 would.

Just a tick behind the yellow pages books at seven percent came online searches in the ABA study.  Other forms of advertising—TV, billboards, newspapers— would be the primary source for locating a lawyer by just three percent of the population.

The report affirms what we always tell all of our clients, no matter what their practice area, all across the country: “The practice of law has always been a relationship business and it always will be a relationship business.”

Once you have the relationship angle properly covered then turn hard to the Web, we say.  That source is likely to grow and at an accelerating rate, according to every study of trends in time spent online, download speeds and broadband access. The poll revealed that once people go onto the Web just under half will first consult a lawyer’s Website.  A similar number will head directly for a site that rates lawyers.

The ABA study’s stated purpose was to explore “the dichotomy between trusted sources and impersonal sources” and “what percentage of people turn to someone they know and trust compared to the percentage that resort to various forms of advertisements as their primary method of finding a lawyer for a personal legal matter.” Additionally, the study wanted the answer to “What percentage of people goes online as their main source for finding a lawyer and, if people are going online, what sources are being used less frequently as a result of people using the Internet?”

The poll results and analysis were published by the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services. The committee commissioned Harris Interactive, which conducts the highly-regarded Harris Poll, to include a half dozen questions in its regular national poll.  The poll in which those questions were included was conducted last fall and the sample was 1,008 respondents.

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