The business of law is at a turning point. A recent article in the ABA Journal reported, “The legal profession is undergoing a massive structural shift—one that will leave it dramatically transformed in the coming years.” The shift stems from a combination of events including new laws and changes in enforcement, the mobility of businesses and individuals, as well as new competition from non-legal firms such as accounting and real estate and the availability of legal documents online. The average person today requires more legal representation than ever before and how they choose their legal representation has changed too. The attorneys who have the most to gain are probably those like you: a mid-career solo practitioner or a lawyer at a small firm. Why? Because consumers want you!
You, the mid-career solo practitioner, are quite literally the core of the legal profession. On one side are those young attorneys who have recently passed the bar and are trying to make their way. What they lack in experience they make up for with web savvy, technology skills, and aggressive online marketing tactics, but it is your experience the consumer wants. On the other side are large firms with significant marketing and advertising budgets, a small army of junior attorneys and paralegals pushing a high volume of work, and a team of technical experts to help them advance online, but consumers are wary of high costs, inattentive or indifferent care, and marginal results.
So why do consumers want you? Here are a few reasons why today’s consumer seeks the seasoned solo practitioner.
At this point in your career you have a solid base of experience in your area of expertise. You have over twenty years dedicated to the practice of law, both at big firms and as a solo practitioner. You are as accomplished and seasoned as the big firm partners with a proven track record and a solid reputation to bank on.
Today corporations and companies hire large law firms because they typically require expertise in many different areas of law. Individuals, on the other hand, hire attorneys — not law firms — to handle a particular legal issue. When people search for an attorney, they tend to look for one that’s close to them, generally within thirty miles, and they start online with an Internet search. They search for attorneys who concentrate in the particular area of law they need, generalists need not apply. People want to read reviews, testimonials, and representative cases that connect with their own legal issue and help establish the attorney’s credibility and reputation.
Today’s consumers are wary of hiring big firm attorneys because of exorbitant hourly billing (rates at $500 or more) and the fact that work is often handed off to less experienced and less efficient junior attorneys. Your combination of legal expertise and local reputation, without the big firm’s high hourly rate, means you are the best option for most consumers seeking a solid return for their investment and proven results.
This is very good news for seasoned attorneys, but just because the consumer wants you does not mean they can find you easily!
Here are six tactics the mid-career sole practitioner can do to help leverage this opportunity:
Don’t try to be all things to all clients; concentrate in fewer practice areas. Laws and current enforcement of them are more complex than ever and continually changing. Since consumers’ legal needs tend to focus on a particular issue they don’t look for general practitioners but specialists. The future of legal services may not be a hundred lawyers working for one firm but 100 solo practitioners, each with their own specialty.
Embrace the Web
Not only do the vast majority of Americans have access to the Internet (whether from home, school, office, library, or phone) nearly one-third of Americans now use high speed Internet access. Analysts have found that people tend to research their medical, financial, and legal issues online before speaking with a professional. Most significantly for attorneys, most people seeking assistance start their search on Google by entering their location and the specialty they need. For example, someone researching a real estate issue in a Boston suburb may type “Newton condo attorneys.” 61 percent of online searchers consider local search results to be more relevant and 58 percent consider local search results to be more trustworthy than non-local.
While the average baby boomer client doesn’t want to create a will or trust online or research incorporating a business, 25-year-olds, soon to become the typical legal consumers with families, are so used to conducting their business on the Internet that that’s how they’ll also buy their legal services. By connecting with Generation Y and Millennials now you’ll be laying the foundation for future business.
Although many mid-career attorneys may view Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networking sites as forms of entertainment, they are critical elements of an online presence. Sixty-three percent of social networkers are more likely to use a local business if the business has information available on a social networking site, according to the 2012 Local Search Usage Study. For small firms and solo attorneys whose clients are increasingly using social media, as we all are, devoting some time and resources to this effort can pay off at the local level, both for marketing promotions and for customer service.
Prospects aren’t the only ones looking for attorneys online. The best source of business is your current clients, who may have legal needs you’re not aware of. Connecting with these clients online reinforces your expertise and makes them aware of your complete range of services. They’ll be more likely to return with future issues and refer you to family, friends and colleagues.
If You Haven’t By Now…..Get Online!
Taking advantage of online marketing can help you improve your visibility to searchers, outrank your competition, get the most out of your digital assets, retain loyal customers, and generate leads efficiently and cost-effectively. The goal of an online social network is to allow you to use your arsenal of digital assets – online profiles, videos, blog posts, podcasts, and legal documents — to get as much visibility online as possible. By completing a profile on mainstream and legal social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Places, AttorneyConnect, Avvo, and Justia and optimizing properly you can dominate the search engine results pages and make it easier for potential clients to find you.
As the balance of power shifts from traditional law firms and toward clients and a raft of tech-savvy legal services vendors, the price of continued prosperity for lawyers is going to be innovation and doing more with less. Although the mid-career attorney may feel at a disadvantage when it comes to knowledge of new technology and the Internet, you have a distinct advantage when it comes to providing experienced legal representation in your local community at an affordable rate.
Ian M. Bardorf is an Internet marketing and social media advisor to attorneys and law firms seeking to grow and advance their business via the web. This article is copyrighted as original content by Ian M. Bardorf and Bardorf Legal Marketing. This article may be reproduced or republished with appropriate attribution and credit.