In the last few years, you’ve probably experienced a new client exhibiting the tell-tale signs of a “self-appointed lawyer.” This is the client who comes to a meeting and attempts to advise you on the proper strategy for their legal issue. They are well-intentioned, just like a patient referencing WebMD when describing symptoms to a doctor, but they have spent too much time searching the expanse of the internet, taking legal guidance from an endless array of questionable online sources.
Clarify the issue
Despite this shift, potential clients come to you because they’re facing an issue they can’t solve on their own. And with the wealth of alternative options out there, such as firms down the street, and DIY services, it’s challenging to find the balance between keeping their business and giving them honest advice that may run contrary to their preconceived notions of how the law works. “It’s definitely a tougher thing for dealing with clients and their ultimate satisfaction,” reflects Claudia Lagos, a criminal defense attorney and partner at Scully & Lagos in the Boston area.
Provide necessary context
While “unlimited options” sound greats, it usually creates issues. Yes, today’s clients have more access to information than ever before, but that doesn’t mean they’re getting the right information. Many studies show that information overload sets in when too many choices are present, making it more difficult to make decisions.
Legal consumers are no different, but while they’re equally overwhelmed with options, 81 percent contact or seriously consider just two attorneys or law firms, according to the 2018 Thomson Reuters U.S. Consumer Legal Needs Survey. With all the distractions and competition, legal consumers need help deciphering the complexities of their legal issues, and they need someone willing to treat them fairly.
So how can you provide the right client service and overcome the onslaught of online information (and misinformation) that impacts your clients’ expectations?
Show compassion and be responsive
If you can set yourself up as a competent and caring attorney adept at solving their legal problems, that’s a massive step toward a successful client service process. Because today’s clients are often more informed about their issues from the outset and aware of potential outcomes, the way they feel you treat them is more important than ever. You’re the expert, but now is the time to listen. Make sure to acknowledge their thoughts and concerns and show you care. Share examples of past clients who experienced a similar process and how you have approached their legal issues.
Once you’ve taken the time to build the relationship, you need to be equipped with the right mix of tools to provide clarity about their issue and serve them more comprehensively. This could mean access to information that allows you to educate your clients and set attainable expectations more easily. Or it could mean getting up to speed on other practice areas, changes in case law, statutes, and regulations, so you don’t appear less than capable of managing the case. Today’s (mis)informed client typically has more questions – make sure you can answer them on time.
Be an authoritative resource
Whatever you land on, make sure you act as the authoritative source of answers instead of making potential clients rely on the vast expanse of online resources they aren’t prepared to decode. Even small steps in the way you treat your clients could mean the difference for your firm.
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