I had an epiphany about the most important element in law firm marketing. When I had to find an out-of-state lawyer, client reviews made all the difference.
It started when a friend of my in Tucson, AZ, asked me to help find a lawyer. His daughter in rural Iowa was getting a divorce and needed a new lawyer. Was there any way I could help?
Certainly, I said, adding that I had access to many online databases of lawyers.
For years I have advised lawyers how to get clients online, and this would be a test of which lawyers did the best job. I did what most consumers do when they don't have someone to call for a reference: I searched online. Among the rosters of lawyers I found, the primary distinguishing feature was online reviews.
I Googled for a lawyer, using "divorce" and the city name, and found many lawyer directories on the first page of results. My first stop was Avvo, whose "Find a lawyer" function produced no lawyers with a client review in this sparsely-populated area. However there was a "Pro" advertisement for a local lawyer with a 6.1 out of 10 rating, which did not inspire confidence. I kept looking.
Next I tried Martindale.com, which found the same lawyer (who listed 185 practice areas), and a second lawyer -- neither with any client reviews.
When I tried Lawyers.com (where I used to be the Editor) I got some great results. There were several firms with client ratings, including two with client ratings of 4.5 stars out of 5 in nearby Iowa City. One was a four-lawyer firm that practiced only family law. Their website offered 12 "handouts on family law," which I found very helpful. They went on my list of recommendations.
Another Iowa City lawyer came up, and a Google review gave him 5 stars, saying "excellent attorney with integrity!" I double-checked on Findlaw and found another client review that said, "David helped me out greatly. He answered all of my questions and always got back to me right away. I would recommend David to anyone. He was upfront with me about everything and did a lot of work to get me what I wanted." He had an interesting bio with personal information and he also offered a free consultation. I recommended him.
The marketing lesson
As I continued, I was struck at the importance of the voice of the client. According to Nielsen, 68 percent of individuals surveyed in 2013 said they trusted consumer opinions posted online -- and I am among them. I always check reviews when I am buying anything from a computer to remodeling contractor. I pointed the importance of online reviews in 3 Digital Trends Impacting Law Firm Marketing.
The marketing lesson is that law firms should ask their clients to write a short review about them and post it online.
Epilogue: My friend said that his daughter scheduled an appointment with one of the Iowa City lawyers and that he and his family appreciated the assistance. It's a bewildering task for consumers to find a lawyer and I was glad I could help.