Starting a blog

At present, 26 percent of law firms in the US have their own blog, according to the 2016 Legal Technology Survey Report, which was recently published by the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center. The larger the firms, the more likely they are to have a blog: among firms of 500 or more attorneys, 60 percent have blogs, while at firms of 100 to 499 attorneys, 52 percent have blogs. In contrast, only 20 percent of firms of 2 to 9 attorneys have blogs, while just 12 percent of attorneys in solo practices have their own blogs.

So, what is a blog, and should you consider starting your own, if you don’t have one? The word blog comes from weblog (web log).  It is often defined as a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style. Blog articles are not academic papers. They’re meant to inform the general public.

There are many reasons to start a blog. Some see blogs as a platform for lawyers to offer insight and commentary. As such the articles are a form of free first legal advice, and facilitate access to justice. One lawyer described these blog articles as ‘helping the little guys’. Blogs also helped democratizing publishing and marketing for smaller and solo law firms. And by now, blogs have become an essential marketing tool: the legal market has changed, and the new legal consumers are content consumers. In order to turn website visitors into customers, you must turn them into content consumers first. And that is what you use blogs and social media for!

How and where do you start? You have several options, some which you could even combine. If you have your own site, then it makes perfect sense to use it to publish your blog as well. If you are using existing CMS software, like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal, for your website, then you already have all you need, as these come with built-in blogging solutions. If you don’t use an existing CMS package, you should be able to stick to the technical solution you already are using, or, alternatively, you could opt to start using blogging software for your blog only.

If you don’t have your own website, and you don’t want to host your own site, you could use one of the platforms that are specifically meant for blogging: WordPress, Blogger, Blogspot typically are most used, but Tumblr, Medium, Squarespace, Ghost, and Wix also offer solutions. The comparison chart at https://startbloggingonline.com/blog-platform-comparison-chart/ offers a good overview of pros and cons of the different solutions that are available. If you are active on social media, you could even use some of those: both Facebook and LinkedIn, e.g., offer the option to publish articles. And finally, your ISP may even offer you a free blog. You don’t even have to limit yourself to one solution. Some people publish their articles on their blogs, as well as on social media.

What should you write about? Many legal blogs offer insight and commentary on developments in the law, business and consumer affairs. Others focus on case law and regulatory developments. Ideally, you should write about something that you are passionate about. Being passionate about a topic makes it easier to be inspired, and will make the writing process more enjoyable. Blogging shouldn’t be a compulsory chore.

After you have written your article, it is good practice to promote it on social media, so you can attract more viewers. (And if you promote you articles on Twitter, use hashtags for the most important keywords. For an article like this one, e.g., you could use #legaltech and #blogging).

The next question is how often you should update your blog with a new article. There is no magical success formula, as it both depends on your target audience, and on the amount of time that you can spend. For larger firms, an update frequency of two to three new articles per week is often seen as ideal. For smaller firms and solo lawyers, one or two new articles per month usually is enough.

Starting a blog might seem a bit intimidating at first. But it is something that grows you on quite easily. Once you have written some articles, you’ll get the hang of it, especially if you write about topics you are passionate about.

 

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Mobile Apps for Lawyers

The mobile revolution changed the way we work and interact with each other. It also has provided lawyers with plenty of new, useful tools for their mobile devices. In this week’s article, we have a look at some interesting apps for lawyers. We’ll first focus on specifically legal apps, and then continue with more general apps that lawyers are also using to increase their productivity. If there are specific ones that stand out, we’ll mention them by name.

Legal Apps

Legal Case Management Software

Virtually all major legal case management software packages offer apps for mobile devices. Typically, these apps do not offer the full functionality of the package, but rather focus on the most commonly used actions: they provide access to case files, contacts, agendas, etc.

Legal Research

Many publishers of legal documentation offer apps and/or mobile access to their information. The same applies to some legal dictionaries.

Trial Presentations

If, as a lawyer, you do a lot of litigation, there is an app that can be used in court that is specifically designed to organize, annotate, and present evidence. TrialPad, www.litsoftware.com/trialpad/, includes powerful presentation tools that call out sections of documents, highlight text, create side-by-side document comparisons You can edit and show video clips, add exhibit stickers to documents, search document text, etc. (iOS devices only).

Other Apps to increase productivity

Apart from the specifically legal apps, there also are other apps that are very useful for lawyers. These are some of the most commonly used ones, arranged by the purpose of the app. Most of these apps store your information in the cloud, so it is available anywhere, at any time, and synchs between devices in real time.

Note taking

Evernote (evernote.com) and Microsoft’s OneNote (www.onenote.com) are the two apps that are most used for taking notes. Both offer excellent tools to organize, search and retrieve notes, and are available in different versions: web version, desktop applications, mobile apps.

For those who prefer to take handwritten notes, there even are apps for that, though most of them are available for iOS devices only.

PDF Annotation etc.

There are dozens of apps available that allow you to view and annotate PDF documents on your mobile device. Most offer the same core functionalities (view, annotate, highlight).

Research

One app that isn’t specifically designed for legal research, but that is frequently used to that purpose, is Feedly, feedly.com/i/welcome.  It allows you to keep track and organize content and documentation, to add your comments, and to share both (information and comments) with others. (Slack, mentioned further down, also could be used for legal research).

Dictation

Lawyers often dictate texts, and there are plenty of apps for that, too. They largely fall in one of two groups: they can either just record what you’re saying, or they can convert speech to text, in which case they’re usually language dependent.

Messaging / Communication

One of the most used apps for messaging and communication is Skype (www.skype.com). The free version allows video conferencing for up to 10 simultaneous users. Also commonly used, but only available for iOS devices, is FaceTime.

In a previous article, we pointed out that a lot of communication between lawyers and their customers (and suppliers) happens through Social Media: Facebook / Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

Also worth having a look at, is Slack (slack.com): it calls itself a messaging app for teams and collaboration. You can have discussions, share documents, etc. It can also be used for research.

Storage

There are many reasons to store information in the cloud: as a backup, to be accessible anywhere at any time, on multiple devices with real-time synchronization, etc. All major cloud storage service providers have apps for mobile devices: Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, etc.

Task Management

If you are using legal case management software, you probably won’t need a separate app to manage your tasks, as it will be included in the package. If it is not, you may want to have a look at Todoist, todoist.com.

Automation

And finally, there is Zapier, zapier.com/. If you perform certain tasks routinely, then there’s a chance Zapier can automate that process for you. It connects your apps and automates workflows. Zapier can move info between your web apps automatically.

 

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Accommodating your clients in the mobile revolution

The mobile revolution is a fact. In October 2016, worldwide, more websites were visited with mobile devices than with desktops. Indeed, Statcounter, a research company that tracks Internet traffic, reported that 51.3 percent of websites were loaded onto mobile devices, thus overtaking traffic from desktops for the first time ever on a global scale.

How does that affect you? In this article, we’ll focus on how to accommodate your mobile clients. More specifically, we’ll deal with what this means for your website and for your interactions with your clients. In a follow-up article, we will pay attention to some new tools the mobile revolution is providing for lawyers.

Let us start with your website. The first question to ask yourself is whether your website is mobile-friendly. How does it look when viewed on a mobile device? Is the text going out of the screen? Do the images and videos fit within the screen width? Can the navigation of the site be used comfortably on a mobile device?

Gone are the days of fixed width wide screen layouts. A quick look at available statistics teaches that approximately one in three website visitors has a screen width between 320 and 360 pixels! So, your website must be accessible in these lower resolutions. You may also consider using a font size that keeps the text readable.

A next item to pay attention to is the structure of your website. Are the menus and navigation touch-friendly and is the site easy to navigate on mobile devices? Are the menu options sufficiently large so they can be tapped with fingers? Mobile visitors also expect pages to load faster. Typically, pages that are optimized for mobile usage tend to be shorter, which means that – compared with how things used to be – you may need to reorganize and split up the content of your website.

Don’t speculate that you can postpone making your site mobile-friendly, because you are already losing potential customers. People using mobile device are 50% less likely to use your services if they find you through a website that is not mobile-friendly! And search engines like Google punish websites that are not mobile-friendly in several ways. Non-mobile-friendly websites get a lower ranking in the search results, which means your website will be harder to find. That ranking is lowered even more if the user who is performing the search uses a mobile device. (As a site note, Google also punishes websites that do not have a sitemap, disclaimer, or privacy statement, as well as sites that do not meet accessibility requirements). If you want to find out how your site is doing, Google offers a website where you can test it, and see if it is mobile-friendly by Google’s standards: www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/

In previous articles, we pointed out that the new legal consumer prefers to work with lawyers who offer a client portal. In it, clients can have access to their data in a secure environment, and keep track of the evolution of their case(s). Preferably, that client portal, too, should be mobile friendly.

Finally, mobile media also affect how we communicate. 97% of the owners of mobile devices use it for texting through (social media) apps like Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn, Whatsapp, Skype, Google Hangouts, or other apps. Many use their mobile device for video chats. And 53 % of mobile users use their mobile devices to read and send email as well. Are the emails you send mobile friendly? Do the header and footer fit within the screen widths of mobile devices?

The mobile revolution is here. Make sure you don’t miss it!

 

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AI Predicts Outcome of Human Rights Cases

It’s the stuff of science fiction: an artificial intelligence judges the merits of a court case and reaches a verdict. We are now one step closer to that being a reality. Researchers have created an artificial intelligence system that has accurately predicted the outcomes of many cases heard at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Out of 584 cases, the system had a success rate of 79% where it correctly decided whether there had been a Human Rights’ violation or not.

The project was carried out by researchers at University College London and the universities of Sheffield and Pennsylvania. The method consisted of automatically analyzing case text using a machine learning algorithm. For the learning phase, equal amounts of cases with violations and without violations were used. In developing the method, the team found that judgements by the ECHR are highly correlated to non-legal facts rather than directly legal arguments, suggesting that judges of the Court are, in the jargon of legal theory, ‘realists’ rather than ‘formalists’.

The most reliable factors for predicting the court’s decision were found to be the language used, as well as the topics and ‘circumstances’ mentioned in the case text. The ‘circumstances’ section of the text includes information about the factual background to the case.

The team identified English language data sets for 584 cases related to three articles of the Convention on Human Rights:

  • Article 3: cases involving torture or degrading treatment, good for 250 cases
  • Article 6: rights to a fair trial, good for 80 cases
  • Article 8: respect for private life, good for 254 cases

By combining the information extracted from a) the abstract ‘topics’ that the cases cover and b) the ‘circumstances’ across data for all three articles, an accuracy of 79% was achieved.

The 21% of cases where the prediction was not correct involved situations where there were similar cases but with different outcomes. This could be an indication that in those cases, the finer subtleties of the law were missed by the artificial intelligence.

One of the key researchers, Dr Nikolaos Aletras, who led the study at UCL, said the following about using AI to predict cases: ‘We don’t see AI replacing judges or lawyers, but we think they’d find it useful for rapidly identifying patterns in cases that lead to certain outcomes. It could also be a valuable tool for highlighting which cases are most likely to be violations of the European Convention on Human Rights.’

Given the huge numbers of cases that the ECHR’s legal staff has to consider every year, the program could indeed prove very useful: in 2015, e.g., the court had to process 40,650 applications for a hearing, while in 2014 it processed 56,200 cases.

It is easy to see how such programs could benefit law firms as well. Having intelligent software at your office to predict the outcome of a case would offer a clear and objective view of the strengths and weaknesses of your case and argumentation. This could then help devise a different argumentation if necessary. Alternatively, it could help avoiding the costs of litigation if similar cases were not considered ‘winnable’.

Does this mean lawyers or judges should start fearing for their jobs? No, it doesn’t. The program still misses the finer subtleties of the law. As Dr Aletras pointed out, it is meant as a tool to assist, not to replace. In the long run, though, it could result in lawyers and judges dealing with more complex or specialized cases, while the processing of simpler cases gets more automated.

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Cyberattacks: are you prepared?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that in an online world, cybercrime is on the rise. Not a week goes by without some cybercrime event in the headlines. So, we thought it would be a good idea to have some articles on cybersecurity. In this article, we will focus on cyberattacks, and more specifically on security breaches. Criminal security breaches typically happen for one of two purposes: hackers break into your system to either steal (and sell) your data, or to hold them for ransom by encrypting them with keys only they have.

Lawyers are not exempt from this risk, on the contrary. Because of all the sensitive data they store, law firms are appealing targets for hackers. A survey in the US taught that 80% of law firms have already been hacked at some stage. (The reporter writing the article suggested that the other 20% was either unaware, or lying about it).

Lawyers keep a lot of sensitive information on their clients. Because of the attorney-client privilege, they have an obligation to secure and protect that privileged information and data breaches erode the foundation of that attorney-client privilege. Data breaches can lead to fines, to law suits for malpractice and/or other damages, and to a loss of clientele. It is therefore important to take appropriate measures.

Now, typically, storing your information in the cloud is considered more secure and cheaper, as a) the hosting company will have all the know-how in-house, and b) the cost of security is shared, as it is spread over the different customers. But one must keep in mind that with a cloud solution, because it is always accessible, from anywhere, by anyone, at any time, that each additional user and each additional device increase the risk of a data breach. Most security breaches in the cloud are due, not to poor security on the host’s side, but to insecure devices or insecure behaviour by the users.

A recent example comes to mind. A firm in the US asked a security expert to test their security. It took him only 20 minutes to gain access to their data, with administrator privileges. How did he do it? He first looked for staff members on professional social media. Then he checked whether any of their accounts on social media or with other online service providers had ever been hacked. (You may remember the Yahoo or LinkedIn hacks, e.g., where data of millions of users were put online). Within minutes he found that an account of an administrator had been hacked, and that his login credentials were available online. When he tried to use the same credentials (user-id and password) to gain access to the law firm’s data, his attempt was successful. The weak link in the otherwise fairly secure setup was that a user was still using a password he had used before in an online account that had been hacked.

One of the most common cause of data breaches is the use of insecure devices. Laptops, tablets and phones are prime targets for thieves. Yet, many lawyers still store unencrypted client data on a laptop or on a mobile device.

So, is your firm secure? What can you do to increase security? Here are some suggestions:

  • Install intrusion detection and prevention systems, and enterprise-grade firewalls, not just on your servers but also on desktops and laptops. After all, gaining access to one device is enough to gain access to the information.
  • Enable encryption on all devices, including on mobile devices like phones, tablets and laptops.
  • Encryption should also be used for all communications between the devices.
  • Separate professional and private accounts. Don’t keep client data, e.g., on a private email account.
  • Only use secure servers. Can your server limit access to your data from everyone but yourself?
  • Continuously back up your data to secure servers. You may also consider using a trusted third-party to keep backups of your data.
  • Finally, make sure you have a response team in case of a breach, and enable a data loss / theft protocol, so everybody knows what steps must be taken when and by whom.

 

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Legal Case Management Software Checklist (part 2)

In part 1 of our legal case management software checklist we focused on the essential functionality that your software solution should provide. In part 2, we first pay attention to some optional modules and functionality that can be valuable for your firm. We will conclude with some general considerations with regard to the service providers and the services they provide.

Most service provides offer a range of additional modules, which often focus on specialized tasks, and therefore are optional. The reporting capabilities of a package are sometimes included and other times optional. They usually give a good insight in the maturity of the product. Further modules may focus on firm management, productivity, or logistics. Larger law firms will also be interested in knowledge management and data mining.

If your firm specializes in certain fields of activity, like, e.g. debt collection and recovery, mergers and acquisitions, liquidations, etc., special modules may be available that are specifically designed for those purposes. Sometimes other service providers offer such extended functionality, and you may have to work with more than one service provider.

If you are planning to use software solutions by other service providers, you must investigate whether these can be integrated in, or at least communicate with, your chosen software solution. We already gave the examples of third-party accounting software and optional specialized modules, but it also applies to more common scenarios. Most firms use Microsoft’s Office 365. And many people rely on either Gmail and Google Calendar, or on Outlook and/or Exchange for their email and calendar. If this applies to you, you will want a solution that offers a seamless integration with these applications as well.

These days, many companies use public cloud services (DropBox, Onedrive, Google Drive, etc.) for a number of reasons: to share documents or collaborate on them, to make backups of their data, etc. Does your software solution provide an integration with these services?

Security and Data are also important considerations. Does the software provide an easy user and permissions management solution with different levels of access? Are the data encrypted? Are email communications encrypted? Can the data be easily imported and exported? If you are looking at a cloud solution where the service provider hosts your data, what rights do you and the service provider have to the data? Can the service provider keep your data if you default on your payments, e.g.?

Thus far, we have given an overview of functionality requirements for your checklist. There are other important considerations, too. Apart from the functionality, you have to look at the User Experience (UX), e.g.: How intuitive and easy to use is the software? How are support and training organized? Are there manuals, tutorials, webinars or podcasts? When can the support desk be contacted and in what ways (phone, email, live chat, remote access, …)? The price, too, is of course an important consideration. Are there any hidden costs or costs that will increase over time? What about upgrades: what is the frequency, what are the conditions and what is the cost? Does the provider offer you a free trial period, and if so, for how long?

Last but not least, it is always a good practice to investigate to investigate the service providing company itself. What experience does it have in the field? How is its viability as a service provider?

Legal Case Management Software Checklist (part 1)

What do you have to pay attention to when you want to automate your law practice? We’re presenting you a two-part article with a check list. In the first part, we focus on the necessary modules and offer some thoughts on technology. In a second part, we will focus on optional modules and additional functionality.

Essential functionality overview

As a rule, any legal case management software should offer the following functionality:

  • Contact Management
  • Case Management
  • Document Management
  • Task Management
  • Billing & Invoicing
  • Accounting
  • Client Portal

Contact Management

Lawyers don’t just deal with customers. They deal with a wide range of people and legal entities, in different capacities and roles. This is why many regular CRM programs won’t be sufficient. A decent contact management module is the cornerstone of any well-functioning law firm.

Case Management

As a lawyer, you work on cases. You need to meticulously keep track of everything that’s going on in the cases and the matters you’re handling. Typically, your case management is the central hub of your software that ties in with all other modules.

Document Management

There are two aspects to document management. On the one hand, as a lawyer you are likely to be confronted with thousands of documents, which may or may not pertain to one or more cases. You need a system to store, allocate and retrieve documents efficiently. On the other hand, as a lawyer, you constantly produce documents as well. That is the second aspect of Document Management: you need a module or app for document assembly (sometimes called an ‘act generator’). It uses templates that are filled out with the relevant data relating to the case.

Task Management

You also need to keep track of everything you have done, and everything you still have to do. Time Management in its widest sense covers several aspects, and often consists of several modules or apps. In order to increase efficiency, most programs work with predefined lists of frequently recurring tasks. Typically, there will be an app for fee management linked to that, that allows you to define default fees for specific tasks. You also will want the program to keep track of all the tasks you have already performed. As many lawyers work with a system of billable hours, a module for time tracking may come in handy, too.

You not only want to keep track of what you’ve done already, you also need to keep track of what you still have to do. As a lawyer, specific tasks often have to be performed at specific times, which is why you need an agenda and/or calendaring app.

Billing & Invoicing

Once you keep track of all the tasks you have performed, billing and invoicing becomes a piece of cake. Typically, the billing / invoicing module will not only allow you to create invoices. It also will allow you to generate statements, work with commissions, create intermediary overviews, etc.

Accounting

Ideally, your legal case management software should also have an accounting module that keeps track of all the payments you make and receive. Alternatively, your firm may want to use existing accounting software. If an accounting module is not included, then you should make sure there is a seamless integration between your legal case management software and the existing accounting software. And if you are dealing with third party payments, where you collect money on behalf of your clients, make sure the accounting module is designed to process those payments, as well.

Client Portal

As our articles on the new legal consumers indicated, these days a client portal is a must, too. A client portal is a place on the Internet where your customers can view, and possibly edit, their own data. Usually it’s a web site that is accessible with a browser, but it could just as well be a mobile app. In the context of law firms, client portals offer clients to ability to get an overview of their case or cases: what has been done, what still needs to be done, what has been billed, what has been paid, what third party payments have been received, etc. Often, a client portal will also offer the built-in ability to directly communicate with the client, allowing the client to ask questions.

An additional note on technology

These days, the majority of people are online on mobile devices. The software you choose should be able to offer web access, either through apps for mobile devices, and/or through mobile friendly web pages. Most leading software packages for legal case management are using cloud technology, be it private, hybrid or public cloud technologies, allowing you and your clients to access information from anywhere, at any time. Make sure you’re not choosing software that can’t be accessed over the Internet.

Continued in Legal Case Management Software Checklist (part 2)

Why Social Media Matter

Generally speaking, lawyers tend to be slow to adopt new technologies. Social media are no exception: many lawyers still, and incorrectly, assume there are no real benefits to using social media. In previous articles, we discovered that the new legal consumer behaves differently, and operates in an online paradigm. A three-pronged approach was suggested to attract the new legal consumers. The keywords were: cultivate / offer / engage. Many websites focus mainly on the offer aspect. Social media play an important role in the both the cultivate and engage aspects.

In order to elaborate on this, it is good to pay some attention first to social media marketing in general. You probably already have a website, but somehow the percentage of visitors to your website that results in actual new customers is rather low. That is because the old ways of turning visitors into customers are not the most effective in an online paradigm. In the new online marketplace, everybody offering products or services must realise that they also are publishers, and that potential customers are content consumers. The way to turn website visitors into customers is to turn them into regular content consumers first.

In her book, The Zen of Social Media Marketing: An Easier Way to Build Credibility, Generate Buzz, and Increase Revenue Shama Kabani explains the ACT Methodology for social media marketing: ACT is short for Attract – Convert – Transform.

act-methodology
ACT Methodology: Attract-Convert-Transform

A stands for Attract. You want to draw attention or stand out. Practically, this means attracting traffic to your website, as well as to your presence on social media. Needless to say, you need to be active on social media, if you want to use them as a channel to attract visitors.

C is for Convert. Conversion happens when you turn a stranger into a consumer or a customer. As mentioned above, there is a difference between the two. By converting a website or social media visitor into a content consumer, you create a relationship with him or her. Over time, this relationship increases the likelihood of that content consumer becoming a customer, provided you present them with quality content. The more is at stake, the longer this may take. This means that you constantly have to work to convert people into consumers and customers. Social Media are a great tool for turning strangers into content consumers.

T stands for Transform. Transformation is when you turn past and present successes into magnetic forces of attraction. In a previous article, we found out that many people looking for a lawyer consider online reviews and testimonials important. Indeed, testimonials and reviews by existing customers help attract and subsequently convert new consumers and costumers. Social Media provide an extra, and important, platform for your existing customers to provide you with the glowing feedback which will help to do so.

As a content provider, you must think of everything you publish online in function of one of the three aspects of the ACT methodology: how does what I put out there help attract, convert or transform? The same applies to the three-pronged approach of cultivating, adapting your offer and engaging with the new legal consumers: each has to be done with the purpose of attracting, converting or transforming.

Social media are very well suited to cultivate the new legal consumers and engage with them. Media like LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, or Reddit, e.g., are ideal platforms to offer assistance, or to start or take part in discussions. If you want to demonstrate your expertise, a blog on your website is not the only possible way to publish specialized articles. Social media like LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ also offer the same ability, with the added benefit of reaching a larger audience.

In summary, social media have a role to play in attracting and transforming new consumers and customers, and are crucial in converting strangers into content consumers. They offer a platform to cultivate the new legal consumers and to engage with them.

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The New Legal Consumer (part 2)

In part 1 of this article, we learned that the new legal consumer is an online consumer who is informed, connected and picky. In part 2, we’ll first look at some statistics that will help us better understand the new legal consumers. Then we’ll have a look at how to accommodate them.

Some statistics

The research done by avvo.com reveals new patterns of behaviour of online legal consumers, as the following statistics illustrate.

What are they doing online?

  • 42% are doing their own legal research online.
  • 31% are doing research on the lawyers whose services they consider using.
  • 17% are using online legal forms to solve their problems.
  • 16% visit legal forums to get assistance with their legal issues.

How do they solve legal problems? The new legal consumers first try to solve their problems on their own.

  • 42% solve the problem on their own.
  • 42% hire a lawyer.

Interestingly, 20% of the interviewees thought they would end up knowing as much as a lawyer about their issue by doing online research.

While trying to solve their legal problem, they’re also looking for free online advice:

  • 32% get a free consult.
  • 21% get free advice from a lawyer by phone or email.
  • 15% call a legal help line.

Of those who use legal forms,

  • 66% get stuck at some point,
  • 39% get a consult from a lawyer, and
  • 33% end up hiring a lawyer.

How are they finding lawyers?

  • 31% find a lawyer by doing online research.
  • 25% find a lawyer through referrals, but 45% of those will then still first research the lawyer online.

Significant in this context is that 95% of those looking for a lawyer consider online reviews important. 45% even labelled online reviews ‘very important.’

56% of legal consumers say they value a hotline that connects them directly to a lawyer.
76% of respondents also said they prefer fixed fee billing.

Accommodating the new legal consumers

So what can we learn from all this to help us accommodate the new legal consumers? In his report, Nika Kabiri advises to reach the consumers where they are and to give them what they’re looking for. Stephen Furnari (from Law Firm Suites, www.lawfirmsuites.com) suggests a three-pronged approach to achieve this. The key words are: cultivate / offer / engage.

Cultivate online consumers: make sure you have a strong online presence. If allowed, publish online reviews by your customers, and/or use review sites. Offer assistance via email and chat, either online or on mobile.

Offer what they are looking for: offer unbundled services, where they can ask your assistance, e.g., for one specific item. Offer fixed fee projects. Offer to review forms and documents. Offer strategy sessions.

Engage with online consumers: offer on-demand services. Answer legal questions online. Participate in discussions on online forums and/or community chats that deal with legal matters.

This three-pronged approach of cultivating and engaging with consumers, and adapting the services you offer, will help converting online consumers into customers.

Sources

The New Legal Consumer (part 1)

The Internet started a technological revolution, which in turn sparked a consumer revolution. You probably already have bought books, CDs or DVDs online. Or you may have opted for eBooks, mp3s and/or on demand streaming services for movies, TV shows and music. Many people buy their tickets for concerts and performances online. The same goes for plane tickets. Restaurants and hotels allow you to make online reservations, while fast-food chains even let you place your order online. Chances are your local supermarket offers the opportunity for you to order your groceries online, and then they’ll organize delivery for you. In short, we have become online consumers.

As we have become online consumers, our purchasing behaviour has changed as well. How we buy online is different from how we used to buy. In the past, before the Internet, the traditional ‘path to purchase’ model was very straightforward, and involved 3 steps: awareness (of the product or service), consideration, and purchase. That linear model no longer applies. If I want to buy a product or service, I’ll do some research on it first. I’ll compare what’s on offer, and what the prices are. I’ll read reviews written by other consumers who have bought the product or used the service, and, if available, I’ll check out what rating other consumers give, etc. In other words, the process that leads to the actual purchase has become far more complex, and involves far more factors than before.

This change in consumer behaviour also applies to the legal consumer. There are examples of people who have settled their divorces without employing any lawyers. People write their own wills and their prenuptial agreements, using forms and legal document generators they find online. Some have set up companies with limited liability, etc. And with all the information that is available on the Internet, people are more prone to first do their own research, before consulting a lawyer.

Some months ago, Avvo.com published an interesting study on the new legal consumer: Nikka Kabiri, Sink or swim: How to adapt to the New Legal Consumer, 27 April 2016, avvo.com. (A free copy can be obtained at http://go.avvo.com/new-legal-consumer-download, but registration is required).

On the behaviour of the new legal consumers, Kabiri says (p.5): “Consumers have described their process of finding a legal solution as unmethodical, a mix of online and offline behavior with no real strategic process, largely because of the information and solutions available to them on the internet. People follow advice from lawyers they don’t even know – because these lawyers happened to be online. They hire a lawyer but then go back online to do research. While online, they follow one link after another to a variety of different sources, often reading the same information more than once, much of this information found on other lawyers’ websites. They may do this over days, weeks, even months, until their issue is resolved. Eighty-five percent go online weekly to resolve their legal issue (40% are online daily). All of this consumer behavior, taken in aggregate, reveals no one clear journey, no single discernible order to resolving legal issues. The New Legal Consumer’s “legal shopping” behavior is an unsystematic exploration of a variety of options that, before the internet, was simply unavailable to them.

In spite of this unmethodical and unsystematic approach to finding solutions for legal problems, Kabiri finds three major characteristics that can help us understand the behaviour of the new legal consumers (p.6 ff.). He describes them as informed, connected, and picky.

Informed

There is plenty of legal information available online, and people are using it. They want to know more about their issue, and they are researching it online, by themselves, before even considering using the services of a lawyer. And they don’t shy away from the professional legal literature. The new legal consumers are reading legal articles; they value state codes as well as case law, where they look for precedents that provide information that may be relevant for their legal issue.

Connected

Because of the Internet, we are witnessing the emergence of communities of legal consumers. The new legal consumers have access to other legal consumers online. They look for others who have had similar issues, and they read others’ experiences in online forums and communities. They also specifically look for online reviews of legal services that are being offered, and are more likely to use the services for which they can find reviews.

Picky

The new legal consumers have access to diverse legal solutions online. They are using online forms and legal document generators. If given the choice, they prefer fixed-fee options. They also are attracted to unbundled services: they may, e.g., be filling out a form and get stuck on one or more items for which they need assistance. They will look for a lawyer online who can answer that question for them, and they’ll use his or her services for just that item.

As the legal market is changing, legal service provides have to adapt. In part 2, we’ll have a closer look at certain tendencies in the behaviour of the new legal consumer, and at the ways to accommodate the new legal consumers.

Sources