Understanding legal consumers

A recent survey in the UK found that 7 out of 10 legal consumers would prefer to interact with a robot lawyer or law bot rather than deal with a “real” lawyer. To put matters into perspective: when we are talking, e.g., about contacting customer services only 44% prefer to deal with a chat bot, where 63% don’t mind, and 37% prefer not to interact with chat bots.

The results of a different survey can shed some light as to why people prefer robot lawyers to real lawyers. For starters, consumers are worried about the overall cost, value, and price transparency when contacting a lawyer. Both the actual cost and the final result are often uncertain. 31% of respondents thought that using the legal system costs too much money (even when the benefits justify the cost). 35% believe the end benefits don’t justify the cost, and for 28%, not knowing the final cost in advance is a hurdle.

The survey also revealed that there is plenty of room for improvement when it comes to client satisfaction, and that there often is a serious disconnect between what lawyers think their clients want, and what those clients actually want. There also is quite a disparity between how clients actually experience the process from an emotional point of view, and what their lawyers think their clients feel.

Let us have a look at some statistics, compiled from several reports:

  • 59% of respondents say they would consider using the law when faced with a legal problem (which means a whopping 41% would not!), and 57% of respondents have dealt with a life issue that could have been handled legally but wasn’t.
  • Legal consumers move fast: 59% take action within 1 week; 64% expect a response within 24 hours or less. (To put things in perspective, the average delay for a lawyer to respond to a possible new client is approx. 3 working days).
  • When it comes to legal services, consumers want local solutions: 50% won’t travel more than 28 miles / 45 km for an attorney, while 35% won’t even travel 20 miles / 32 km.
  • More than 2 out of 3 legal consumers use the phone to contact a lawyer: 38% use mobile phones, 31% use a landline.
  • Depending on the survey, between 58% and 65% of legal consumers end up contacting a legal professional.
  • They don’t shop around: 58% only contact one attorney; 21% contacts two; another 21% contacts three.
  • In the end 85% of consumers who contacted lawyers ended up hiring one. At the same time, 58% sought a consult with a lawyer they didn’t hire, and 68% communicated with a lawyer they did not hire. (At first glance this may appear contradictory, but can be explained by the fact that 42 percent of consumers contact more than one lawyer. If, e.g., I talk to three and hire one, then I did not hire 66% of the lawyers I contacted).

What factors do legal consumers take into consideration when choosing a lawyer? Stephen Fairly makes a distinction between concrete and subjective factors. The concrete factors include:

  • Expertise is important for 45%,
  • Cost for 33%,
  • Location for 31%,
  • Speed for 26%,
  • Specialization for 23%,
  • Years of Service for 23%.

The subjective factors are:

  • Recommendations: 40%
  • Reputation: 29%
  • Sense of Trust: 29%
  • Apparent Honesty: 24%
  • Sense of Empathy: 22%

The disparity between what legal consumers want and what lawyers think they want is greatest for three items: when the clients want to meet their lawyer in person, when they want to speak to their lawyer on the phone, and when it comes to balancing service with cost.

Meeting in person: Clients want to meet with lawyers in person when they want to learn about the legal aspects of a case (55%), when they want to tell their lawyer the details of their case (70%), and when they are signing, viewing, sharing, or delivering documents (64%). These expectations are clearly not met. Only 2% of lawyers expect to discuss the legal aspects of a case in person. Only 3% of lawyers expect their clients to tell them the facts in person. Things are slightly better when it comes to handling documents, where 43% of recognize that their clients want to handle documents in person.

Speaking on the phone: for lawyers, it typically doesn’t matter how they are contacted, as long as they are contacted, and speaking to their clients on the phone is rarely a priority. Legal consumers on the other hand, expect to speak to their lawyers over the phone to make an appointment (59%), to get quick replies to a question (46%), or to get an update on their case (37%).

Balancing service with cost: lawyers are perceived as expensive. Legal consumer are only willing to pay if they receive a certain level of service in return. This includes meeting in person or talking over the phone, which often is the most time intensive (and if billed by the hour most expensive) option. Clients also want lawyers to be available outside of their office (68%) and outside of business hours (59%).

In a series of articles in The National Law Review, Liz Wendling compiled a list of 10 insights to better meet the expectations of clients.

  1. Skip the superficial small talk.
  2. Connect and relate to the client.
  3. Don’t treat clients like they are clueless about their legal options.
  4. Help clients see why you are different than your competitors.
  5. Clients have a name; please use it.
  6. Show clients the value in your services, and they will care less about your fees.
  7. Clients will tune out if you talk about yourself first.
  8. Don’t make the money conversation uncomfortable.
  9. If want a client’s business, ask for their business.
  10. Reinforce their wise decision to retain you.

In conclusion, the surveys reveal that the demands and expectations of legal consumers are often not met, and that lawyers need to address these issues, for which creative solutions will have to found. In many cases, technology can be of assistance. Client portals, remote access and task automation can help lawyers be more available without sacrificing attention that could be focused elsewhere.



The Internet of Things and the Law

Our world is becoming more and more interconnected. Through our smart phones, tablets, computers, smart watches, etc., we are living online lives, where we are virtually always connected to the Internet in some way. More and more devices we are using, too, are constantly collecting and sending data. This is often referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT). In this article, we’ll explain what it is, and have a look at some examples. Then we will have a look at some legal aspects with regard to the Internet of Things.

The Wikipedia defines the Internet of things as “the network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and connectivity which enables these things to connect, collect and exchange data, creating opportunities for more direct integration of the physical world into computer-based systems, resulting in efficiency improvements, economic benefits, and reduced human exertions.” All of these devices are provided with unique identifiers (UIDs) and typically have the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. This also implies that they can be remotely monitored and, in many cases, controlled.

The number of IoT devices is increasing rapidly. In 2017, 8.4 billion devices were connected to the Internet, which was an increase of 31% compared to 2016. The estimations of how fast this expansion will occur vary widely: on the conservative side we find, e.g., the analyst firm Gartner who expects that by 2020 there will be over 26 billion connected devices. ZD-Net on the other hand mentions a number of 50 billion devices by 2020. Others, however, estimate this number to be much higher, even over 100 billion.  Even in conservative estimations, the global market value of IoT is projected to reach $7.1 trillion by 2020.

So, what devices are connected? Basically any physical object can be transformed into an IoT device if it can be connected to the internet and controlled that way. Existing examples include coffee makers, washing machines, headphones, lamps, wearable devices, and even children’s toys. It also includes many vehicles, and even components of machines, the drill of an oil rig, or jet engines of an airplane which are filled with thousands of sensors collecting and transmitting data back to make sure it is operating efficiently. There are medical IoT devices like insulin injection pumps, pacemakers, etc. We already find IoT devices in our homes, in healthcare, transportation, information technology and energy infrastructure.

It should not come as a surprise that this proliferation of connected devices raises several legal issues.

A first set of issues has to do with privacy and data protection. In the EU, e.g., the GDPR applies and suppliers of IoT devices must make sure they are GDPR compliant, which isn’t always obvious. The GDPR does not only apply to the collecting and storing of data, but also to what is done with the data. Users have to consent, e.g., to those data being used for data mining.

As second set of issues has to do with security and cybercrimes. Each new device becomes a new potential target for hackers and criminals. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published a report in which it expressed security concerns that connected devices could, e.g., be used for enabling unauthorized access, for misuse of personal identification, and for expediting attacks on others systems. The simple truth is that the Internet of Things opens the door to a whole new range of cybercrimes, where criminals use IoT devices for extortion, for sabotage (e.g. interfering with energy), for assault, etc. In a recent hacking contest, e.g., hackers demonstrated – with permission – how they were able to take control of a driverless car within minutes.

A third set of issues has to do with eDiscovery, including eDiscovery in criminal investigations. IoT devices collect data which could be relevant as evidence in legal cases. There already are cases where the whereabouts of a person were confirmed or contradicted by the GPS systems in their car, phone or smart watch. There are cases where personal Assistants like Siri, Alexa, or Cortana, e.g., who constantly record what is being said, provided relevant evidence. A case that made headlines some months ago involved a possible homicide investigation, where an Amazon Echo (Alexa) device exonerated a suspect by confirming his alibi. (Noteworthy, too, in that case was that Amazon initially refused to hand over any data when it was requested by law enforcement, but agreed to do so when its customer asked them to hand over the data as it could – and eventually would – confirm his alibi).

In short, the Internet of Things opens the doors to plenty of new opportunities which in turn raise plenty of legal issues. For lawyers, that probably is a good thing.