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.
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.
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.
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.
- Nikka Kabiri, Sink or swim: How to adapt to the New Legal Consumer, 27 April 2016, avvo.com; avvo.com/new-legal-consumer-download