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Back in 2010 we wrote a summary of the Law Society Gazette report on a YouGov poll of 2,266 people, commissioned by online solicitor directory It revealed that personal recommendation remained by far the most favoured method of choosing a solicitor but the Internet was hot on its heels… You can read our article here. Those of us that work in the industry know that it doesn’t move particularly swiftly but, five years on… has much changed?

Although the original research hasn’t been repeated, the explosion in digital marketing within the professional services means there is plenty of other data available to give us an indication on whether decision-making has evolved in the past five years.

In March 2014 the site, part of Thomson Reuters, conducted a survey of 1000 people as a follow up to one done in 2005. While research in previous years has shown that personal recommendations were overwhelmingly the most favoured method of choosing a solicitor, the latest survey offers quite a different picture.

The past decade has seen the figures flipped totally on their head. Perhaps unsurprisingly the Internet is now the main way in which people search for a lawyer. Only a quarter of people rely on personal recommendation from friends, family or colleagues.

  • 38% of those asked said they would use the internet as their first method of finding a lawyer, compared to only seven per cent in 2005.
  • Only 29% would now use friends and family, compared to a majority of 65% in 2005.
  • Ten per cent would consult a local bar association, compared to 13% in 2005.
  • Four per cent would use Yellow Pages, compared to ten per cent in 2005.

When we review these figures against age we start to learn about the value of different types of marketing.  In particular, as one would expect, the Internet remains the most popular communications medium with younger users.  The 65+ age group was the only group to prefer personal recommendations over the internet.


But what impact does this have on the marketing that law firms need to do?    

  1. We need to consider technology use.  Whilst three quarters of those selecting lawyers via the Internet do so on a desktop, the number using tablets and mobile phones is rapidly growing. As the Legal Technology Future Horizon’s report tells us, the physical and digital world are becoming interdependent, blending to create a new phenomenon, one we are just beginning to understand. Most accept that, in the future, neither the physical world nor the digital world will be sufficient by itself to fulfil our needs”. Law firms are going to need to embrace technological advances if they’re going to keep their head above water.
  1. The decade ahead for legal services will be shaped by developments that enhance mobility, personalisation and ease of use.  Firms that are going to do really well are firms that are ready to embrace new practices, as well as an excellent IT service and a great bunch of IT-literate lawyers. You can read more about this in the articles we wrote on last year’s legal technology report. In particular we notice that the use of artificial intelligence, social media tools and analytics, and cloud solutions are on the increase and firms must respond to be sure of securing instruction and tempting potential clients in marketing.
  1. Relationships matter.  Although 77% of management consider social media to be very significant or significant in raising profile, the latest Digital Technologies research shows a greater recognition of the importance of interactions and relationships, and the ways social and digital technologies can support them. What’s interesting about this is that firms need to start thinking about combined campaigns that use technology to drive a personal interaction, rather than viewing social media as a purely broadcast channel.
  1. What you say matters… too… Content featured heavily in importance in the 2014 Digital Technologies report. There has been a significant increase in those who understand the value of sharing content as well as recognising the relevance of blogs and knowhow in wider digital technology use. However, with other studies, such as the 2014 Legal Technology Future Horizons report, suggesting that real-time reporting through dashboards is rated by clients as an important factor in perceived service value, firms’ limited understanding of opportunities for content and reporting raises the question of how prepared the sector is for expected changes in client demands, based on new technologies.

What this relatively recent research shows is that there is still a fundamental lack of understanding of the ways in which interaction with clients, through social media and digital technologies, can contribute and add value.  It seems that using them to contribute to client care and key account management, as highlighted in the Digital Technologies report, goes further back than we first thought… to the original prospect and enquiry stage.

The writing is clearly on the wall. Face-to-face relationships sell, but technology is here to stay and to direct the business development and sales process up to that point.  The firms that take advantage of this by clearly planning their digital communication to achieve a face-to-face meeting will surely be the market-leaders in the future. However, those that persist in seeing personal interaction and digital interaction as mutually exclusive may end up dying a rather sad, lonely death.

For advice on digital marketing within your firm or chambers please contact Helen Hammond.