The Internet killed all the good clients


questions clients ask attorneys lawyersI’ve represented thousands of clients in my career. As far as I know, only one prospective client interviewed me and chose not to hire me. The rest I either signed up or I chose not to.

I say “as far as I know” because there may have been others who interviewed me and I wasn’t aware of it. But the woman who thanked me for my time and was never seen again stands out in my mind because the experience was so unusual.

New York criminal defense lawyer, Scott Greenfield, says that in the Internet age, things are different. People read articles and blog posts that provide lists of questions a well educated consumer should ask lawyers before retaining them, and that’s what they do. Questions like, “how many cases do you have,” “how many have you handled in the past,” and “how many have you won?” are now common.

The problem, Greenfield says, aren’t the questions but the prospective client’s inability to interpret the answers. Greenfield quotes Matt Brown’s original post at Tempe Criminal Defense:

They want numbers about my experience, my practice, the system, and their case. It’s because numbers make an unscientific decision like hiring a lawyer seem somewhat scientific. It’s a complex decision, and the idea of boiling the process down to comparing statistics comforts some people.

Unfortunately, a little knowledge can be a bad thing. A numbers-obsessed prospective client can easily end up worse-informed than someone who doesn’t ask any questions. The problem isn’t the information, but their perspective. Information, especially numbers, can be misleading without context.

Greenfield says this is a relatively recent phenomenon, and I agree. “Rarely did people run around interviewing a dozen criminal defense lawyers whose names they found online. They sought recommendations and then acted upon them. Weeks and months weren’t lost to interviews, not to mention many hours of both lawyer’s and potential client’s lives, in this strange new process.”

Matt Brown wrote about the challenge of being interviewed by a prospective client with a list of questions:

They wanted an exact number, so I told them. At the time, the number was fourteen. I immediately realized they weren’t going to hire me.

The number startled them. They asked me how I kept them all straight. Fourteen seemed like a huge number to them. Without a frame of reference, I might as well have told them I was too busy to handle the case.

One client hears “fourteen,” thinks that’s a big number and that you won’t have time to handle their case. The next client hears “fourteen” and thinks, “that’s all; you must not be very good.” This is an issue you must be prepared to deal with, but it’s not a problem. It’s an opportunity.

When a prospective client comes to see you, armed with a list of questions, it is an opportunity for you to educate him and give him the context they lack.

Show them what the numbers mean in the real world. Explain how attorneys work and how you are different. Tell him what he needs to know and give him credit for being intelligent enough to make the right decision. And ask him questions to find out what he wants and to make sure he understands what you are telling him.

You see, it’s not his job to interpret the numbers, it’s yours.

Most attorneys provide a proforma answer to these questions and cross their fingers. Some attorneys get frustrated and wish people would stop asking. Smart attorneys are not only prepared for these questions, they welcome them.

Questions from prospective clients open the door for you to demonstrate your knowledge, your experience, and your compassion. In teaching prospects what the articles do not, with patience and respect, you provide value to the prospective client that he doesn’t get anywhere else. That value fosters trust and ultimately, clients hire attorneys they feel they can trust.

That’s why referred clients ask so few questions. Because a friend referred them, they already trust you.

Yes, it takes effort on your part to earn that trust when a client finds you online. If you want their business, if you want them to choose you instead of the many other attorneys they find online, you need to give them a reason.

Take a few minutes to teach them what they need to know, answer their questions, and make sure they understand and are satisfied with your answers. The extra effort is worth it. Once they trust you and hire you, they will refer other clients to you and you won’t have to work so hard.