2020 has certainly been a year filled with volatility and uncertainty, making it perpetually difficult to plan for the future.
Through it all, we’ve seen incredible resilience and adaptability in the legal industry, when clients and legal professionals needed it most. We saw law students graduate in one of the most bizarre school years imaginable. We saw lawyers come up with creative ways to connect with and serve their clients, even when wet signatures were still required. We saw firms of all types, including highly traditional firms with dated on-premise technologies and traditional bricks-and-mortar offices, make a transition to a cloud-based, fully distributed way of working with almost inconceivable speed and agility.
The legal industry has rapidly moved online in a meaningful way, allowing firms to keep their staff and families safe while continuing to serve clients. According to the 2020 Legal Trends Report, 85% of law firms are now using software to manage their practices, with 79% relying on cloud technology to store firm data, and 83% meeting with clients virtually. These changes will last well beyond the pandemic, creating a new reality in which legal services are more convenient, accessible, and efficiently delivered.
But there’s still work to be done—lawyers and legal professionals must strive to stay connected with those they serve. The Legal Trends Report found that many lawyers have moved their practices online, but it also found that this new, online reality wasn’t the perception amongst consumers. Only 26% of consumers see lawyers meeting with clients virtually, and only 29% see them storing information in the cloud. Most troubling of all, Clio’s COVID-19 Impact Research found that as many as 33% of consumers believed that lawyers had stopped offering services altogether through April and May, while in reality, just 2% of law firms had stopped offering services.
Meanwhile, as of July, 67% of consumers surveyed were putting off handling a legal problem during the pandemic, but 23% expected to need a lawyer in the near future, and 22% of respondents said that this would be due to a coronavirus-related issue. In other words, there is a clear and imminent demand for legal services.
Clients need legal services, and lawyers must make it clear that they’re available in order to secure new clients for their firms now and into 2021. The key, as always, is product-market fit. Connecting with clients and what they truly need is key to success.
Develop deep empathy for your clients’ current mindset and where they’re at. This doesn’t need to be difficult, and will in fact better serve your firm too. The key is using the right technology to create new connections with clients and meet them where they want to be served.
Make sure your law firm is discoverable online, through your website and online listings like Google My Business, and make it easy for worried clients facing a legal issue to quickly book a consultation via streamlined online scheduling. Clear and succinct communication at this stage of the client journey is imperative for being found, being hired, and building trust with clients who now need to operate in an online environment.
And, consider that to better connect with and attract more clients, your firm may have to reimagine the way it bills clients and collects payments. According to our COVID-19 Impact Research, 61% of surveyed consumers said they could not afford to deal with a legal issue. This certainly makes sense amidst the struggles of a global pandemic, especially considering that, in 2018, the Federal Reserve found that 39% of Americans would not have the funds available to pay for an unexpected $400 expense. Offering payment plans would certainly help solve this issue, but while 72% of consumers want to pay their law firms this way, just 53% of law firms offer payment plans in comparison. Law firms willing to adapt and offer this alternative payment method stand to connect with a huge subset of clients and capture a substantial market opportunity.
As we head into 2021, the bottom line is that empathy, adaptability and resilience will be key to success. Law firms who can stay tuned into what clients need and find new ways to meet them where we are will be positioned to succeed. Only when we stay connected can we build empathy for each other and thrive as an industry and a society.