The following information is not intended for attorneys practicing in AZ, IA, IL, OR and WA.
There is no debate that the Internet has offered law firms an expanded ability to connect with new clients. However, evaluating the quality of those that connect with you is still a time-consuming process. Legal matching services are an important new marketing tool to consider for law firms that want to actively pursue more leads online and improve their lead-qualification process.
If you've searched for a job on the Web or experienced online dating, you're likely familiar with the concept of matching services. They use the information-sharing power of the Internet to connect individuals with a need to providers who can meet it. For attorneys, these services match law firms like yours with motivated prospects in your geographic location and practice areas.
Should your firm take advantage of this advertising opportunity? Here are some questions to consider before you invest in a matching service.
How do matching services work?
Typically, prospects arrive at a matching service from other law-related sites, legal directories or popular search-engines such as Google or Yahoo!. They complete an online form that solicits information about their legal need, location and other relevant information. Based on this client-provided criteria, the matching service searches its database of subscribing attorneys, identifies a small number of matches and delivers them to the prospect, typically in the form of short attorney or law-firm profiles.
As an attorney "match," you receive an e-mail notification about the inquiry if the prospect selects you from their results list. Based on the information collected from the prospect you decide how to proceed - you can accept the case and exchange contact details with the prospect, or decline if it's not a good fit for your firm. Clients expect to be contacted by the firm in a timely, persistent and professional manner.
The result is a more precise, bi-directional matching process that allows both parties to make informed decisions about whether to move forward. From the attorney's perspective, you see pre-qualified leads only. For clients, the process is attractive because it's confidential, connects them to firms actively looking for clients, and offers better information than they could get from a random Web search.
This is a step forward from one-directional matching services, which are still actively offered to law firms. The difference is that leads are forwarded directly to the attorney. The service is not involved in communicating information, such as the attorney's acceptance of the matter and contact information, back to the consumer.
To list your firm with a matching service, you'll typically pay a monthly fee that varies based on factors such as your location and practice areas.
What are the benefits?
Some of the potential benefits to your firm include:
- More efficient use of your time. Lead generation and lead qualification take a lot of time and effort. While not a substitute for your normal due diligence, matching services can significantly streamline your client-development process - and free more time for billable work - by providing detailed case information before you speak to the potential client.
- More control over client selection. With more detailed inquiries coming in, you can be selective in picking and choosing when to follow up and on which practice areas you choose to focus. Your chances of converting an inquiry are greater. Because you have more information than you typically receive from a voicemail, you can reduce the number of potential clients that you must contact.
- More trackable return on investment (ROI). With inquiries arriving from a specific e-mail address with a specific questionnaire, you can easily calculate the cost of acquiring clients using a matching service.
Which law firms should consider matching services? The largest users of matching services are law firms that focus on serving individuals and small-business clients. Criminal, family, immigration, real estate, personal-injury and employment law are some of the practice areas that are most frequently searched by users of these sites.
Regardless of practice area, one key to succeeding with matching services - like most online marketing activities - is fast, responsive client service. On the Internet, the first responder often wins the client. Your firm should commit to tracking its leads closely and following up the same day they come in, if possible.
Remember, you typically won't be the only firm receiving the lead. While matching services can deliver more qualified leads, you still need to focus on other factors - fast response, good closing skills, providing quality information on your firm profile - to convert those prospects into signed clients. These clients have invested time in sharing their personal information and are ready to move forward.
Are matching services ethical?
The key ethical question in regard to matching services has been: Are they a form of advertising, and thus allowed under ethics guidelines, or referral services that violate the prohibition against fee-splitting with non-lawyers?
Various states have ruled that because the prospective client initiates the request for legal services - and any attorney-client relationship is formed "offline" without the help of the matching service - that they are not referral services. The matching service simply provides the space within which the contact occurs, and improves the attorney-selection process by giving consumers the benefit of better information and more choice in selecting counsel.
The rules governing matching services vary by state, however. Check with your state bar to make sure it's considered an ethical practice. One useful resource for state-by-state ethical guidelines is available through the ABA.
Next Generation of Online Advertising
Currently about four million individuals and small businesses go online every month to find legal services, according to a Pew Internet & American Life survey, with that number expected to grow exponentially. Many of those Web users have limited or no experience with the law, or how to find the right attorney.
By making that process easier, and also improving lead generation and qualification on the attorney side, matching services are emerging as the next generation of online advertising. If your firm is looking for more leads, better leads and a more proactive online approach, consider adding this powerful new tool to your marketing mix.
To learn more, see FindLaw's Lawyer Marketing section.