The hierarchy of how people choose a lawyer or law firm

by Paul Evans

In Marketing Author and Speaker Scott Stratten’s book Unmarketing – Stop Marketing. Start Engaging., Scott presents a brilliant diagram on the hierarchy of buying services, based on an interview he conducted with more than 1,000 business owners.

Source: UnMarketing: Stop Marketing, Start Engaging by Scott Stratten

This covers more than just how people buy services. It shows the impact that competition can have on your firm at every step of the hierarchy.

Lawyers should want to invest their time closer to the top of the pyramid, Where it’s less competitive and the “cheapest” to obtain. The cost of acquiring new clients is not an expense to sneeze at – in any business. BTI Consulting Group, states that it is 8 to 12 times higher than acquiring business from an existing client.

Getting repeat business could be difficult for some legal services, especially if your typical project is transactional and one-off. It’s rare to get repeat work if you have a client who sells their business, gets divorced (excluding repeat offenders – as some of my family law clients tell me!), is injured in the workplace, or someone who needs their estate administered.

Focus on the actions that bring people to you

When I host workshops for lawyers on how to market themselves, I use this diagram and explain that we should always be aiming for the top four sections.

The “top four” of Scott Stratten’s buying services hierarchy

  1. Existing satisfied clients (who ideally make referrals or do repeat business)
  2. A referral from a trusted source
  3. Have a current relationship with you but are yet to purchase
  4. Perceive you / your firm as a recognised expert in a field that matters to them

A lawyer’s existing network is always the first place to start. The long-term strategy is to build a respected profile, relationships, and trust in a specific niche (a topic for another content series) and eventually convert your network into clients or referrers.

Using your existing network and building a profile as a recognised expert is a tried and tested method for building a successful practice. The concept is not rocket science, but correct execution takes time and effort.

Forget the bottom of the hierarchy

I always tell lawyers to ignore search engines and directories as a source of enquiries – and don’t even think about cold-calling.

Given we are a digital marketing agency, ignoring search engines seems like a strange thing for us to state. In this context, we stand firm on this advice!

Good commercial law firms don’t win (good) work from people searching for “business lawyers.” They’re not the clients we want to attract. They’re usually price sensitive, unsophisticated and rarely networked.

How many really strong enquiries have you received from your local law institute?

It can be different for certain areas of law, but, playing in the “top four” of the hierarchy will always be your best use of time and resources.

The value of search engine optimisation and marketing comes into play when someone is:

  • Looking for you or your firm by name
  • Looking for an answer to a problem

If they’re searching by name, they’ve either already got a relationship with you or they are looking for help with a problem – these leads are still in the top four steps of the hierarchy.

Optimising your website to rank at the top of search results when someone looks up your name or a certain problem within your area of expertise will help you gain trust as a respected firm in the industry, and get qualified enquiries to your website. We focus on this for our clients for online reputation management purposes, since it affects brand perception as well.

The “top four” is not only more lucrative, it’s less competitive

If a client is satisfied, and there’s repeat work to be given, the likelihood that they will abandon you for a competitor is slim.

If a prospect has received a referral from someone they trust (another business advisor, a friend or family member, someone they respect in the industry, etc), the pool of potential competition gets a lots smaller.

Finally, if you’re the go-to person or firm in a specific industry or technical area of the law, you only have to compete with others who are perceived at the same level of expertise or industry experience. The key here is to find additional points of difference that can set you apart from the rest.

Any firm can throw money at a billboard. Any lawyer can pick up the phone and make cold calls.

Building a network and a profile takes time, but that roadblock is what prevents many others from doing it. It’s hard work, and there are no shortcuts, but you can strategically select the activities that will work better for your firm are more scalable.

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Paul Evans

Paul Evans is a legal marketing expert with significant experience in digital marketing. Prior to founding Toro Digital, he was a senior marketer in some of Australia's fastest growing law firms.