Clio, a cloud-based legal technology company, announced the results of its 2019 Legal Trends Report this week at the Clio Cloud Conference in San Diego. The annual report is the legal industry’s largest nationwide assessment of client services among law firms.

The study found that client service remains a challenge for law firms. Potential clients struggle to get timely and informative responses when contacting law firms. To be successful, however, law firms must strike a balance between revenue-generating tasks and delivering exceptional client service.

“Clients want law firms that understand the importance of their legal issue. They want timely responses to inquiries and a clear and easy to understand path forward,” said Mark C. Palmer, Chief Counsel at the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism. “Forty-five percent of consumers who’ve experienced a legal issue said it’s been challenging to find the right lawyer, revealing a significant unmet need. Now, not only are Americans having trouble finding and affording legal representation, but when they do, the profession isn’t meeting their expectations. We can do better.”

To conduct the study, Clio aggregated and anonymized data from tens of thousands of legal professionals nationwide to create the industry’s first longitudinal, multi-year study of law firm success. In addition, the company surveyed 2,507 legal professionals to assess the existing needs and strategies of law firms and surveyed 2,000 consumers on client expectations.

Finally, Clio emailed a random sampling of 1,000 law firms nationwide and called 500 of these firms to assess their responsiveness and quality of communications with potential clients.

Lawyers want growth, but don’t know how

Eighty-seven percent of lawyers want their firms to grow over the next three years. However, simply increasing hourly rates isn’t an effective long-term growth strategy. Instead, real growth is a result of:

  • Generating more business: Increasing the amount of business firms bring in compared to the number of lawyers on staff.
  • Strong business metrics: Improving utilization rates (i.e., portion of workday billable) over time while maintaining high realization and collection rates.

Most attorneys aren’t trained in the business management of a law firm. In fact, only 53% of attorneys are confident in running the business side of their organization, Clio found. And, not surprisingly, those who are confident in running their firm are more engaged in the business.

According the Legal Trends Report, “growing firms know how to bring in more business while also increasing the capacity of their lawyers to do more work and collect more revenue for every case and client they bring in.”

Attorneys shouldn’t rely on referrals only

Attorneys who base their business on referrals and discount technology may be missing out.

Clio’s consumer expectations survey found that while 59% of clients sought a referral to an attorney, 57% searched for one on their own. Of those who searched on their own, online search engines and attorney websites were the most commonly used sources.

As client pools shift to younger generations, lawyers must keep in mind that their digital presence and image is more important than ever. For example, 49% of Gen Z are likely to care about a lawyer’s website compared to 21% of Boomers. Fifty-three percent of Millennials are likely to care about online reviews compared to just 25% of Boomers. Alternatively, only 46% of Millennials are likely to value referrals compared to 60% of Boomers.

Law firms fail at first impressions

How quickly a law firm responds to consumer inquiries and what they say is vital to securing a client. Consumers rated timeliness of response as the most important factor (82%) when looking for a lawyer.

Clients also want as much information about their case as possible. This includes a response to each question they ask (81%), a clear understanding of how to proceed (80%) and a sense of the cost of their case (76%).

However, many law firms are missing a key opportunity to connect with new clients. In fact, 64% of consumers surveyed indicated they contacted a law firm that never responded—either through phone or email.

In addition, data from Clio’s email and phone assessment of law firms found:

  • Only 40% of law firms responded to Clio’s email
  • 56% of phone calls were answered by a person and 39% went to voicemail
  • More than half of firms didn’t respond to voicemails within 72 hours

Moreover, most firms didn’t provide adequate information when responding to the client questions designed for the study:

  • 7 out of 10 firms provided unsatisfactory email responses
  • 6 out of 10 firms provided unsatisfactory phone responses
  • Nearly all firms provided unsatisfactory voicemail responses

In this year’s Legal Trends Report, Clio launched a Law Firm Maturity Model, which illustrates how firm performance and client experience contribute to success. For more information on the Legal Trends Report, visit Clio’s website.

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Photo of laura bagby laura bagby

Laura Bagby is Communications Director at the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, where she develops and executes strategy to elevate the Commission among attorneys and judges in Illinois. Laura leverages communications channels to educate and engage with the legal community in support…

Laura Bagby is Communications Director at the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, where she develops and executes strategy to elevate the Commission among attorneys and judges in Illinois. Laura leverages communications channels to educate and engage with the legal community in support of the Commission’s mission of increasing civility and professionalism to enable the administration of justice.