How do people choose attorneys?

Four blue chairs and a yellow chair in a row with the yellow one highlighted in the middle

When it comes to determining which attorney to hire, it’s interesting to see what the internet has changed and what it hasn’t impacted. Consumers now have more information at their fingertips than ever before, and thanks to smartphones and Wi-Fi, can access it in the blink of an eye.

The availability of volumes of information, though, hasn’t changed the main three criteria legal consumers use in making a hiring decision: expertise, reviews, and trustworthiness.

In this post, we will use the most recent Thomson Reuters U.S. Consumer Legal Needs Survey—a poll of 2,000 adults who had a legal need within the past year—to see how and why consumers use these three criteria. After each, we will offer a pointer on how you can capture consumer interest and position your firm to win new business.


Of the respondents to the survey who contacted an attorney, 47% said “expertise” was the main factor they considered in determining to whom they’d reach out. It’s important to note that “expertise” doesn’t mean the same thing as “qualifications.” Most legal consumers assume that all attorneys are qualified to handle their problems. What they want to know is whether a given attorney has specific experience in the area of law that governs their situation and if the attorney has handled matters like theirs in the past.

What’s your approach? Don’t waste valuable real estate on your website talking about moot court or what you’ve had published in law reviews. Instead, talk (in a general way) about the cases you’ve handled and the outcomes you’ve achieved. If you have room, go into why certain fields of law interest you. That’s a much more compelling story to a consumer than, say, what CLEs you’ve presented.


If you need proof of how popular reviews are, look at e-commerce sites or any of the many general review sites, like Yelp or Google Guides. Consumers like reviews because they can quickly come to an understanding of what people in a situation similar to theirs have experienced.

What’s your approach? Sitting back and hoping positive reviews will roll in is too passive of an approach. Instead, at the conclusion of your representation, politely ask your clients if they’d write a short review. Better yet, use tactics that help stimulate review submissions.


Most legal consumers haven’t worked with an attorney before. They’re facing dire consequences and are uncertain of how to proceed. Forty-one percent of respondents to the survey said they were motivated to contact an attorney because they wanted to “avoid future legal difficulties.” That’s far and away the top reason respondents took action.

What’s your approach? Building a relationship of trust is a multi-step process, but it has to be built on a solid foundation. A listing on a legal directory instantly enhances your credibility in the eyes of consumers. General online directories are multipurpose, but legal directories focus solely on one thing — helping people with a legal need find the right attorney. The information they contain is perceived as more credible because it’s enhanced with contextual information that helps people unfamiliar with the legal process understand their circumstances.

Now, taking what U.S. Consumer Legal Needs Survey is saying and applying it to your practice isn’t easy, and the last thing you need is one more item on your to-do list. If you’d like to know more about which tools can help you craft a client-centered approach and create a robust pipeline of new business, schedule a no-cost consultation with your local FindLaw marketing expert today.


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