Searching for friend

How the family law consumer looks for an attorney

Originally published 2017

To win their business, you need to first win their trust.

Family law consumers are looking for one thing from their attorney: humanity. Their needs are both personal and private, and they want a legal representative who understands and acts accordingly. But getting them to see your firm as a safe haven may mean having to make a few changes to your marketing approach, both online and in person.

If your law firm’s website primarily boasts legal accolades and biographical information, you may want to think again. Like any client, family law consumers care about the outcome of their matter, but they won’t always make the connection between your expertise and their results.

Instead, these consumers care more about empathy and a stronger interpersonal connection. Oftentimes, they’re seeking legal help not just for themselves, but also their children. Because of this, your approach needs to be careful, compassionate and sincere.

FindLaw and Thomson Reuters conduct an annual U.S. Consumer Legal Needs Survey in which 2,000 consumers who have had a legal issue they considered “somewhat” or “very important” are asked to provide further information on how and why they obtained legal representation. This survey — and in particular the responses from those with family and domestic legal issues — serves as the basis for this report.

Studying the responses of this group of consumers makes it apparent that law firms seeking to attract family law consumers need to understand three key things about their prospective clients: they’re looking for a confidant, they crave knowledge, and they’re searching for you discreetly. In this report, we’ll take a look at the data that supports these three ideas and discuss a strategy that will help your firm win both the hearts and the business of family law consumers.

The average family law consumer

  • 44 years old
  • $66,000/year
  • Sought legal help for adoption, divorce, mediation or other personal/domestic matters

They’re looking for a confidant

Going through any legal issue can cause a great deal of stress and anguish. When your legal issue lies close to home, as it does for family consumers, your client is probably feeling those emotions tenfold. Not surprisingly then, empathy is a key trait consumers in this category are looking for from their attorney.

Compared with the typical legal consumer, family consumers are almost half as likely to care about your expertise in a particular legal field. Instead, 34 percent consider trust as a primary factor when choosing an attorney, 33 percent consider how honestly the attorney communicated the potential outcome of their legal issue, and 32 percent reflect on the attorney’s level of empathy toward their situation.

Consumers’ most important factors when choosing an attorney









What these numbers tell us is that family law consumers aren’t looking for an expert with hard facts and an impressive résumé. They’re searching for something more like a friend — someone they turn to for comfort and support.

Consider your own valued relationships. An important piece of them is the balance between listening and sharing. Family law consumers are asked to open up and divulge some very personal information regarding their marriages, children, daily lives — earning their business may require you do little more than listen at first. Once you’ve learned about their case and their emotional needs, you’ll be able to provide the reassurance and guidance they require.

This support typically means telling the client the next steps they can expect, and that you will guide and join them throughout the process. Even at this stage, your language should focus on the consumer. Explaining what you can do for them will be far more powerful and persuasive than rattling off a list of your accomplishments. If you do need to highlight your expertise, tailor your knowledge and achievements into “you” statements that pertain to that client’s particular case.

Connecting in new ways

It should also be noted that 20 percent of those family law consumers who searched for an attorney online started their investigation using social media channels — a significant difference from the 13 percent of typical legal consumers.

A social search offers the family law consumer a way to discover your firm on a more personal level and establish that trustworthy, empathetic relationship they seek. If you’re not on social media, it’s time to establish a presence. And if you are there, but it’s a cold, stoic representation of little more than your firm’s name and location, it’s time to infuse it with some humanity.

They crave knowledge

Family law consumers don’t want to do it alone. In fact, they’re only about half as likely as the typical legal consumer to purchase forms or DIY products online. They are, however, hungry for information. Oftentimes, their legal needs spill over to children — or even pets — and the consumer will often sift through any and all materials to better understand the legal process and what to expect.

What information are they looking for, exactly?


research guidelines for proper action to take


seek general information about their legal issue


look at current laws and regulations


research filing procedures

Because family law issues are so often both complex and personal, this group of consumers has a strong desire to conduct due diligence. For better or worse, family law consumers seek to arm themselves with as much education as they can get. Typically this information is voluminous, and these men and women want to know about each possible proceeding and outcome.

The inspiration behind this research is as varied as the personalities at work. A competitive and contentious husband may want to ensure he’s more informed than the wife he’s trying to divorce. A retired couple facing a surprise lawsuit may simply be hope-for-the-best-but-prepare-for-the-worst types.

Meanwhile, parents may demand vast detail because it’s not their world that’s threatened: On average, 27 percent of family law consumers in the survey sought legal help for their children — a significant jump from the 15 percent of all legal consumers. This group wants few, if any, surprises along their journey. After all, they may not just be preparing themselves, but also seeking a way to explain to their children what’s about to happen.

They search for you discreetly

As you already know, no matter how educated family legal consumers may be, ultimately most cannot address their legal issues on their own. When the time comes for them to search for an attorney to confide in, 49 percent of all family law consumers turned to friends, family, or co-workers for referrals. This degree of trust by association is simply human nature. You trust your friends and family. They trust a certain lawyer. By extension, there’s a natural bridge between the consumer and the attorney.

But there’s a limit to what family law attorneys can expect from referring parties. Family matters are personal matters, so it’s not surprising that when seeking help from others, many of these consumers choose to keep their requests for recommendations re-served. In fact, 84 percent of those with family law issues sought recommendations from other family members, 10 percent higher than the typical legal consumer.

Beyond the family tree, only 11 percent of family law consumers sought referrals from neighbors, 10 percent lower than general legal consumers. Even in the era of “it’s complicated” relationship statuses, the age-old notion of not airing one’s dirty laundry in public stands true for these clients.

In practical terms, this penchant for privacy shows up in the ways family law consumers choose to contact an attorney. Forty percent of them turn to phone calls, specifically via mobile phones. (In contrast, only 27 percent will call on a landline.) It’s easy to see why. Mobile phones allow callers to keep conversations private by stepping away to make a call and keeping information confidential.

Adapting your firm

With all the aforementioned information in mind, law firms looking to invest in and grow their family and domestic legal practices can benefit from several marketing strategies. Your approach needs to be information-rich, comprehensive and, most important, human.

Make a compassionate first impression

Family law consumers seek an attorney with empathy. Empathy begins the moment prospective clients first contact your firm. If they sense you don’t care about their situation from the start, they won’t be receptive to you. To the family law consumer, it may feel as if their world is coming down, and they’re looking to you for support and guidance from the get-go.

Thankfully, one of the most compassionate things an attorney can do for prospective clients is provide steady, reliable progress toward an eventual resolution of their legal matter. This takes the form of excellent client intake processes centered on three things: urgency, tenacity, and customer service.

  • Urgency: More than half of all legal consumers take action within one week of the event that triggered their need. When clients move quickly, they expect you to do the same. Don’t make them sit on the phone for more than three rings. Respond to their emails and voicemails in half a day or less. This may be the only opportunity in their day to discreetly speak with you about their issue. Showing some hustle will assure prospective family law consumers that you understand their needs are significant and want to provide assistance as soon as possible.
  • Tenacity: Some prospects have the best intentions of hiring an attorney, but interfering circumstances hold up the process, including emotional hardships and day-to-day aspects of life. That makes getting hold of them difficult at times. Make follow-up a part of your daily tasks. Reach out to those prospective clients and let them know you’re thinking about them and their legal needs. Acknowledging that they’re not forgotten and have someone on their side will put you back on their priority list and keep the process moving forward.
  • Customer Service: The last thing a family law consumer wants to do is talk to someone who gives the impression that they don’t care. Treating your prospects like objects on an assembly line, being passed from one person to the next, is a surefire way to break the trust you’ve worked so hard to build in your marketing. Your customer service should live up to the expectation of your clients: Be polite and courteous, actively listen to their needs, show your understanding, and guide them honestly.

You’re not alone. Many attorneys have issues with the intake process. So treat this as an opportunity to differentiate your practice from the one down the street. Learn more about proper intake in the white paper

Failing at the Finish Line: How Law Firms Lost Prospective Clients at the Front Door.

Give them what they want

Remember all that research and studying family law consumers do? Your law firm should make sure its website offers consumers the information they go to such great lengths to find. Doing so will help establish yourself as the legal expert, build trust and encourage the consumer to stick around (and, hopefully, convert into a contact).

If you believe your website falls short in appealing to the family law consumer, start with an audit. You can begin by asking yourself these questions:

  • What resource pages does your law firm provide? Are there informative and relevant blog posts and articles available?
  • Are relevant topics easily identified in the site navigation? Could a layperson easily find the answers they’re looking for?
  • Are you talking objectively about legal issues or simply promoting your firm? Remember, consumers are seeking the former in their knowledge-collection journey.
  • What’s missing? Imagine someone looking for “Divorce 101” information. What are five things your firm wants this client to know?

When critiquing the content your website offers, remember that part of client-friendly knowledge-sharing requires using language non-attorneys can understand. Think of how you would speak to a client in person, leaving out the legal jargon, and follow suit in your marketing. After you assess whether your site delivers the desired content, it’s time to deep dive into your website’s performance, including how it shows up in search results.

Create a human social presence

Done right, social media is a great way for potential clients to get to know you and how your firm can help. If family law is your practice field, it’s no longer optional to be on social media; it’s expected.

At this point, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the most well-received social posts are those that humanize a law firm — posts that show you and your associates as approachable people. And that’s exactly what the family law consumer is looking for. That said, social media approachability still requires discipline, so you’ll want to make sure your law firm follows the rules when participating in any social network.

Some general conduct includes:

  • When using social media to celebrate your firm’s successes, focus on how you helped the client versus patting yourself on the back too vigorously.
  • Keep strongly reactive or opinionated posts offline.
  • Avoid controversial topics that don’t relate to your practice.

As in any social situation, undersharing and oversharing create risk. A balanced approach, or what you could call “calculated authenticity,” is key. You want to present an honest, open presentation of your firm, your staff and your brand.

A friendly face goes a long way with family law consumers. Social media allows attorneys to be themselves and take a more conversational approach to business, making it a great place to establish a genuine sense of who you are.

Go mobile

With discretion and privacy on the mind of the family law consumer, it’s important that your firm’s online presence be optimized for mobile devices. What does that mean? Your law firm’s website needs to deliver the same level of experience across phones and tablets as it does on desktop computers. Optimization requires a flexible website design that adapts to whichever device potential clients are using. It’s the digital version of always putting your best foot forward.

Likewise, a mobile-friendly website needs to feature a click-to-call phone number. Making contact with your firm should be easy, and a click-to-call button at the top of your mobile website tells visitor they’re only one push away from connecting with you.

Remember, for a growing number of web users, your mobile website is your whole site. These are interested family consumers literally visiting your site phone-in-hand. Establishing a connection with them through knowledge-sharing (the information on your site) and conversion (getting the consumer to contact your firm) are equally important, and a click-to-call button makes the latter as easy as possible.

Be yourself

Family consumers seem a difficult target because they don’t initially appear to care about your most valuable asset: your expertise. Instead, with issues both sensitive and personal, they focus on qualities much more subjective. Marketing a law firm with warmth and empathy used to be much harder. Traditional media such as billboards and phone book advertisements offered exposure, but their limited space could never truly highlight a deeper identity or the human connection your firm offered.

You’re probably practicing family law because of your natural sense of humanity and desire to help people in a time of need. The good news is that the marketing tools and channels available today afford you the chance to share that message with your future clients. They’re lucky to have you as the friendly face they want, and the expert they need.

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