Client education is one of several key performance metrics of estate planning law firm websites. Tasked with giving prospective clients an opportunity to learn about you and estate planning and/or Elder Law, IMS websites are designed to do a lot of the heavy lifting of successful law firm marketing. Client education is one task, so is generating high visibility for Search Engine Optimization, providing a great User Experience and presenting a visual identity for the firm. How does the education part work?
How much is enough, how much is too much? Striking the right balance of educating a client without giving actual legal advice for a specific question, whether the dialogue takes place on the phone, in person, on a website or through social media, is important to protect both the client and the attorney. Without knowing all of the facts, which occurs only after attorneys really dig into the substance of the client’s situation (i.e., are retained and start gathering information and documents), you can’t give appropriate advice. That’s why all information used in marketing is of a general nature and we incorporate qualifying language on your website that advises clients of that fact.
Steer clear of the legalese, please. Lawyers aren’t the only ones guilty of using jargon, but we sure do have a reputation. Legal services clients today are not interested in wherefore’s and party of the first parts. There was a time when that was considered impressive to non-lawyers, but those days are long gone. Website language needs plain English. There are exceptions; if you have published an article in a legal journal, or share a presentation that you have done for other attorneys. Otherwise, plain English is best.
Educating on options and outcomes. You can call this “managing expectations,” but we prefer to consider it an educational process. As an experienced estate planning attorney, you likely have handled enough matters where you are able to accurately assess the process and outcome for most of your clients. Your prospective clients may have never met an estate planning attorney before. They may not know how the process works, what the critical documents are or what to expect. Part of your responsibility as a professional is to make sure that they gain a reasonable understanding—for the layperson—of what will happen next and what the final outcome may be. You need to qualify these expectations, as there are always surprises, but draw on your experiences to share this information.
What we hear from law firm clients that you need to know. The biggest complaints concerns communication, and more specifically, phone calls and emails that are not responded to in a timely manner and fees. While it’s not always easy, making responses to client inquiries a priority can forestall complaints and negative interactions. The impact that this has on client satisfaction makes it worth the time. Even if the attorney cannot get to a phone call, a paralegal or a receptionist can call the client so they know that the attorney is aware of the call or email and will be responding within a certain amount of time.
The elephant in the room: fees. Have this discussion as early in the process as possible, once you know the scope of work for the client. Share specific information with regard to the amount of work involved; don’t hide it behind a cloak of mystery. Educate your clients about the complexities and considerations, so they understand you are not simply pulling out a template and putting their names into a form. The more they know about what you are doing, the more they will understand the value of your work. And understand that they are going to have questions, likely based on going to online legal services and reviewing sample documents. Don’t be defensive or annoyed, even if their information is wrong; this is an opportunity for education.