Do you have a legal client who Googles everything before they meet with you? It’s wonderful that these clients are more engaged and informed, but some seem to think that their Google searches make them just as qualified to practice law as your years of study and experience. Let’s talk about how to work with the Googler.
It’s not very often in my career as a freelance writer that I get to be an advocate and a hypocrite all in one article, but I’m going to do that today. Let me explain.
I’m a former California attorney. As such, I had the opportunity to work with many legal clients who were — how shall I put this nicely — really confident in their Googling skills. And, like most legal professionals, I found these clients to be challenging.
After all, I’m the one who’d spent three years in law school, countless hours in law firms toiling away at the feet of older and wiser partners, and a lifetime becoming a “law nerd” who prided herself on finding even the most obscure support for winning arguments.
Who did these clients think they were to tell me how to practice law based on a simple Google search? I’d been doing legal research since legal research happened in books!
But I’m also a medical patient.
And, in that capacity, I do believe I am the finest medical Google researcher in the history of patients. I never went to medical school. I never did a residency or took the MCAT.
Therein lies my hypocrisy and the stark reality of being a legal professional in today’s Google-verse. Anyone can research almost anything and find nearly any conclusion. Those conclusions don’t necessarily jive with practice realities.
And that’s the challenge.
How do we deal with the ever-Googling client? And is there anything we can all learn from their efforts? Read on.
Know how to patiently justify your existence
It’s understandable that consumers question whether they should use lawyers or free resources like Google.
Lawyers in the United States charge between $100 to $400 per hour on average, and we all know no one gets to hire a lawyer for a single hour. Seeking legal help can be a very expensive option, especially when the problem for which you’re hiring a lawyer has already cost you money.
In other words, it’s no wonder that people try to solve their own legal problems online. For many, they feel that their choices are to do it themselves for free or not do it at all.
The trouble with client research, in my experience, is that it tends to miss the nuances of the law.
For example, your client will bring you six cases from the Minnesota Court of Appeals when her issue must be decided under California law.
Or they’ll bring you a case that has negative subsequent treatment.
Or they’ll gloss over procedure and/or timing issues that are critical to your strategy.
Other clients will want you to “call the court” to discuss their latest Google treasure, not understanding the implications of ex parte communications. Still others will press you to file motions “like the one they read about” without understanding that the local rules of your court prohibit such a filing.
All of these things are undeniably frustrating for you, but you have to keep a cool head.
Clients don’t know what they don’t know. It’s up to you to help them understand. Of course, the time you spend educating them is arguably billable, and you should help them understand that, too.
Within a few months of this back-and-forth education, many clients begin to trust their attorney and distrust their own legal research prowess.
Take this as an opportunity to make your website better
If your clients consistently think they can do a better job practicing law than you can, there’s a good chance that you’re not communicating your worth to them sufficiently.
This is one of those times when some serious self-reflection may be necessary.
Ask yourself, for example, whether your law firm’s website adequately communicates why you’re great at what you do. Are your blog posts up-to-date? Do your communications with clients actually explain what’s going on in their legal matters or do they give cursory overviews of the posture of the case?
There’s a good chance that your clients have resorted to Google because you haven’t explained your practice area in a way that allows them to relax.
There’s also a good chance that they don’t want to pay your hourly rate to have you do more explaining.
So, if you notice that clients tend to be Googling the same issues over and over and over, consider creating some website content or a blog post that will save them the trouble. After all, it is not your clients’ fault that they don’t understand the finer points of your practice.
Give your clients’ Google theories some respect
Imagine how horrified you would be if you had automatically poo-pooed a client’s legal research only to find out later that the client was correct.
Yes, the self-researching client can be annoying, but they can also be right. That’s why active listening skills are so important for legal professionals.
After all, your client knows their business better than you do.
They likely know the facts of their case better than you do.
There is a chance, therefore, that they might actually do better research than you in some instances. If you don’t stop and actively listen to their theories, however, you might miss a golden opportunity to craft a winning argument.
Put yourself in your client’s shoes — you probably don’t have to try very hard
Finally, try not to get mad at or frustrated with clients who resort to Google searches in an effort to help you with their legal matters.
I can almost guarantee you do the same thing when it comes to medical and other issues that impact you or your loved ones. Should your doctors be as put off as you?
Google receives 70,000 medical questions every single minute of every single day. You know you’re responsible for some of those. Yet, like me, you don’t have a degree in medicine or understand the finer nuances of a specialized medical practice.
My point is obvious.
It is natural in today’s information age for clients to do their own research. The sooner we all accept this and use it as an opportunity to teach rather than an opportunity to alienate clients, the better off we’ll all be as a profession.