Our next NewsMaker Interview is with Rich Cassidy, chair of the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services, and focuses on the major implications of the important recent poll that Committee conducted on questions related to how people search for an choose lawyers. I blogged earlier about the poll itself. The full report on the poll is here.
Richard Zorza: I was very impressed by your recent poll with Harris Interactive on the public’s approaches to finding lawyers. Lets start with the part of the poll that dealt with the way people find lawyers. What struck you most about those findings?
Rich Cassidy: I am struck by the fact that online sources have not become even more important as the way in which people find lawyers. Of course, it makes sense that people would turn to trusted sources for help in finding a lawyer. My own experience tells me that when people hire lawyers, trust is a critical issue. Our clients share important confidences with us, and they entrust us with problems that are extraordinarily important to them. It makes sense that the best referral sources are indeed people who already carry the trust of our potential clients.
Richard Zorza: “Trusted source?” So that means that middle income people are likely to have less information about who to engage. What do you think individual lawyers and the bar should be doing about that?
Rich Cassidy: Lawyers who are marketing to represent individuals need to use a mix of techniques to reach clients. Personal contacts still mean a lot, and that reflects on how lawyers need to present themselves in person. It makes sense to identify yourself as a lawyer and to describe what you do in a way that is inviting. Particularly for lawyers whose practice areas are narrow, it teaches that other lawyers are critical referral sources.
But I don’t believe that means lawyers can ignore online marketing techniques.
Remember that the survey asks about the primary way in which an individual would find a lawyer for a personal legal matter. It’s consistent with my own experience that new clients are referred by other lawyers, present and former clients, friends, family and even acquaintances. But when we talk with new clients we find that many, many of them have also done online research to confirm referrals from trusted sources.
Many bar associations and many lawyers are unhappy with lawyer rating systems. Although trusted sources are far more important, I think the poll tells us that rating systems are here to stay.
Richard Zorza: Your findings on the use of Internet information to find lawyers suggest that it is growing, but still has a way to go. Could you expand on that?
Rich Cassidy: As I mentioned, my own experience suggests that online information is indeed growing and is more important than the survey suggests because many people are using online resources to check out personal references. That tells me that a lawyer’s online presence should describe that lawyer’s expertise in some detail.
It’s important to note the online searching is already almost as important as the Yellow Pages and similar print directories. When you think about how much money lawyers and law firms have spent on print directories, the growth we have already seen of online searching is very important. It is also important to note that this survey was of persons with landline telephones. If cell phone users had been surveyed, it’s fair to believe that online searching would be seen as more import than the survey demonstrates.
Richard Zorza: Why do you think people are less willing to use this method?
Rich Cassidy: As I mentioned, hiring a lawyer is usually very important and highly personal endeavor. It makes great sense to me that people want multiple sources of information before making such an important decision.
Richard Zorza: Again, what could we be doing to make people feel more confident about finding a lawyer online – should there be more information, different information, better finding tools, or what? Is this something that has to be dealt with by individual lawyers, or is there a more general solution?
Rich Cassidy: People want real information with which to make decisions. I think that is one reason why legal web sites that provide question and answer style information are of interest to the public.
I do think our finding tools are still developing. If you think about it, most search engines are identifying lawyers by practice area and location. There is a lot more to know to make a good decision.
Both lawyers and rating systems have incentive to make more and better information available.
Richard Zorza: One of the most striking things about the poll was the data on people’s perception of, and interest in unbundling. Can you summarize?
Rich Cassidy: It is important to understand that very few people have heard of “unbundled” or limited scope representation. Once unbundling was described, 2/3rds of the respondents had an interest in exploring such services.
Richard Zorza: What do you think is going on here? Why are people so interested in unbundling?
Rich Cassidy: Potential clients and many, many lawyers just don’t know about unbundled legal services. There are lots of unbundled legal services being rendered without the participants explicitly recognizing that what they are doing is different in this sense from a traditional lawyer/client relationship.
I think people are very interested for two reasons: cost and control. Unbundling gives more involvement and therefore control over how their legal problems are resolved. That means clients can have more opportunity make decisions that will determine the cost of legal services. That gives them a real assurance of value.
Richard Zorza: Given this level of potential interest among the public, why do you think the Bar has not embraced unbundling more rapidly?
Rich Cassidy: Unfortunately, I think the term unbundling has not been helpful in terms of building understanding with the bar and the public. Lots of lawyers still don’t know what the term means, and the survey makes clear that the public doesn’t understand it.
Richard Zorza: What can be done?
Rich Cassidy: I think we need to think about whether “unbundling” is a useful term. “Limited scope representation” seems more revealing, but very cumbersome. Also much of the conversation about has been about the regulatory aspects of the practice. The bar needs to make clear that it is a potentially very important marketing idea as well.
Richard Zorza: What are the implications for lawyer referral services?
Rich Cassidy: It is time for lawyer referral services to explicitly offer unbundled legal services and to explain the idea to potential clients.
Richard Zorza: What are the implications for law schools?
Rich Cassidy: Let’s be honest. Most law schools are just not oriented towards teaching law students to practice law. They tend to teach the substance of the law and the technique of understanding and communicating about the law. The need to teach students how to do so is greater than ever. Teaching law practice management, including marketing and how to meet the legal needs of individuals should be a part of law school curriculum.
There is a huge unmet need for personal legal services. Law schools who teach students how to meet this need have great potential to be successful.
Richard Zorza: What about bar exams as a way to make sure those lawyers are exposed to the concept?
Rich Cassidy: There is an opportunity here. Traditionally, bar exams test substantive and procedural legal knowledge. If bar exams begin to teach law practice management, law schools will have to follow. It is the next logical step in the trend to make bar exams more practice-oriented.
Richard Zorza: Of course, if he Multi-State Professional Responsabilty Examinaiton included discrete task representation ethics, then every law school and bar review class would teach at least the concept – does anyone know anyone on that Committee?
Rich Cassidy: I think that is an interesting idea, but it gives me another one. As a long-time bar examiner myself (but one who has been out of that game for nearly 7 years) I would suggest encouraging the National Conference of Bar Examiners to use fact patterns in developing problems for the Multistate Performance Text that raise the issue of limited scope representation. As the Conference describes it, “The MPT consists of two 90-minute skills questions covering legal analysis, fact analysis, problem solving, resolution of ethical dilemmas, organization and management of a lawyering task, and communication.” We had started using it in our state when I was on the Board, and I was impressed by the extent to which it presented a more real world testing opportunity. I think it would be the right setting within which get at practically-oriented issue like limited scope representation. The NCBE reports that some 36 jurisdictions are using or have decided to use the MPT.
Richard Zorza: Are there other ways to get the word out to the public about the concept? What is the role of courts and judges?
Rich Cassidy: We need to penetrate the mass media with some of these ideas. There is a whole segment of the media that communicates practice advice, and we need to reach that segment.
And the blogosphere, including your own blog, provides an opportunity to communicate in more detailed and targeted way.
The poll makes clear that many people think they can turn to the courts for help with legal problems. The poll gives the courts information that can be shared with policy makers in an effort to gather resources with which to respond, in a practical and responsible way, to public expectations.
Richard Zorza: What’s the long-term strategy here? Where do you see this going?
Rich Cassidy: The ABA Standing Committee on Delivery of Legal Services is working now to spread the word. I hope we can use the poll to help learn more about how help lawyers market to individuals and how to serve them efficiently. Obviously, it would be great to follow up on the poll, both by asking some follow up questions and by repeating the same questions over time.
Richard Zorza: Thanks so much for all these ideas – and for your Committee’s initiative in getting this poll done. It should be very influential. I encourage everyone to read the full report. Contact information for the ABA delivery Committee is here.
Rich Cassidy : You are very welcome.