Legal Technology

People looking for a lawyer are turning to the Internet first, survey finds


Once upon a time, the first thing that an overwhelming majority of people in need of legal representation would do is turn to relatives or friends for personal referrals. Some would consult the Yellow Pages or the local bar association, while only a small handful would use the Internet before any of the other aforementioned options.

According to a recent survey conducted by FindLaw.com and Thomson Reuters, those numbers have completely flipped around over the last decade. While the Internet was once the least popular option, according to results published last week, using the Web first is now the most popular choice among respondents. FindLaw and Thomson Reuters found that 38 percent of the 1,000 respondents said that they would use the Internet first. That was considerably higher than the other available options: 29 percent of respondents would ask a friend or relative first, 10 percent would go straight to the local bar association; and 4 percent would rely on the Yellow Pages.

The survey was a follow-up to one conducted in 2005 finding that using the Internet first was the least popular choice among respondents. In that survey, only 7 percent said they would use the Internet first, compared to 65 percent who would ask a family member or friend for a referral. In the 2005 survey, the Yellow Pages did better than the Internet, with 10 percent of respondents said they would let their fingers do the walking before they double-clicked a mouse.

“The Internet provides a faster, easier, and more thorough method to find an attorney, compared with the alternatives,” said Stephen Noel, vice president of strategic development and audience at Thomson Reuters, in a statement. “Friends or relatives may only know a limited number of attorneys, and those attorneys may not specialize in the areas of law where help is needed.”

“We weren’t surprised that using the Internet passed the Yellow Pages [in this latest survey],” says Leonard Lee, a researcher with FindLaw.com, in an interview with the ABA Journal. “But the practice of law has largely been driven by word of mouth and referrals for decades. It was interesting to see that people would go to Internet first rather than ask around.”

Lee acknowledges that the survey did not account for people using the Internet to ask friends and family for referrals. “I would expect that people would use multiple sources to research lawyers,” Lee says. “In addition to going to the Internet, I would expect people to use social media or email, maybe even call the local bar. You would hope that people would do the same sort of thorough research in choosing a lawyer as they would in buying a house or car.”

As expected, the Internet was more popular with young people. Nearly half of respondents between the ages of 18 and 34, as well as 41 percent of respondents between the ages of 35 and 44, said that they would consult the Web first. On the flip side, the survey found that respondents aged 65 or higher were twice as likely to ask a friend or family member first compared to going on the Internet. They were the anomaly, however. In fact, in every age range other than the 65-plus demographic, a higher number of respondents say that they would use the Internet first compared to their other available options.

For the “Internet-first” crowd, mobile devices have yet to make a real dent. More than three-fourths of Internet-first respondents say they use a desktop computer to conduct research. Fifteen percent responded that they used a tablet, while only 10 percent used a smartphone. “I don’t know if that’s because the tools for mobile aren’t as fully robust as they are for desktop, or if people want to be a little more thorough with their research and really vet lawyers rather than do a quick app search,” Lee says. He doesn’t expect that to last, however.

“Given the dramatic rise in consumer preferences for using the Internet to find and research a lawyer, we expect a similar rise in the use of mobile for that purpose in coming years, as people do more of their Web searching from tablets and smartphones,” he said.

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