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Clients Choose Lawyers Based on Race and Gender, Data Shows

choosing a lawyer

When it comes down to why clients choose one lawyer over another online, clients want to know — Does my lawyer care about me?

In other words, clients want to know if they can trust their lawyer.

While a lawyer’s experience and professional competence are obviously important to a prospective client, these are seldom the deciding factors for why a client ultimately chooses a lawyer.

Your competence is the bare minimum of what a client expects. But when sifting through thousands of lawyers online, they’re hoping to find a lawyer they can trust.

And in the absence of an established relationship with a lawyer, potential clients look at personal attributes such as race and gender as indicators of a lawyer’s trustworthiness more than any other factor.

On the Basis of Sex … and Race?

When examining how prospective clients search for lawyers in our database, our data shows that most users begin their search by a general topic query.

On average, users view a minimum of 3 different lawyer profiles before the final phase of the lawyer search process: selection.

When it comes down to choosing a lawyer, 97% of Laws 101 users narrow down their final selection of lawyers by using personal attribute filters such as race, gender, or veteran status. More significantly, an average of 82% of users who select one of these filters convert to a client lead.

Obviously, race or gender does not influence the trustworthiness or overall quality of a lawyer — but clients feel differently.

The Findings

Personal attributes and demographics were not among the initial factors that clients examined when searching for a lawyer online; however, they were often the most important factors for clients in the final stages of selection.

In fact, in a survey of 2,853 users who found their lawyer on Laws 101, respondents were asked what was the most important factor that ultimately influenced their final decision in choosing their lawyer.  

Here were the results:

1. Race / Ethnicity

Taking the top spot, 32% of total respondents cited race / ethnicity as the most important factor for ultimately selecting their lawyer. Breaking it down even further, more than 51% of the respondents who selected this as the most important factor were searching for a criminal defense lawyer and 28% of this segment were searching for a family law attorney.

2. Gender

Not far behind race / ethnicity, 30% of respondents cited their lawyer’s gender as the reason they chose their lawyer. Nearly 71% of the respondents who selected gender as the most important factor were searching for a family law attorney, demonstrating a strong sense of perceived gender bias when it comes down to matters of the heart.

3. Language

More of a practical factor, 16% of respondents cited that a common language was the main reason for picking their attorney. Interestingly, nearly 40% of this segment also spoke English at an intermediate level but felt a stronger sense of affinity with a lawyer who spoke their native language.

4. Client Reviews

No doubt that positive client reviews influence a client’s decision in selecting a lawyer as 9% of our survey’s respondents cited this as their top reason for choosing their lawyer. When it comes to reviews, however, quality matters more than quantity.

Clients want to read detailed specifics of why a client rated the lawyer positively or negatively. Lawyers who have a small handful of detailed reviews are trusted over lawyers with a high quantity of reviews with little or generic client narratives.

5. Military Veteran

Nearly 10% of adult Americans are US military veterans according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, so it should come as no surprise that 7% of our respondents said that they felt like they could trust a veteran lawyer over a non-veteran lawyer.

One of our respondents even provided this testimonial:

‘After coming back from combat, I coped poorly with my PTSD and got a DUI. My lawyer was an old Vietnam veteran who personally asked the judge to be lenient with me because of my otherwise clean record. I felt like my lawyer really understood what I was going through and fought for me on a very personal level…He wasn’t just a lawyer to me…he became a friend who helped me get my life back on track.’

And even for respondents who didn’t serve in the military, many felt that veteran lawyers were more likely to be honest and fight harder for their case than non-veteran lawyers.

6. Other Reasons

Perhaps the most interesting finding from our survey was that less than 6% of respondents cited the lawyer’s bill rate as the most important factor in their choice of a lawyer.

While clients are certainly cost-sensitive, many clients find in their research that attorney bill rates are relatively comparable. Therefore, it becomes a much less significant factor than others once the client is ready to hire their lawyer.

How to Get Better Clients

To attract clients, it’s important to think of the selection process from your clients’ eyes. Clients perceive that there are lot of other lawyers who offer the same exact service as you. Additionally, clients are generally wary of lawyers.

The data collected from our study is statistically significant and compelling in illustrating how clients perceive trustworthiness and personal bias in receiving fair – or advantaged – legal representation.

While we can’t say that any one factor will make a client choose you over another lawyer, here are three things you can do to increase the likelihood of being among a client’s top choices and signing better quality clients.

1. Identify what you’re missing

Do you speak another language? Are you a veteran? These aren’t just things to brag about – these are things that your clients understand and trust. And as for gender and race, think about why these are important to prospective clients and address them. Are you a champion of women’s rights? Do you specialize in fighting for fathers’ rights in a custody dispute? Are you personally involved in helping the Hispanic community? If so, then make sure you include these things in your profile. Your clients want to know that you understand them.

2. Be clear about what you’re looking for

Just like with most things in life, quality is better than quantity. As a lawyer, it’s important to get clients you actually want. So, if you’re getting a bunch of client leads that you don’t want, chances are you could be doing a better job of describing the kind of clients you serve.

If your profile goes on and on about all of your industry awards and honors; or, if you claim to practice every legal specialty under the sun without any details, these things don’t tell a client a lot that’s particularly helpful.

So be clear in the type of cases you take and describe them in plain speak. Provide examples of past or current cases if you find it helpful. Just make sure the average reader understands what you do and why you’re the best at it so that you can get the right type of clients.

3. Manage expectations

Be sure to manage expectations with your prospective client as well as your own expectations. If you’re not confident in your abilities to take their case, don’t pretend like you are. No one can be good at everything and clients know that, so be honest – clients appreciate that.

But keep in mind that the client still chose you, so you still have a great opportunity to sign the client and refer them to a more qualified lawyer. Building your own personal referral network can quickly build a positive reputation with other lawyers, while also maintaining an ongoing and positive relationship with your clients.

Just be sure to be transparent to the prospective client about why you recommend the referral and explain how your relationship works in the attorney referral process. Hiding the “fine print” is never a good tactic when it comes to building trust with your client.

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