The new ‘old school’
Why attorneys must pay attention to Generation X
Originally published 2017
For years, two major age groups have been affecting how businesses market themselves.
On one side you have baby boomers, the generation that defined Madison Avenue–style advertising for 40 years. On the other side are millennials, known for, among other characteristics, disrupting the very models for reaching consumers that their grandparents helped build.
In the middle, you have the overlooked generation: Gen X.
Ranging from ages 35 to 50, Generation X makes up almost 66 million Americans who have settled into their adult lives, are at peak buying power, and have both children and parents within their circle of influence. Law firms should be excited about Gen X because they are at a point in their lives where they have a host of legal needs and are ready to hire an attorney.
However, Gen X stands out from boomers in their preferred methods for researching legal needs and ultimately hiring an attorney. Law firms should be prepared for a demographic that wants to select the attorney they need, not simply hire the first one they find. These are prospects that search using traditional online methods but are also open to newer concepts like social media and virtual assistants. Once spurred to action, members of Gen X are willing to contact attorneys in multiple ways, meaning law firms will need to keep a close eye on their intake programs’ failures and successes.
While many Gen Xers took a hit during the Great Recession, they are still financially stable. According to a recent MetLife study, the average annual income of a married couple, ages 35 to 50, ranges between $85K and $104K. More than 70 percent of Gen X couples own a home, and the average household size is four people.
The following analysis of Gen X consumers is based on FindLaw consumer data and external research.
They will work to find the right attorney
Think about this: In a 2017 FindLaw survey of legal consumers, 52 percent of Gen X respondents seriously considered more than one attorney in their quest for representation. That’s a large departure from the 42 percent of average legal consumers who do the same. That means Gen Xers are ready and willing to put in the extra legwork to find an attorney that’s the right fit. They often visit more than one website and don’t necessarily sign on with the first lawyer they contact.
Who seriously considered only one attorney?
Average legal consumer
Generation X takes into account a number of factors in their decision to hire an attorney. When researching a lawyer, 48 percent consider an attorney’s expertise important, a full 18 points above millennials’ ranking of expertise. More than 70 percent believe additional information like reviews and history on disciplinary actions to be valuable.
Generation X legal consumers are prepared to wait and research an attorney before deciding on one. Their patience and diligence don’t result from a specific cause but instead come from multiple factors:
- Financial security — Since most have reached the high point of their career, Gen Xers don’t need to rush to secure the least expensive lawyer.
- Less urgent legal needs — More than half of Gen Xers polled were looking for a lawyer for family planning, estate planning or real estate needs.
Law firms in these practice areas already understand how patient consumers can be, but even legal needs that traditionally require faster action (24 percent of Gen X needed an attorney for a motor vehicle accident) may feel the effects of this generation’s restraint.
Across the board, Gen Xers care about the character factors of an attorney more than the average legal consumer does. These extend beyond the aforementioned expertise, consumer reviews and disciplinary actions an attorney may be involved in. For a number of reasons – more patience, less experience with quick online research, more money at stake — Gen X spends more time searching for an attorney than their millennial counterparts.
Taken together, the numbers suggest that Generation X is interested in the quality of their attorney and are willing to shop around by contacting multiple law firms until they’ve found one who’s right for them. They care about an attorney’s history and want to learn about how other clients have been treated by the law firm.
For many Gen Xers and legal consumers generally, hiring an attorney is something they don’t have much experience in. They are likely in a wholly new situation and need a little validation before they contact a law firm. Researching an attorney’s record both in and out of court is a Gen Xer’s way of reinforcing their decision to take the next step.
They use traditional online search methods
More than 80 percent of Gen Xers looking for an attorney online start their research on search engines. To give an idea of the age divide, only 64 percent of millennials do the same, with 77 percent the average amongst all legal consumers.
Who started their attorney research online via search engine?
Average legal consumer
Whereas a millennial legal consumer may jump straight to social media or blogs, someone just a few years older is more likely to use the tried-and-true method of turning to Google, Bing, or Yahoo to start looking for a law firm.
With memories of a less-refined internet still fresh in their minds, Generation X exhibits a bit of healthy skepticism for newer digital platforms. They stick with what they know: the search engines that were their first portal into the online world. While today’s young adults might chalk up their elders’ search habits to nostalgia, it’s more likely that the original online tools simply earned the trust of this generation long ago.
Once they start their searches, Gen Xers still use a law firm’s website as their main point for getting to know an attorney. When polled, 43 percent of the respondents said that they contacted an attorney after learning about them on their website. While site features like ratings and reviews are important to Gen X, they still value websites for the same reason they turn to search engines: familiarity with the format, and trust in the results.
They use every tool to contact firms
Stuck between the old school and the new, Generation X displays a broad range of communication behaviors familiar to a number of age groups. Take for instance the many touch points they use to contact an attorney. When reaching out to a new law firm they employ any and all methods and devices. In fact, 27 percent of Gen Xers still call attorneys on a landline. As a comparison, only 10 percent of millennials do the same.
That doesn’t mean that 35- to 50-year-olds are out of touch. Compared with the average legal consumer, Gen Xers are more comfortable reaching out to an attorney via mobile phone (44 percent) and email (17 percent) for their initial contact.
This isn’t terribly surprising when you consider that baby boomers grew up in the era of rotary phones while millennials came of age just as landlines gave way to mobile dominance. Being a bridge between two distinctly different generations means a Gen X consumer is likely to feel at ease with multiple communication methods.
The implications for your firm
Attorneys wishing to connect with Generation X require a strategy that embraces multiple approaches and philosophies. Ironclad intake and communication processes are a must, but so are diversified visibility tactics and a keen sense of one’s online appearance. What does that look like for your law firm?
First, spread yourself around
To reach Gen X legal consumers, consider multiple digital marketing paths. Your website alone may have been good enough a decade ago, but now savvy Gen Xers research, consider and validate an attorney through multiple platforms. Those include legal directories and established social media channels.
The first option is the easiest and most efficient. A legal directory listing places your firm in front of qualified legal consumers who are ready to hire an attorney. Within this platform are advertising choices to fit any marketing budget: from a simple profile to top billing on practice-area-specific search results and banner ads alongside popular blog posts.
Don’t forget social media, either. Because Gen Xers are so discerning about the attorney they hire, social channels like Facebook are valuable to attorneys. Legal consumers consult Facebook, in particular, for validating their opinions of a law firm. The honest, casual format allows prospects to see the attorney behind the marketing, the law firm’s human side that goes beyond advertising talking points.
Organize your client intake
Because Generation X is adept at so many forms of communication, attorneys should understand how to handle multiple contact points from the same prospect. Given the number of contact methods used by Gen X, there’s a lot of opportunity for a small law firm to connect (or not), depending on the strength of its intake.
Many attorneys believe that they already employ successful intake practices, but as recently as 2014, a FindLaw study found that 95 percent don’t follow up with a second phone call, and 40 percent don’t respond to emails within 24 hours. The numbers prove how difficult it is for some legal prospects to successfully reach the attorney who interests them.
Imagine a Gen Xer using a mobile, home and work phone to communicate with an attorney. Add email into the mix and it’s easy to see where law firms without quality intake processes can lose some vital information. Keeping up with a client base that seems to approach from all sides can require a lot of organization.
As low-tech as it may seem, law firms with a limited budget may choose to start with a simple intake solution like a shared spreadsheet or database where appropriate staff can record and access prospect contact information and non-confidential details. This kind of simple data management may reduce the clutter and confusion that comes along with a paper-based intake process.
For law firms with more-complex intake needs, or for those who see the connection between intake processes and client retention, professional software solutions are available. These tools are built to drive more effective intake practices and can often mean the difference between converting inbound leads versus merely keeping track of them.
Focus on long-tail search
Gen Xers know how to search the internet. They’ve learned through the years how to use sites like Google to search for answers, not just results. Head-term phrases like “divorce lawyer Raleigh” are what many attorneys believe legal consumers are searching. But for Gen X and their younger counterparts, the reality is more complicated.
FindLaw has found that long-tail, focused searches (“drunk driver attorney in Lower Manhattan that handles hit and run cases,” for example) are where law firms should concentrate their efforts.
Long-tail searches suggest a legal consumer who’s ready to hire an attorney, not one simply looking around at options. These searches also convert well to contacts. On average, 71 percent of contacts captured by a firm from search engine results come from long-tail searches. (Source: Your Traffic Report Is Lying to You – FindLaw white paper).
How does a law firm show up in long-tail searches? Content. Producing content relevant to your practice area through blogging or social media helps Google understand your expertise. If you’re not blogging original content that helps inform prospective clients, then start today.
To better leverage Gen X’s reliance on search engines, focus on key phrases that attract legal consumers who are ready to hire an attorney and not those using broad terms for simple research or to cast a wide net. Your law firm wants specificity, because focused consumers are the ones more likely to pick up the phone and call you.
Know what to look like online
Gen Xers care about the reputation and history of the attorney they’re looking for. With the power of the internet and a simple Google search, they can find more information about you and your firm than ever before. A savvy Gen Xer who really wants to understand an attorney before they contact one can easily find their Facebook posts (both professional and personal, but only if public), their authored publications and articles they’ve been cited in, along with everything else they need to know about a firm’s record.
Remember also that online information about your law firm isn’t limited to content generated by you or your firm. If you haven’t read up on yourself lately, it’s past time. The last thing you want is to be surprised by a web-savvy prospect who knows more about your firm than you do.
Start with your reviews. Former clients (or even the prospects that never became clients) can leave online reviews of their experience on social media, Google local or specialty sites like Yelp. While there’s no guarantee all these reviews will be positive, don’t despair. A tactful response to reviews, both good and bad, can provide insight into how you manage your clients’ experience. Short of a public relations catastrophe or a case of a truly underperforming law firm, the benefits of online reviews far outweigh the risks.
From there, do a thorough audit of your online reputation, going beyond a simple Google search to dig deep into the details a Gen Xer or anyone else could find about you. Many marketing companies, including FindLaw, can provide this type of research affordably.
The generation looking to be found
Very few marketers focus on Gen X, especially with millennials taking all the headlines, but attorneys can’t afford to ignore this generation. They have a diverse number of legal concerns. They are parents to the millennial generation and children of Baby Boomers. Marketing to them means walking the line between all three generations while courting one at its peak buying power.
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