HOW TO RECLAIM YOUR LOST ONLINE DIVORCE BUSINESS
All business that can go online, will. That includes divorce.
Since approximately 2000, but much more so recently, unqualified online divorce providers have been eating divorce lawyers’ breakfast and lunch. While you’re competing with other local lawyers for scraps, nation-wide online divorce providers are now eyeing your dinner.
Unqualified online divorce form peddlers are harming the legal and economic interests of what should be your clients. Many online outfits are dangerously incompetent. Most charge a surprisingly high fee for very little product. A few are downright fraudulent. Yet they beat you to the punch in your hometown every day of the week because they’ve created a far better product-market fit than you have!
Note: You do not need to be 100% online yourself to capture what would otherwise have been online divorce. In fact, not being completely online is how you are able to capture that missing business.
Your professionalism, your local availability, your local legal knowledge, the cost-effectiveness of your services, the built-in memorability/impressiveness of 1-800-DIVORCE, the greater ROI provided by 1-800-DIVORCE, the economies of greater use of available technologies in law practice and a menu-based set of unbundled services, as selected by informed clients in uncontested cases, among other factors, will enable you to fight back, recover this missing business, get more law clients and protect their interests.
BUT GUESS WHAT! You actually have to tell your potential clients about these factors! They must be interwoven seamlessly into every pitch you make for a client, particularly online. Read on…
Nation-wide online divorce providers have created a much better product-market fit for the uncontested divorce market than local lawyers have. As a result, their uncontested divorce market share is sky-rocketing. This deprives you not only of your base uncontested business but also of the great opportunities for ethical up-selling and cross-selling to your existing and prior clients, respectively.
To enable them to dominate the uncontested market ahead of local lawyers, online non-lawyer providers utilize advanced data-driven digital advertising techniques, the best UX (User Experience) website design practices, efficient divorce software, borderline fraudulent advertising and sales practices, cut-throat unethical up-selling and your Bar Association’s wise policy of not pursuing them unless the fraud or UPL is blatant and severe, which they make sure it never is.
See here for an excellent overview of the current UPL situation and why you should not care one darn about it.
Among other techniques, online providers have understood and perfected the use of price anchoring. They tell your local potential clients, visiting their superbly designed landing pages, that lawyers charge $3000 or $5000 (or pick any amount) for divorce. Of course, they fail to mention that such fees these days are for contested, complex or high asset cases. It’s apples and oranges, but it doesn’t matter. The $5000 “lawyer” price is firmly anchored in the mind of your local potential client. They are then told that the online provider’s $300 fee will save the client $4700 (or whatever).
Cost and efficiency are their strongest sales points, but those arguments can be decimated if properly addressed. We have seen very few (though the number is increasing) non-1-800-DIVORCE lawyer websites that address these issues directly with the divorce consumer. There are many issues which can be addressed to the divorce consumer by you, marketing yourself as a local lawyer. They are all issues on which you win. See the Solution section below.
Another cause of their success is the downright fraud used by some online divorce mills – using self-owned online divorce “review” sites and bogus self-owned “certified testimonials” sites. We filed one slam-dunk fraud complaint with the FBI’s Internet fraud division just to see what would happen. Nothing has happened in over a year. While online divorce is an interstate commerce issue, there is no Federal governmental interest in protecting divorce consumers.
Online providers such as legalzoom.com and completecase.com are now branching out into boiler room ops wherein they perform divorce triage and route callers and clickers either to their own online divorce form apps or to mediators or trial lawyers each of whom will be one of the 10 or 20 lawyers who will have over-subscribed the client’s zip code. Perhaps you are already one such lawyer. Perhaps you didn’t believe us when we told you that online providers are now looking to eat your dinner as well as your breakfast and lunch.
Yet regardless of all of these issues that favor you, we must face the reality that online divorce mills understand the divorce-buying market far better than you do. They sit in Seattle or India and they beat you to your core business every single day in your own hometown. We’re just sayin’.
1. Address the Problem: Design all of your marketing outreach, but particularly online, to emphasize to your target market the numerous substantive advantages you have as a local lawyer over remote unqualified online divorce mills who provide an extremely limited up-selling solution that is not particularly cheap.
Bear in mind that this shouldn’t be your entire primary message to your potential clients. The core of your primary sales message should always be the benefits your potential clients will derive from hiring you. However, this comparative issue does contribute to those benefits. It should be a significant portion of your sales pitch. The point is that your advantages over unqualified online providers must be addressed. This issue is certainly being considered by your potential clients as they move through the research and comparison phases of the sales funnel.
The comparative issues to address include:
- You are highly educated in the law. Online providers are not.
- You are licensed (and insured – if that is so) by your state. Unqualified online providers are not licensed or regulated or insured in any way.
- You are required to maintain CLE, while non-lawyer online providers hire inexperienced unqualified non-lawyers and provide them with minimal on-the-job training – using clients’ cases as the means to learn.
- You are local and available. Online providers are usually not.
- You know local laws and procedures, and even individual judges. Online providers do not.
- You operate under a strict code of ethical practice that requires you to treat clients in certain beneficial ways. Online providers do not.
- You prepare and review all documents as a lawyer. Online providers are not lawyers.
- You conduct an overall legal and economic rights review in every case. Online providers are not qualified to do so and don’t do so. This is a huge danger to the economic and legal future of your potential clients. It must be described as such.
- You offer additional services, such as mediation, emergency orders, and trial work, should they become necessary in each case. Online providers would have to make cold referrals to someone like you. If things go wrong or unexpectedly in your clients’ cases, you are already onboard and knowledgeable about the case.
2. Sign up for 1-800-DIVORCE, which online providers will never be able to get. It will demonstrate your business acumen in the local divorce-buying market to your potential clients. It will also demonstrate to your potential clients that just like the online providers, you are also commercially incisive, bold and stylish. You can and will fight for their business and will work to get more online divorce and to satisfy them as clients.
All 1-800-DIVORCE micro-sites and landing pages come with built-in content that stresses these advantages over online providers. Please see this sample.
If you are a California lawyer, Legal Marketing Systems has launched an add-on sister service to 1-800-DIVORCE at Online Divorce Pro. Online Divorce Pro is a suite of California-specific online divorce lawyer tools that includes a secure online client interview and the best California wicked-cool divorce form preparation software we’ve been using on our own online divorce mill, NetDivorce, since the early 2000’s. We’ll be rolling out this service to other selected states and we are looking for lawyer partners in other states.
3. Leverage efficiency-enhancing cost-reducing technology in your law practice and let your potential clients know it: Your potential clients want the best of both worlds, and it’s your job to give it to them. They want the apparent cost-efficiency of the online providers but they also want the safety, security and prestige of having a lawyer on their team. This is where you have to look a little bit like your online competitors.
If you do not already do so, seriously consider how you can expand your use of available technologies in the delivery of your Family Law services, particularly in uncontested cases. You don’t need to be a Virtual Law Practice – unless that model particularly appeals to you as a matter of convenience. But what you do need to do is to take advantage of new technologies that make sense to you in your business model, and then to let your potential clients know that you are up to speed with the more efficient cost-cutting technologies they will expect and some they do not expect. An online intake questionnaire/interview, divorce software, web-based client interaction and perhaps some case management software and a portal to which the client has access (Clio, MyCase and Rocket Matter) are technologies that should be considered.
Once again, an excellent overview/introduction to the use of technology in your family law practice can be found here.
Don’t lead with technology, but do let your potential clients know subtly that it’s in play.
4. Reverse the price-anchoring technique employed by online providers: Point out in your content that $300 isn’t cheap for typing up a few state divorce forms without knowing what they mean and for providing absolutely no legal advice or guidance, which will be needed in every single case at some point. Show your potential clients (on your 1-800-DIVORCE micro-site) that your fees will never be anything like $3000 or $5000 or $15000 unless the case becomes contested. No client ever thinks her case will become contested. But you know that if the case does blow up, such fees are fair and will be earned. At the very least, the client will not have wasted $300 on the online provider.
Here is a guy who is reversing the online providers’ price-anchoring technique very efficiently, and he’s doing it right in the backyard of 2 of the major online divorce mills.
5. Offer unbundled services (limited scope representation) in uncontested cases: The only way you can come close to the $300 fee charged by online providers for their minimal service is to use this tactic – in line with all of your Bar’s rules and regulations about limited scope representation, of course.
Generally, you’ve got to make sure that your retainer contract is precise and lets the client know what is included for the stated fee and what is not included. Will your services include document preparation alone? Will you provide advice only? Will you be the attorney of record or will the client proceed pro se? Will you review paperwork and provide a “legal rights checkup?” Phone calls and email responses should be numerically limited per month. Make sure it is abundantly clear to the client what extra services will cost and what will trigger those extra services. The client must make an informed consent to limited scope representation.
You don’t have to charge $300 for a complete uncontested case! Your unqualified online divorce mill competitors don’t. You will already have pointed out (on your 1-800-DIVORCE micro-site) what gaps there are in online providers’ service. Now, add in your extra value and try to come in at around the $300-500 mark for an unbundled uncontested. These are fee levels that can be entirely justified on the basis of the extra value you will bring to the table as a local lawyer.
As we write this, we have many successful up-selling and cross-selling 1-800-DIVORCE lawyer members who are charging fees in the range of $295, $325, $350 and $399. These are not loss-leader prices, though occasionally they may be break-even prices. These lawyers have understood the value of ethical up-selling within a case and/or intensive cross-selling under ABA Rule 7.3 later on.