The 5 Stages of the Online Buying Cycle for Law Firms

by Stirling Ruuth February 26, 2016

Every business exchange has some sort of buying cycle. If you want to get people to pay for your services, you need to understand the buying cycle for your industry and how to succeed in every stage in the cycle.

Law firms are no exception. Hiring an attorney has a buying cycle, but the legal industry has several unique aspects to it that are important to understand when you are advertising your law firm.

For the purposes of this article, let’s see how the buying cycle looks for a personal injury law firm. That being said, the buying cycle is fairly similar for other areas in the legal industry, so the points hold for other types of law firms as well.

1. Awareness

During the awareness stage, the potential client becomes aware of their need for an attorney. This is usually due to some sort of incident (accident, divorce, lawsuit, DUI, etc) that forces them to consider hiring a lawyer.

Example: The potential client has been injured in a rear end accident with a semi truck on a day with bad driving conditions. They realize their injury is serious and don’t really know what to do.

After sorting out their injury they start dealing with insurance claims on their vehicle and hospital bills that just keep piling up. They don’t really know where to turn so they start the research process.

At this point in the buying cycle, your online advertising has been mostly limited to upper funnel, branding efforts. Ideally, they should be aware of your law firm and its relevance to their problem.

If you’ve done your job right, they should start thinking of your firm as a potential solution to their problem shortly after they become aware of their need for your services.

2. Research

In today’s information-rich age, your potential clients know they have options. Even if you’ve made a good first impression, it will make them feel better to know that they have researched their situation and are making an informed decision.

Example: The potential client starts looking for options. They are getting nowhere with their Insurance company, which won’t cover their ER or emergency crew bills. Clearly, this isn’t a situation they can figure out on their own.

At this point, the potential client begins to ask for referrals from friends and relatives, Facebook groups and may even start searching on Google for recommended law firms. They are looking for someone that is sympathetic, empathetic and can provide exactly what they are looking for—help.

After doing a few searches, they find a few firms that can provide what they need, but which one do they choose? The potential client starts comparing websites, how attorneys look, information they can provide about the chances of them winning cases, etc.

In the research stage, you want to make sure that your business shows up on their radar. This is where law firm search engine optimization (SEO) and legal pay-per-click (PPC) advertising comes into play.

There are two basic goals for your legal SEO and PPC advertising:

1. Show Up for Branded Keywords

If your branding efforts have paid off and you potential client is searching for your company by name, you want to make sure that your ads are showing up on your branded terms. This makes it easy for your potential client to find and identify your law firm.

If you aren’t bidding on your brand terms, there’s a good chance that your competition is. Ranking #1 on your own branded terms is both easy and fairly cheap, so it’s well worth your while to make sure that you have good coverage for your branded terms.

As an added bonus, showing up on both paid search ads and organic search results dramatically improves your clickthrough rate, making it even more likely that you will get your potential client to your site.

2. Take Advantage of High-Intent Searches

Obviously, people who are searching for a law firm online are an ideal audience for your ads. They are actively looking for your services, so take advantage of this opportunity to get on their radar!

For many online advertisers, high-intent searches will quickly turn into leads or sales. In the legal industry, however, potential clients tend to be a lot more reserved about committing to a firm. It’s a big decision, one they want to feel confident they are getting right.

As a result, you not only have to get on their radar in the research stage, you also have to win in the comparison stage.

3. Comparison

During the comparison phase, your potential clients are trying to find the law firm that feels “right” to them.

There are a lot of reasons a firm will feel “right.”

For some people, you’ll need to show that your firm knows what it’s doing in their situation. For others, they will want to feel a connection to and comfortable with their potential attorney. Still others will resonate with facts, numbers or other proof that they will succeed if they hire your firm.

Example: The potential client has identified 3 law firms that could help them.

Law firm #1 sent them to a landing page that talks about a range of cases that they have won, including personal injury cases.

Law firm #2 sent them to a home page with lots of quotes from clients about how great the firm was to work with. There was a personal injury link in the header, so the firm seems to practice personal injury law.

Law firm #3 sent them to a landing page focused on accident-related personal injury cases, with testimonials from clients about how effective the firm was at getting them the money they deserved.

The comparison stage is where message match comes into play. The better you can connect your ads to the intent and needs of your potential client, the better you can match your message and landing page to what they are looking for in a law firm.

The better matched your page is to what they are looking for, the more likely your firm is to come out as the winner in the comparison stage.

Unfortunately, many law firms struggle in the comparison stage because they fail to match their message to their potential clients’ search intent.

For example, your home page usually covers all of the types of law you practice, so it is hard to make your home page relevant to a particular search. Similarly, a landing page with a quote about how you won a dog bite case isn’t going to feel relevant to someone who has been in a car accident.

If you want to win in the comparison stage, you need to match your landing page to the search intent indicated by the keywords that triggered the ad your potential client clicked on. If you do, you’ll feel like a perfect fit for their needs.

4. Purchase

During this phase, responsibility for the buying cycle shifts from advertising to the firm itself.

Example: Having decided on law firm #3, the potential client works up the courage to call the number on the website to speak with someone they think can help.

Whoever answers your phones sympathizes with them and assures them that the law firm can help them. They schedule an in person meeting and show up for the appointment.

The appointment goes off without a hitch. The potential client’s case is a perfect match for the firm and the firm is a great match for the client. Agreements are signed.

Hopefully, you’ve done a good enough job with your advertising that it’s easy to secure them as a client. That being said, it’s still a numbers game. Only a certain percentage of your leads will actually be qualified for a consultation and only some of those leads will qualify for a consultation.

Ideally, your advertising should help improve those ratios by filtering out irrelevant leads, but you’re never going to have a 100% lead-to-case ratio. With the right advertising strategy, however, you should be able to turn a significant portion of your leads into cases.

At this point, the client is still in the buying cycle. This is your opportunity to give them the kind of experience that they will rave about.

Why? Because raving clients are advertising gold, quite literally. Not only do they provide your firm with revenue, they also tell their friends, family, Facebook connections and everyone they can about their experience.

People believe other people more than they believe advertising, so a raving client is free, high-authority advertising.

5. Retention and Referrals

This brings us to the final phase of the legal buying cycle: retention and referrals. Now that your law firm has made good on it’s promises and helped someone who really needed help, it’s time to capitalize on that success.

Example: After a successful case in court, the client is flush with victory and tells everyone they know about what a good experience they had with their law firm.

A month later, the firm is contacted by a friend of the client who has just found themselves in a similar situation. They are looking for an attorney to represent them and would like to come in for a consultation.

Online advertising is heavily influenced by social interactions. Good experiences and reviews are priceless, so try and get clients to talk about their experiences with your business on social media.

On the off chance that you get blasted with a negative review (your firm is that good, right?), make sure you address those bad reviews immediately! When it comes to social media, a bad review can spread like wildfire and seriously undermine every other phase of your buying cycle.

As an added benefit, it’s easier and cheaper to retain a client than it is to acquire a new client, so you want to make sure to keep retention as high as possible. You never know when someone is in the game of going through spouses, accident-prone or might need your services again.

Raving clients are your best promoters and provide a source of recurring income, so don’t neglect this phase of the buying cycle!


The legal industry has a buying cycle just like every other industry, but there are a variety of important nuances that set the legal industry’s online buying cycle apart. Understanding these differences is key to successfully adverting your law firm online.

By the way, if you’d like any help streamlining your online buying cycle, let me know here or in the comments!

Are there other specific aspects to the legal buying cycle that I should have included? How does the buying cycle for your firm look?

  • Marketing

Stirling Ruuth

Stirling Ruuth

Stirling is an account strategist team lead at Disruptive Advertising. When he's not catching the latest episode of Duck Dynasty, you can find him chopping wood, smoking meats, and growing beards.

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