High Anxiety: The Reason Why Lawyers Are So Vulnerable To High-Pressure, Low-Return Marketing Scams

Seems that no matter what lawyers do these days – whether it’s accepting a phone call from an unknown number, or scanning press releases on a news aggregator or visiting a bar association website, or signing up for what appeared to be a free service — they quickly find themselves bombarded with high-pressure sales offers for all kinds of programs and coaching services for marketing a practice.   Yet whether it’s pricey websites with three year contracts and canned content that cost several hundred dollars a month, “systems” guaranteed to produce an additional five figures in revenues and valued at $49,0000 (but generously hocked for a mere $2999), SEO services that will put your firm at the top of search engines for a mere $1000 a month or online lead gen sites that can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, there’s never a shortage of lawyers willing to pay their money and take their chances.

I’ve always wondered how lawyers – who are capable of devoting several hours to dissecting a two-page contract or negotiating a three-word clause of a settlement agreement — can so easily shed their analytical armor when presented with the promise of new business.  Though the public views lawyers as greedy, avarice alone can’t explain lawyers’ poor decision-making skills when it comes to law firm marketing.  In most cases, truly greedy lawyers are either too shrewd or too cheap (or too greedy) to pay any money out; instead, they’re more inclined to gravitate towards questionable, easy-money schemes like this  or this that promise immediate revenue at minimal or no cost. By contrast, lawyers who succumb to the siren’s song of first-page Google rankings and seven-figure practices are more than anything else (and as Scott Greenfield has long observed) simply desperate.

Now, a recent Harvard Business School Study, described  here corroborates that anxiety (a first-relation to desperation) does in fact make us particularly vulnerable to bad advice.  The study found that those in an anxious state are at once more receptive to outside advice but at the same time, less discriminating:

 Anxiety also impairs our ability to accurately judge the quality of the advice we received. In a follow-up to the above experiment, my colleagues and I had another group of participants write about an experience from the past that made them anxious or about their last visit to the grocery store (typically a neutral experience) and then estimate the number of coins in a jar. This time, some participants were given bad advice; others were given good advice (i.e., they received accurate estimates of the number of coins). Those who were in a neutral state were more likely to take advice when it was good rather than bad. But anxious participants tended to make no such distinction. Anxiety reduced their ability to discern between good and bad advice.

And it gets worse:

Anxiety so clouded judgment that people who were made to feel anxious were more open to, and more likely to rely on, advice even when they knew that the person offering it had a conflict of interest — that is, when he or she would benefit financially from the participant taking the advice.

For lawyers, anxiety has many sources. There’s work-related anxiety about making mistakes and meeting deadlines. But there’s also broader anxiety over inability to pay the bills or student loans or the business slowdown that’s lasted for months or simply, failing. Marketers prey on those fears; credit them that they’ve made the connection between anxiety and poor decision-making long before Harvard did.

So what can you do when you’re future looks bleak and you’re offered what seems as if it might be a solution, albeit a pricy one? Some suggestions follow.

 First, if you’re confronted by blazing headlines or high-pressure or bullying sales tactics, treat the onslaught as you would a grenade and step away as quickly as you can. Don’t click on any bright yellow BUY NOW buttons, don’t argue or chat with the salesperson on the line. Just get out!

Once you’re out of the danger zone, ask yourself bluntly whether you can really afford the services being offered – not based on the speculative revenues that they might produce, but based on the money in your operating account today. If not, don’t both considering the proposals any further.

On the other hand, if you decide that you have money to spend, ask yourself whether the investment makes sense for your practice area and the types of clients you want to attract. Still interested? Then get busy with some real due diligence – internet searches about the company, speaking with non-biased referrals, asking for feedback from networking groups, listserves and social media. Don’t be embarrassed to ask hard questions about the cost of the service and the revenues generated.

Third, if you decide to give a new marketing scenario a shot, try to limit your potential exposure. Insist on short term contracts no longer than three to six months, and force marketing consultants to put some skin in the game by agreeing up front to refunds if you’re not satisfied with the service. Or see if you can split the cost of a program with a colleague. Most importantly, whether or not there’s a refund up front, if there’s enough money at stake, pursue refunds vigorously — many providers will grant them just to avoid negative publicity.

But most importantly, train yourself to recognize that the only reason that these kinds of over-the-top, too-good-to-be-true offer seven tempted you to begin with is because you’re worried about where your next case is coming from.  As I’ve said before , any of us could lose all of our clients tomorrow; the only certainty about solo practice is that having started before, you can be certain that you have it in you to pick up the pieces and start again.