A new study by the ABA Law Practice Division’s Social Media, Legal Blogs, and Websites Committee looked at the intake process at law firms around the country. Quite an eye opener! Learning from what they found—or rather, what they didn’t find—can give you a leg up on turning potential clients into actual clients.
- Make a good phone impression. Start with a greeting that identifies your law firm—the study found that 1 out of 4 callers heard the non-descriptive greeting of “law firm” when they called, not the firm’s name. And use personal names, too: “[I]n more than half of the calls, the person who answered the phone never identified themselves by name and almost as frequently failed to even ask for the caller’s name.” Not a good way to start.
- Return all calls. Seems obvious that an attorney who wants new business would return all calls from potential clients, but the study found that “more than 50% of messages weren’t returned within two days, and many weren’t returned at all.”
- Show empathy. Some attorneys prefer to talk to potential new clients on the phone themselves, whereas others prefer that an assistant record basic information on an intake form for their later review. Regardless of who accepts that first contact, the Committee reminds that “people calling a lawyer for the first time are often in a delicate mindset.” Thus “[p]utting them at ease is extremely important and can be done through a combination of detailed questions, professionalism, and (arguably, most importantly) genuine empathy.” The study found that most front desks were polite and professional, but few showed empathy.
- Get contact information. An intake form enables the attorney to determine whether the case should be set for an immediate office appointment, screened further, or rejected without further contact. It’s important to obtain an accurate phone number, physical address, and email address from all potential new clients so that further communication about the case is possible. The study found that only 55% of front desks asked for the caller’s phone number, and just 14% asked for the email address.
- Explain next steps. Make sure the potential client understands what the next steps will be, including a time and date for a meeting with an attorney. As the Committee points out, “a prospective client who knows they are moving through a clear process and has a meeting scheduled is much less likely to check in with another firm.” Make sure to ask a potential client who has made an appointment to bring all available documentation to the initial interview.
Getting a client to contact you is the hardest part—don’t mess it up by dropping the ball! Use the lessons learned from this study to up your intake game and reel in potential clients. Get more advice on implementing office procedures for client intake in CEB’s California Civil Procedure Before Trial, chap 1. Also check out sample letter and forms for the prospective client in CEB’s California Client Communications Manual: Sample Letters and Forms, chap 1.
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