January 2016 Bar Bulletin
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January 2016 Bar Bulletin

Failing at the Finish Line: How Law Firms Lose Prospective Clients at the Front Door

By FindLaw

 

(Second of Two Parts)

Last month, the first part of this article examined the poor practices and misconceptions among many law firms with respect to client intake. This month, part two takes a look at the four key facets of effective intake.

What Is Good Intake?

A good intake process converts consumers into clients. It serves the law firm by managing issues like data collection and case qualification while also aligning with consumer values and expectations. Put plainly, a strong intake process gets you what you need while also making your new clients feel good about their decision to hire you.

There are four areas where your firm can strengthen its intake process: urgency, empathy, data collection and tenacity. These four areas should be clear to all client-facing employees of your firm and adhered to in every interaction with potential and current clients.

Urgency

Your active clients will always remain a top priority, but your next client is on the other end of that phone call, and he or she must hear from you promptly.

Urgency stems from the knowledge that leads move quickly to decide on a law firm. Everything from mobile web searches, online directories and even phone books make it easy for legal consumers to find and research attorneys at any time and in any place. In addition, FindLaw’s 2014 U.S. Consumer Legal Needs Survey showed that 72 percent of attorney-seekers hired the first attorney they contacted, so by moving with urgency, you’ll increase the number of contacts you receive.

Additional research from the survey revealed that more than three-quarters of consumers contacted firms by phone and 87 percent of those who chose to contact a legal professional ended up choosing to hire an attorney. All this suggests that, in most cases, potential clients are yours to lose.

While most clients say that email correspondence is acceptable once they’ve established initial contact with a law firm,1 the point remains: You must answer your phone — or at least quickly return phone messages — if you’re going to sustain and grow your business.

FindLaw’s study also showed that more than half of consumers take legal action within one week of the event that triggered the need,2 whether it was an injury from a motor-vehicle collision (like the one Thomas suffered — as discussed in last month’s installment), a family issue or a real estate transaction. At the same time, 49 percent of legal consumers expect a rapid response — within 24 hours or less.3

As one of the surveyed consumers noted, “I would probably leave one message, then wait to hear back for a day or so, then probably call someone else” if there was no return call. Consumers act quickly to address their legal issues, and they expect, and often need, a fast response from legal counsel.

At firms that have mastered intake, everyone (and that includes the attorneys) answers the phone as long as they’re not meeting with a live client. Other best practices for effective telephone and message response from successful firms include:

• Allow no more than three rings before the phone is picked up, either by a staffer, an attorney or voice mail.

• Require half-day (or faster) replies on all lead emails received during business hours. Emails received between 8 a.m. and noon should get replies before 1 p.m. Emails received from noon to 4:30 p.m. should be responded to before leaving for the day.

• Dedicate 8 to 9 a.m. each morning to replying to overnight emails and voicemails.


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