Look at any business in history and there is always more upside potential for companies that are more innovative. The downside is reserved for those that cling to the old ways of doing business. They do the same things they’ve always done and expect a different result – the very definition of insanity. The challenge for law firms is when it comes to marketing, doing things the traditional way is the norm. It’s difficult for law firms to break from tradition and take a new perspective when it comes to marketing.
So when is the last time you really looked at your business practices and questioned if they could be improved? When is the last time you truly, objectively analyzed what you’re doing to grow your business and whether it’s working or not? If it’s been awhile, then consider what innovations you can bring to the table that benefit your firm and your clients in the following areas.
Improve Client Communication
The number one complaint clients make to bar associations about their attorney is lack of communication. Communication is fundamental to building a strong, lasting relationship with clients. You must stay on top of your email and phone messages. If you’re a solo practitioner or a litigation attorney who spends a lot of time in court, then you need to (1) better set and manage client expectations as to when they can expect a response to their email or phone call or (2) assign someone on your staff who is trustworthy and reliable to return those calls for you and set up an appointment to speak with you when you are available. Be sure you have a staffer scouring your email for client requests that can be handled without your intervention, like inquiring about when their court date is or how to dress for an upcoming appearance or to remind them of the address for their deposition.
Beyond the everyday communication, there are three other areas most lawyers can work on to improve their client communication.
Keep clients informed about the progress of their cases. Every month, I strongly recommend you have someone (not an attorney) call and email every single client to update them on their case – even if there is no update, We are still waiting to hear back from the insurance company. We are still waiting on the judge to issue a ruling on our motion. We haven’t heard back yet from opposing counsel and we are emailing them every week asking for a response. In most cases, there can be weeks and even months that go by with no movement. During this time, clients can think you have forgotten about them. To retain client loyalty and satisfaction, you need to gently remind them that you are still “on the case” and you haven’t forgotten about them. This person can be your legal assistant or even a paralegal, but we don’t recommend it be you or an associate unless absolutely necessary.
Proactively educate clients on events or changes in the law that could affect them. Sending out regular client communiques or newsletters is a very cost-effective way to educate former clients and referral partners of changes in the law that could affect them or simply remind them of their legal rights and responsibilities.
Inform them of other ways you can help them and other areas of practice in your firm. It’s your responsibility to educate and inform clients of other ways you can add value. If there are other services you provide that they could benefit from but are not currently using, let them know what benefits they could get from using those other services. In addition to telling them over lunch and sending out monthly newsletters, you can also hold seminars or webinars on relevant topics of interest. Find every opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and your usefulness. As the saying goes, “Out of sight is out of mind.”
Remind your clients regularly of the results they are getting from working with you. Clients are likely as busy as you are and your great work is not always on their radar. Law is a thankless profession. Far too often clients expect you to move heaven and earth and never even offer a simple thank you in return. If you’re getting good results for your clients, remind them on a regular basis. Don’t wait until the end of the case and the final bill. Casually mention it along the way. As Muhammed Ali said, “It ain’t bragging if you done it.”
Improve Your Billing
There are several ways law firms can improve their billing system and lower their account receivables (A/R).
No. 1 – Make sure you have a written procedure in place for when a client is to be charged, payment options, how to verify that client accounts are up to date, how to notify attorneys and paralegals to stop work on a client who is overdue, how to handle overdue accounts as well as how and when to send them to collections.
No. 2 – If you’re in the type of practice that has to deal with overdue client payments, then be sure to review an aged A/R report every month and have a system in place to notify people to stop working on a case when a client hasn’t paid. Create a series of letters and emails to send to clients who are overdue.
No. 3 – Include “No Charge” line items on your bills. Just about every lawyer does stuff for his or her clients that aren’t billed. Keep a list of those freebies as you go through your month and then include them as line items on your bill with the notation, “No Charge.” Instantly adds value!
No. 4 – Eliminate surprises. No one likes a billing surprise, so if you are constantly getting pushback on charges clients did not expect, then you need to do a better job of managing their expectations. Give them fair warning on big ticket line items. If the bill is going to be particularly high, call them to explain.
No. 5 – Cut out nickel and dime charges. Roll up all your miscellaneous charges for postage, copies and other small stuff into your hourly rate. Clients hate to see that stuff on a bill.
No. 6 – Don’t charge for phone calls. I’ve never met a single client who likes to be charged for a phone call so be sure to follow up the call with an email that details the conversation, any action steps that will be taken, deadlines to remember, and any major points.
No. 7 – Consider charging more frequently. Ask your clients how often they want to be billed. Most will probably say monthly, the way most of you do it now, but there could be some who want you to bill more or less often. If it’s more often, that’s good for your cash flow.
Improve Lead Nurturing & Conversion
Do you have a system in place that generates high quality leads for you every week? Do you have a system that nurtures those leads along a predetermined path until they are ready to call you for a consultation? Do you have a way of sending regular communications to all your former clients and all your referral sources every month just to keep you “top of mind” for their legal work? I understand every attorney wants the “one call close.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually happen that way. Many people who initially contact your firm are still in the early stages of making a decision, meaning that they are still researching attorneys looking for the best fit or they just aren’t ready to come in for a consult yet. However, they might be ready next week or next month. If you’re spending time and money generating leads, but you don’t have a drip marketing system that can follow up with these leads until they are ready to buy, then you are likely losing dozens and perhaps hundreds of clients every month!
Five Steps to Manage & Convert Leads
No. 1 – Only ask for crucial information. Research shows that contact forms with only three fields convert 25 percent more leads than those with more fields. You really only need a name, phone number and an email address these days. People don’t want to give out more than that for a first contact, so don’t put stumbling blocks in your own way right off the bat. Keep it simple.
No. 2 – Follow up fast. You can have an assistant or an intake specialist follow up with a lead. You can program auto responses that immediately follow up once you receive a new lead. Every single lead must be called back within five minutes or less. The faster you call back a lead, the more appointments you will set. Studies show that after an hour passes with no response, the chances of doing business with that lead are reduced by 400 percent.
No. 3 – Make it all about them. Be sure you ask the right questions and record the information you receive from the lead in a central place, such as an excel spreadsheet or an intake form. or a software program) so whomever is tasked with another follow-up has all the information they need to make a smart decision on whether to move forward with that client or not. Nothing is more annoying to a prospect than having to repeat themselves.
No. 4 – Focus on the next step. The goal of that initial call should be (1) qualify or disqualify the lead and (2) get all the qualified leads into your office as quickly as possible.
No. 5 – Pay the long game. According to inbound marketing firm HubSpot, 50 percent of new leads are not ready to buy right now, but they may be ready to buy later. This means to convert the maximum amount of your leads, you need a system in place to stay connected with them over a long period of time. Having a lead conversion system in place that allows you to pre-program a series of emails or text messages to automate the process of nurturing prospects, takes all the pressure off your back while still getting the job done.
In today’s hyper-competitive legal services market, necessity will surely be the mother of your reinvention. Don’t be afraid to make the necessary changes that will help grow your practice in 2016.