Over the last 14 years, I’ve had the privilege of working with over 10,000 attorneys nationwide, and some of them have been in the fastest growing small law firms in the nation. What I know from that experience is that there’s a big difference between the law firms that continue to struggle and the ones that really take off. There are several key differences, but one of the most important has to do with the client intake process.
Many of the law firms we’ve worked with over the years don’t have an intake department – not a formal one, at least. They basically have a receptionist and somebody who’s a backup in case the receptionist gets too busy.
We can immediately tell if a law firm has a true intake center or not, because when we secret shop a law firm, oftentimes what happens is that the receptionist answers the phone with, “Smith & Smith, please hold.” They come back on the line 30, 60, or 90 seconds later and ask, “Are you calling about a new case or are you an existing client?” That firm does not have an intake group.
Worse yet, if we get the paralegal like we got just a couple of weeks ago when we called a law firm posing as a potential client, they sound completely annoyed and put off that we actually bothered to call. You can clearly tell we have disturbed their day. They obviously don’t have an intake department.
The law firms that do have an intake department often do not see it as an intake department; it’s almost like a group of people in the law firm who happen to take calls. The purpose of having a dedicated intake center is to transform your firm’s culture, if you will, from being an intake center to a sales center. Unfortunately, most law firms treat their intake center as a place for taking orders. You don’t want a bunch of order takers in the law firm; you need a team of rainmakers – people who are committed and dedicated and incentivized to connect with every lead and convince qualified prospects to set up an appointment with the firm.
It takes a true culture shift; most lawyers are loathe to be associated with anything that smacks of sales. But it’s a shift you must make if you are ever going to increase your lead conversion rate!
There are three critical areas you must focus on to have a successful intake center: staff, software and systems. For example, when it comes to staffing your intake, there is a very good reason why hiring intake people with customer service experience instead of a sales background doesn’t typically work.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of calling a large company – your computer breaks or your cellphone has a problem – you call customer service. You will put up with being put on hold for an inordinate amount of time only because you don’t have a choice, you need to get your problem solved. And if your cellphone is with AT&T, you don’t have the option of calling Verizon when AT&T puts you on hold for 45 minutes.
But when a consumer has a legal problem, such as personal injury or any other kind of consumer law, they have an inordinate amount of choices. And all of those choices are easily identifiable with the click of a mouse.
This is why you don’t want people who have a customer service background; you need people who have sold stuff over the phone and who feel comfortable convincing prospects to do business with you. They aren’t giving legal advice, but they are absolutely in the business of making sales (in the form of an appointment). We’ve found for many law firms this kind of thinking is a huge shift for them.
The old way of thinking is that an intake center is a necessary evil. The new way of thinking is looking at an intake center as the revenue generation room. Your thinking should be that your intake department is your sales team that brings in new clients so the rest of the people in the firm can have a job!
Why Lead Conversion Matters More Than Lead Generation
I’ve found most law firms don’t focus most of their resources and energy on lead generation; they focus almost all of their resources and energy on lead generation. This is a huge mistake! Virtually no one talks about lead conversion and intake; they all talk about lead generation.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve had an attorney come to me and say, “Stephen, I need to improve my lead conversion.” Yet every single day I talk to attorneys who say, “I need more leads.”
At one of our Rainmaker Retreats, I asked a bankruptcy attorney, “Tell me why you’re here.”
He said, “Stephen, I need more leads.”
I said, “How many leads are you getting?”
He pulls out a spreadsheet and I was amazed. His background was engineering; he just happened to be a bankruptcy attorney. He pulls out this Excel spreadsheet, which was fantastic, and he showed me a list of every single lead he had received in the last six months.
He said, “Well, last month, I only got 221 leads.”
I said, “Wow, that a lot of leads! But how many of them turned into clients?” He looked at me sheepishly and said, “10.”
I replied, “Only 10? No offense, but you don’t need more leads. To give you more leads would be a sin. You need to convert more of the leads that you’re already getting into paying clients! I have clients who are running multimillion-dollar law firms off 200 leads a month in bankruptcy. That’s a lot of leads; you don’t need more leads.”
Now I’m not saying that some law firms don’t need more leads, but they spend 95- 99 percent of their time, energy and money on lead generation. They need to bring that back down to about 60-70 percent of their resources and focus the rest on lead conversion and client retention, i.e., getting repeat business and/or repeat referrals from their former clients.
Lead generation will not solve all your problems! If you don’t have a really tight, consistent system to convert your leads into paying or retained clients, then you’re just flushing your money down the toilet.
1, 2, 3 Punch: Staff. Software. Systems.
To improve your lead conversion process you not only have to have the right people, but you also must have the right systems. Most law firms don’t use systems. They don’t have protocols, they haven’t developed checklists, they don’t train their teams to follow a step one, step two, step three approach. This is a major reason why they fail miserably when it comes to achieving a high conversion rate. You need written systems in place if you’re going to build a well-oiled machine that converts at the maximum amount possible. You must train your team to follow your systems and then you must have someone audit them every month to ensure compliance. You need a follow-up system that details what follow up is done, when, by whom whenever a new lead comes in. You need a tracking system that keeps track of every single lead, where it comes from and what happens to it.
To drive all of this, you absolutely need the right software. The right software can make or break your lead conversion. The right software allows you to automate the follow-up, it can track your incoming leads, it must integrate with your marketing efforts (like your website and live chat), it must be consistently used by your team in order to work. It is much more than just a CRM database. It doesn’t just warehouse your data, it allows you to leverage it by targeting your follow up on leads that are most likely to convert! By the way, Excel is not a system; Outlook is not a system. They may be great for manipulating data and spreadsheets or managing your email, but they are not a lead conversion system. You need a custom designed system that actually helps you track and convert more of your leads into retained or paying clients.