No one has placed the word “respect” more on the map than the infamous late Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. We’ve all heard this classic, originally written by Otis Redding, but knocked out of the ball park with Aretha’s style and ingenious spelling out of the word “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”… And now that I’ve got the song stuck in your head, you may be wondering: “What does any of this have to do with how to improve client intake???”

Improve client intake: They'll respect what you inspect

Simply Stated: People Respect What You Inspect. This basic principle is never more applicable than in your Law Firm Intake Department. Far too many law firms pour their time, energy, effort and money into marketing their firm, while neglecting what happens when the phone rings. When this happens, it’s as if you have just poured your marketing dollars down the drain.

You may have hand-picked what you believe to be a fantastic Intake Department, full of competent, empathetic and professional staff. You may have put great policies in place, including a step-by-step script, and clear criteria for handling phone calls, referrals, etc... You may have even hired a company several years ago to help you train your intake personnel on how you want calls handled. Those are ALL important. But the deal is, you can do all of this and STILL be scoring a C- when it comes to how your calls are truly being handled.

Improve client intake by using ghost calls

We don’t know what we don’t know. And we can’t find out what’s going on without examining the evidence. The only way to know that your Intake department is doing what you need and the way you need it done, is to have a built-in method of inspection. You must be conducting periodic ghost calls. Otherwise, you are assuming your intakes are being handled appropriately, without any data to back it up.

You can conduct these calls yourself, or assign someone within the firm, or even outsource the evaluations. Whichever route you take, you need a real person conducting a real call and then listening to exactly how that call is being handled by your intake department in order to improve client intake. There is no substitute! Be warned, you may be shocked when you do!

I will never forget flying out to do a Consult with a successful law firm a few years ago. (We’ll call them Firm X, for the sake of anonymity.) Firm X was engaging in quite a bit of expensive marketing. They had the latest PCP, SEO, great organic and engaging Social Media and the like. They were eager for me to tell them how they could engage in more new marketing strategies.

Now I LOVE Legal Marketing and I make it my business to try and stay up on new and innovative marketing tactics, the latest new talented Digital Marketing vendors, etc. But, if you don’t have your law firm house in order when it comes to your Intake Department, none of the other will help you.

Let’s admit it: Marketing is fun, it’s new, it’s exciting and it is absolutely necessary today more than ever. It’s also much sexier to most lawyers than dealing with management issues… And lawyers are human; don’t we all want a magic bullet that we can buy or invest in that immediately transforms our firm and sky-rockets it to the top?

When I asked Firm X about how their Intakes were going, they immediately told me they had no problems at all. In fact, they said “we sign up every case we want to.” Nonetheless, because I’ve been consulting with law firms for years, I knew the odds were NOT in their favor; that in all likelihood, they probably needed to give this critical department some attention. No doubt they “thought” they were signing up every case that they wanted. But were they?

The truth was that after we arranged for a few ghost calls, we learned that was not the case at all! After setting up some ghost calls and listening to the tape, I knew I had to call an emergency meeting with Firm X’s partners. That night, when I played the Intake tape, you should have seen these lawyers’ faces.

In fact, the very lawyer who had assured me earlier that they signed “every” case they wanted, asked me to stop the tape. He became physically ill and had to leave the room! Understandably so.

When we invest hundreds of thousands on advertising, we often assume the simple stuff like Intakes is just a given. But trust me, it just isn’t.

So the moral of the story is simple: People Respect What YOU Inspect. Take the time NOW to inspect your Intake call. Make sure that these calls are consistently being handled the way you want them to be! Inspection will improve client intake.

Your to-do list in order to improve client intake

  • Make Ghost Calls to Your Law Firm a Priority. Set them up randomly so staff doesn’t know exactly when they will occur.
  • Make sure your Intake staff knows you will be conducting these calls. (Remember the Respect/Inspect relationship!) Knowing that their calls are being reviewed and that ghost calls are possible will give your intake department an extra incentive to be handling each potential client with the upmost respect, and professionalism. It will also help make sure your calls are being answered within the first several rings.
  • Have Intake call coverage 24/7. Hire a call center if you need to. Accidents don’t always happen during business hours. Some of your best client calls will come through your phone lines on the weekends and evenings. Clients call when they need an attorney, and if your office doesn’t pick up the call, another firm will!
  • Conduct ghost calls on the after hours, too. You may have hired an outside company to give you night/weekend coverage; You need to know that the person your potential client is speaking with on the weekend is picking up the phone and handling the call just like your in house trained staff is trained to do!
  • Intake Training: If your staff needs more training, then make sure you take the time to put together the detailed training they need. PILMMA offers all of its members OPUS Intake training free. If you are a PILMMA member, start using this great benefit in order to improve client intake.
  • Policies and Procedures: Make sure you have a clear script for each type of case intake and that your staff is following that script!
  • Up-to-date Referral List of Other Attorneys: You should have a referral list of all the lawyers in your area that handle other types of cases and that each member of your Intake department and outsourced call centers has this list! Make sure your intake staff helps with the referral hand off. Otherwise you are missing out on referral fees.
  • Don’t lose out on the other fruit on the tree: Make sure your staff is trained to recognize potential cases beyond the specific reason the client called: a MVA case may lead to med mal, worker’s comp, a potential mass tort from a prescribed drug, hip replacement, etc.
  • Firm culture: You and I understand how important excellent customer service is to signing cases, and creating ongoing referrals from those happy clients. How your staff treats your clients and potential clients is critical. Make sure every staff member shares this core value of client respect and commitment to excellent client service!
  • The Grandmother rule: In my law firms I had a simple rule: Treat every client the way you would want your own grandmother treated. Talk with each client the way you would talk with your own grandmother. Put that way, most people instantly understand the kind of client experience you expect them to provide.
  • Shift Personnel as needed: If you have talented staff that simply lack the empathy needed for Intake, and they can’t adapt, then find them another seat on your bus. Far too many lawyers wait to make reassignments or terminate bad-fit employees, even when the writing is on the wall. Don’t wait pull the trigger when you need to; every single botched call and missed opportunity costs you money.

In an ideal world you would set things up once, put the right people in place, and then the ship would sail into the sunset…. But in real life, you have to inspect things periodically and your staff needs to know that you do. They will respect what they know you will inspect.

It is only natural that without this kind of oversight, staff can easily become a bit complacent, or start taking short cuts, etc. Those kinds of slip ups can cost you significantly. Even one lost call a week or a month can mean the loss of hundreds of thousands or even millions in revenue to you and your firm; Cases that should have been yours and money that should have been in your pocket!

If this blog has got you thinking, and you’d like to hear more about INTAKES, mark your calendars for PILMMA's 2019 Super Summit being held at the Ritz Carleton in New Orleans, June 25-28.

It’s 3½ days that are jam-packed with presentations from Super Lawyers and Cutting–Edge Digital Marketing Experts. And for the first time ever: an all new and special Intake Powerhouse Panel, including: Chris Mullins, Jay Jackson, Ed Lake and Eric Coffman, and moderated by Harlan Schillinger.

What you will learn from this powerhouse panel on how to improve client intake is worth the conference cost alone!

For more info and to register, simply visit our 2019 Super Summit page.

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