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Contributed by Kerri Coby White

I didn’t set out to become an expert in legal intake. Like many looking to generate cases for a law firm (including attorneys themselves), I didn’t see the matter of intake as an obstacle to success and growth — the firm’s or my own.

And yet, the more I listened to calls (you do listen to calls, right?) the more I recognized the secret meaning of the IN in intake for many, many firms.

It meant INeffective, INefficient, and INconsistent.

Are you worried your intake may be just the same?

It’s said that you can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge, so if you want to ensure your intake is optimized for conversion, then you need to take a quick inventory.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does your firm have a dedicated professional (or team) that answers calls and responds to inbound messages?
  • Is the prospective client engaged within the first 90-seconds?
  • Does every prospective client receive the same screening questions?
  • Does every contact receive the same number of “touches”?
  • Does your team follow up by phone, email, and text?
  • Does your team have to write their follow up emails and text messages manually?
  • Does your team utilize a lead tracking tool?
  • Does your team report volume, conversion rates, and team performance?
  • Does your team communicate results to the marketing team?
  • Do you listen to calls and hold your team accountable to the trained process?
  • Is your team using a lead management tool?

If you’ve answered “No” to more than two of the above questions, then you are very likely losing opportunities, increasing your case acquisition costs, and inhibiting your firm’s growth.

Now, it’s no secret that acquiring cases is among the biggest challenges facing law firms. In fact, according to Thompson Reuters, 73% of law firms found that acquiring new business was a challenge. And it’s no surprise. Since 2010 the number of lawyers has grown faster than the nation’s population. There’s been a 30% increase since the start of the century (which can be considered downright modest growth when compared to the 793% growth from 1900 – 2000). The market is saturated. According to the ABA, nationwide there is 1 lawyer for every 250 residents.

These harsh realities (and the four others I write about in my book The Law Firm Growth Machine) need to be considered when we talk about growth and intake.

If your intake team doesn’t move quickly, provide a positive experience, and differentiate your firm from the attorney up the street, your prospective client is unlikely to pursue a relationship with your firm.

More importantly, you won’t have the opportunity to create a raving advocate of that client and generate even more business for your practice on the heels of that new client engagement.

Every encounter, from the first call with a receptionist or member of your intake team, to the very last conversation with an attorney, paralegal, or client care representative, presents an opportunity to promote your brand, your excellence, and your commitment to serving your community.

So let’s ensure that your intake is not one that is INeffective, INefficient, or INconsistent…

Let’s make it INcredible.

Intake Secret #1: Consistency is king

A consistent intake process means that every lead is taken through the same series of steps from their first point of contact until their case is either signed or declined. If your team is executing the defined process consistently, then you can have confidence that every opportunity to convert the lead has been taken, and no step in their onboarding has been overlooked.

Becoming process driven is the surest way to improve consistency in intake. This requires breaking down the steps to your intake and outlining what should happen in each circumstance.

A call to the office? Who answers it? How is the person greeted? Where are the details entered? What about a lead from your website? Who is informed? Who responds to the lead? How are they engaged?

If you ask three folks in your office to answer those questions, would they each have the same answer? If you are going to be consistent, you must first know exactly what should happen consistently!

Think through all points of entry and build your lead to client journey map, asking yourself what can happen and how your team will respond every time.

Calls themselves should also be shockingly similar. Every call should follow a defined path that can be broken into four parts – Screen, Sell, Sign, Schedule. Provide your team with the language you expect to hear and listen for those phrases as you inspect what you expect.

Most importantly, ensure that you have a robust follow-up sequence for leads you haven’t gotten on the phone, leads you can help that are indecisive, and leads that you have signed. How many touches will every lead have? How will they be contacted? When will they be contacted?

For clients managing intake within The Law Firm Growth Machine, we can ensure that every lead has been contacted in the prescribed manner, the prescribed number of times, and at the prescribed hour of the day, without fail. Neither a lengthy call to the office nor an unexpected absence on the team will ever interrupt outreach because an automated tool ensures that the prospect is engaged as outlined. Furthermore, the team can better spend their time where they belong – on the phone.

Here’s the real secret to improving consistency: Train your team, train them regularly, and hold them accountable to their training. If you require a certain greeting, listen for it. If you expect three touches on day one, confirm them. Better yet, build a system that does a lot of the work for you.

Intake Secret #2: Inefficiency is costing you

One of the questions I’m asked most often is, “How many professionals do I need in intake?” I find my response begins the way so many lawyers respond to just about any legal question: It depends.

Obviously, the number of professionals will depend on the volume of calls and contacts your firm receives daily. But just as importantly, it will depend on what tools are they using to manage them.

At a recent legal conference, a speaker asked the crowd how many firms are using lead management software, and the raised hands still fell under the 50% mark.

This means that your team is very likely responding manually to every inquiry that comes in, communicating personally with every lead they are still chasing, and leaping from one platform (like email) to another (like spreadsheets or cell phones) to do their work.

Imagine your life before case management software…that just may be your intake team’s current reality. That’s why it’s imperative to give them the tools they need to be most efficient. This means they have centralized access to all leads from all sources along with all notes and prior communications, the ability to text, call and email from the same device, and automation to do the work that machines do like reminding prospects of upcoming appointments, chasing unengaged leads, and following up for feedback.

Management guru Peter Drucker said, “Effectiveness is doing the right things, efficiency is doing things right.” If you build an efficient system for intake you will be better prepared to be effective.

Intake Secret #3: Effective intake looks a lot like sales

The goal of intake is, very simply, conversion. That’s it. That’s your goal. You want a signed retainer. When someone can consistently deliver signed retainers, they are effective at intake. Now, given how many prospects do not come to a call seeking to hire a lawyer (many are just asking for information, evaluating options, kicking tires, so to speak) this can present an imbalance for the actors.

Here’s the secret: Your intake team has to sell.

If you want to convert prospects into clients, your team has to start selling your firm as the solution to the caller’s problems.

In the last few years, I have seen firms come a long way in meeting client needs for empathy – and this is important. But we can’t provide only comfort and we can’t help those we don’t sign. So you have to train your team to sell.

Again, provide the exact language you expect to hear as you listen to those calls. Phrases like, “Do you know why your boss referred you to us? Because no one does it better,” or “Once you meet with Mr. Jones you’ll see why we have over 300 five-star reviews.”

Selling is a trainable skill (though I’ll never advise not to look for signs of sales strengths when you hire). It requires (again) training and reps, which will result from the consistency you’ve developed in your intake processes. Your team will grow more comfortable with their sales role the more they practice, listen, and realize the results of effective sales language.

I’ve got one last secret to share with you, and it’s another IN.

INVEST. Invest in your intake. Hire the stronger (more expensive) candidate. Purchase the lead management tool. Hire the trainer. Join the Mastermind. You can’t expect intake to improve on sheer will and desire. Invest in your intake, and you will reap the rewards.