It is hard to overstate the importance of having a strong, well-documented lead intake process. This is especially true for consumer-facing law firms that invest (often heavily) in marketing their practice. Every new potential client inquiry is valuable, and is often the product of a considerable marketing investment. A good intake process will enable you to sign up more clients, and maximize your marketing dollars and profitability.
As I often tell young lawyers and law students, the business of law is first and foremost the sale of legal services. While typical lawyer tasks, like drafting a pleading and representing a client is the eventual job we all went to law school for, the reality is that it all begins with a sale. The intake process is the funnel, or series of steps, that convert a new potential client inquiry into a new paying client and source of revenue.
Without a well-structured, documented, and implemented intake system, firms may be setting themselves up for failure. Or at the very least, leaving opportunities (and income) on the table.
Getting setup for success…
Selling legal services is a competitive business. As more consumers of legal services use the internet to shop for options, they are likely evaluating and speaking to several different lawyers. Therefore, when the phone rings or a new lead comes via a website form, it is vital that a firm be well-prepared to receive and quickly follow up on new client inquiries.
The goal of your intake system is to halt the consumer’s search for an attorney, qualify whether they are a good potential client, and convince them that your firm is the right fit and can address their issues. Ultimately it is not about operating a high-pressure sales machine, but simply being responsive. Doing this consistently well is the product of a well-defined process and well-trained staff.
New potential client leads may come into the firm in a variety of ways. While many firms often generate referrals, or warm leads, from past clients or other attorneys, these folks are a bit different. They have already been pre-sold on your services to some degree based on their relationship, and it is your lead to lose. Cold inquires coming from a marketing campaign have no such relationship and must be handled very differently.
It is imperative that cold leads coming from your website, or any marketing channel, be handled immediately. Phone calls must be answered promptly. Web form submissions should be followed up on within minutes. For every missed call or web inquiry that goes without a response, the consumer continues their search for legal services. And with each passing minute, the potential to generate a new sale decreases, as that person continues going down the list of other lawyers in Google or the Yellow Pages.
At our firm, the general rule of thumb is that all online inquiries that come in via our website contact form must be responded to within five minutes. In fact, our staff responsible for handling intake have individual performance criteria based on the timelines of responding to new leads. And bonuses are given based on this.
Additionally, we use call tracking tools, like CallRail and CallTrackingMetrics, to track all phone calls from individual marketing channels. In addition to being able to track and measure which marketing efforts are generating new client inquires, call-tracking software keeps a record of every call (with an option to record audio) and sends an email notification to select team members anytime a new call comes in. This is helpful for a variety of reasons, particularly for being alerted to after-hours calls and following up on dropped calls.
It isn’t uncommon to receive a new phone call with no one on the other end. However, after receiving the call notification via email, it is worth following up persistently on until you reach someone. While many of these calls may end up being nothing, once in a while there’s real inquiry that can lead to a new client and additional revenue. So your intake system should be designed to follow up on these types of calls.
When the phone rings…
During normal business hours, we have specific individuals responsible for answering the phone. But we also use a workflow in our phone system, so if the primary person is busy, that call rolls over to the next individual, and so on. In the rare instance all team members are busy on the phone, the call will roll over to our outside call service.
The primary person responsible for taking a new call is our client relations specialist. In our office, that also happens to be the person at the front desk who greets everyone. For a potential new client, they will listen to the caller’s concerns, express empathy, and capture some very basic information from the caller (name, phone number, email, etc.). If the caller potentially has a matter we can handle, the next step is to transfer the call to an intake specialist.
A solid intake takes between 20-30 minutes. This is a comprehensive process and can vary depending on the type of practice. We have a detailed intake form (which we review and update periodically) that our team members can use to walk through with the caller in an organized way. The goal is to capture as much of the relevant information related to the matter as possible, not only to open the file but eventually begin servicing the file as well. With qualifiers on the intake form, this is also an opportunity to further qualify the potential new client, and weed out those that are not a good fit for the firm.
No matter who is assigned to answer the phone and/or do the intake, showing genuine human concern and empathy (when needed) for the prospective client’s issues is imperative, before trying to gather the caller’s information. You don’t want people feeling like a case number with a robotic approach. It is important to hire and train staff with this in mind. Have staff treat new prospects and clients with the same respect and kindness that they would their grandmother. This approach applies to third-party vendors as well, like your call service or online chat service.
The initial intake allows for a proper evaluation of the claim. For qualified prospects, the objective is to set an appointment for a consultation. Set the consultation for as soon as possible for the prospective new client. Ideally the same day.
Following the initial intake call, a team member will send a confirmation email thanking the potential client for contacting the firm, and confirming the consultation date and time. We include directions from common routes and a photo of our office to make it easy to locate the building as they are driving down the street. We also provide a list of documents and any additional information they need to bring with them.
If there is going to be a few days before the consultation, we add the new potential client to an automated email campaign, that sends one to two per emails per day, educating them about the practice, our mission and values, and providing answers to frequently asked questions. The goal of the email campaign is twofold: first, to continue to engage the prospect with educational content related to their matter; and second, to increase the likelihood the prospect will keep the appointment.
Engage a call service to handle overflow and after-hours calls. During normal business hours, have a backup when staff is overwhelmed with calls. While this isn’t typical, it does happen. And when it does, new leads can roll to your overflow service. The same applies to inquires that come in after-hours or on the weekends when staff is unavailable. Provide a detailed script of how you would like the call handled and what information you want to gather. It is then the job of the service to capture this information so that the lead can be qualified, prioritized, and quickly followed up on. Part of that process is to build rapport with the new prospect, express sympathy and understanding, and provide reassurance that the firm can help.
The consultation can be done in-person or virtually. These days, particularly with Covid-19, we see more people who are open to the idea of meeting remotely, using video conferencing tools like Zoom. While many firms were initially reluctant to do consultations remotely (including ours), the reality is that it is very convenient and improves productivity. And many clients enjoy it.
The goal of the consultation is to meet with the potential new client, listen to their concerns, highlight how the firm can best address their issues, and get a signed service agreement.
Once the client is signed up, review the intake paperwork and gather any additional information needed to begin servicing the matter. Documentation requiring a signature can be shared or sent using an electronic signature program, like Adobe Sign or DocuSign. It is important to make the entire experience as easy and seamless as possible.
For many lawyers, the desire to be directly involved in the consultation is a natural inclination. However, training and authorizing staff to handle the consultation without an attorney is critical, and can be a game-changer for a growing practice that generates a lot of new leads. An attorney’s schedule and availability can easily bottleneck the process, leading to having to schedule the consultation days out and losing potential new clients that don’t want to wait that long. It is important to meet with them quickly, while they are interested in retaining your services and their concerns are fresh.
A strong intake process requires training your staff on all the details. By empowering your team to handle consultations, you will be able to remove choke points in the process and sign up more clients. Train and authorize your team to handle the intake process with limited attorney involvement. Teach them what is (and is not) a good case, and allow them to make the sale. This becomes especially valuable when you are out of the office or on vacation, so that the firm can keep the sales process moving and continue to sign up new clients in your absence.
Once your team has been empowered to handle the consultation and sign up new clients, it is still worthwhile for the attorney to make an appearance and briefly stop in to meet with potential clients, and answer any legal questions or questions about the firm. If not able to meet personally, due to scheduling or availability, then following up with a video call to introduce yourself and thank the client is a good idea.
Following up with persistence…
Not every potential new client will choose to sign up during their consultation. Some folks want more time before making a decision. In those instances, we provide a packet of information to help educate them about the firm and our processes. This includes a copy of a book I’ve written to help demonstrate authority and build trust, along with printed copies of written client testimonials and Google reviews. These marketing pieces are designed to continue the selling process after they leave the office. Additionally, we will follow up with them on a regular basis to answer any questions and continue to be an educational resource. We use calendaring and practice management tools to ensure regularly scheduled follow up and that no prospect falls through the cracks.
When it comes to follow-up, it is important to be persistent and not give up after one or two phone calls. In some cases it may take 10 or more touches before someone is ready to make a decision. Essentially, we “sell to the no” (as the saying goes) and continue to follow up until the prospect says that they are no longer interested, have decided to work with another firm, etc. But until that point, we will continue following up regularly via calls, text, email, and carrier pigeon if need be to convert an attractive lead into a client.
Developing a strong intake system does not happen overnight. For our firm, it has evolved over the course of years, through trial and error, research, and talking to other highly motivated attorneys about what is working for them. It is an iterative and ongoing process that we continue to evaluate and tweak to achieve the best possible outcomes for the firm.
About the Author
Keith Magness is the founder and principal attorney of the Law Office of Keith L. Magness in New Orleans.