And though that was the first time I experienced that, it wasn’t the last.
I’ve heard from and worked with lawyers who experience similar situations.
For a lot of clients – they can’t wait two days for a call-back. That doesn’t cut it if they have an urgent matter. They need to speak with someone ASAP.
When I talk about having a better “sales” process in law firms, some lawyers cringe.
It’s like the idea that a law firm should have to think about sales is offensive.
“We are professionals in a noble profession.”
But, without sales, your law firm can’t exist.
When I talk about sales, I am referring to what most lawyers refer to as “client intake.”
And “salesmanship” is just a good client intake experience.
On that point, there are a few things I want to discuss:
First – the idea that many lawyers have that “I am not a salesperson” and why that is fundamentally wrong in substance and approach.
Second – the ethics around law firm sales.
Last – how we’re going to fix all this.
“I am not a salesman”
So, first, let’s talk about the idea that “I am not a salesman.”
Firms sometimes take this defensive approach.
The idea of sales, I understand that no one got into starting and running a law practice because they wanted to “sell” someone on anything.
Sometimes I hear lawyers say, “I am not a car salesman.”
But that idea is predicated on a notion that sales is adversarial.
Sales and Customer Service
Sales does not have to be, and good sales should not be adversarial.
Good sales is good customer service.
Someone has a desired outcome, you have a service that helps them achieve that desired outcome, expectations are aligned, the service is provided for an agreeable fee, and everyone wins.
Good sales is not a zero-sum game.
Especially for law firms.
Clients often reach out when they have an urgent need. They’ve just been arrested. They’ve been served with divorce papers. They’re in the hospital after being involved in an accident. And they need someone to help them.
With a good sales process / good customer service – they can easily hire a responsive lawyer who answers their questions, helps them out, and gets them the best possible outcome.
And as a lawyer, you get to get paid to do what you were trained to do.
Sales and Non-Sales Selling for Lawyers
There’s this idea of sales as being an activity for “salespeople.”
Sure, there are salespeople. People whose job it is to sell products and services.
But, there’s also the concept of “non-sales selling.”
In Dan Pink’s book To Sell is Human, he discusses how there is traditional sales, and “non-sales selling.”
What it all boils down to is this: sales is all about persuasion. Persuading someone to take a particular action.
Lawyers are trained to persuade. It’s part of the job.
Lawyers “sell” judges to set a reasonable bail.
Lawyers “sell” opposing counsel to accept a settlement offer.
Lawyers “sell” juries that their clients are innocent.
Lawyers “sell” their own clients to follow a recommended strategy.
Lawyers are already master sellers.
They just may not be giving the necessary amount of attention to sales in the intake process.
How Bad are Lawyers at Sales?
So, lawyers are very bad at sales.
In 2016, the ABA did a benchmark study on law firm intakes, to better understand how lawyers and clients are doing in the intake process.
According to that study:
- 42% of lawyers took 3 or more days to respond to a client inquiry
- 3% of clients gave up before having their call connected
- 11% stayed on the phone for less than 10 seconds, presumably because they were sick of waiting
- 32% of calls went to voicemail
That’s all very bad.
Especially considering the odds of connecting with and qualifying a prospective client decrease significantly in the first hour after they reach out, let alone the first day.
But, it gets worse. Further, according to the study:
- 42% of lawyers showed no empathy to the client callers
- 86% of law firms didn’t get an email address
- 45% didn’t get a phone number (presumably some of this and the above stat overlapped, so they got no contact information)
- 70% did not set a follow-up activity, so the burden was left entirely on clients to follow up and get the law firm to let the client retain them…
But, in all of this scary data there is good news.
The good news is, these law firms are your contemporaries. They are your competitors.
If you have a better client intake process that is responsive, attentive, and empathetic, you will get more clients and better cases of the type that you are looking for.
Some lawyers are hesitant about following up with potential clients.
“I don’t want to bother / harass them.”
Sure. That’s completely understandable.
But there’s this concept in marketing called the “Rule of 7.”
The Rule of 7 states that a prospective client needs to hear your message 7 times before they hire you. It takes awhile to build up the necessary trust to buy someone’s product or services. And in the legal space, lawyers are dealing with very delicate and precarious situations. So, a client really has to trust the lawyer they’re going to ultimately hire. Their freedom or livelihoods can be at stake.
That’s all to say, following up is critical to your law firm’s intake process.
You should be following up every 2 or 3 days with potential clients until they either say “Call me in a week. Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you but I have been busy;” “Let’s do this, thank you for the reminder, I am signing your engagement letter now;” or, “I am not hiring your firm.”
The follow-up, you may be surprised to find, is not perceived as annoying by your potential clients. Rather, they’ll see that you care about working with them and they will appreciate your diligence.
Sales with Referrals vs. Online Leads
Online leads and referrals are not the same when it comes to sales and client intake.
Potential clients coming from referrals already trust you to some extent. They have been recommended specifically to your practice. Barring any major red flags, they will want to hire you. Because of this, potential clients coming from referrals tend to be forgiving about a less-than-optimal intake process.
If you don’t call them back immediately, they may wait a bit and give you a chance to get back to them before they go elsewhere. They want to work with you, so they will give you the opportunity to get back to them.
Even so, referrals still won’t work with law firms that have a broken intake process.
If you don’t respond to their inquiry because the potential client just ”fell through the cracks” of your intake workflow, they will go elsewhere. And then they will complain to the person who referred you.
But, potential clients from the Internet are a different beast altogether.
They have no affinity for your firm over any other firm.
They searched in Google for a lawyer in your practice area, found your website, evaluated it to recognize that you probably practice in the area for which they need a lawyer and could possibly handle their case, and they reached out via either a web form or phone call.
And then, they will probably go to the next law firm in Google and do the same thing.
They will ultimately hire the law firm that is responsive and calls them back.
They won’t wait around for you to get back to them like a referral would.
So, a poor intake process is especially bad for firms that are trying to get business from the Internet. If you are getting Internet leads but not responsive, you might as well be throwing money away.
A great intake process to go along with your online marketing can help your firm grow.
Now, about some ethics.
You might be concerned, “If I follow up a lot, it might be unethical.”
That’s a red herring. It’s not a concern. You’re being diligent, and there is no ethical “solicitation” issue because these people have already reached out to you and there is now a preexisting relationship that gives you permission to call them unilaterally.
The real ethics issue is about how not following up with potential clients can give rise to ethical issues.
Pop quiz: What is the most common grievance complaint against lawyers?
It’s a failure to communicate.
Lack of communication is the single-biggest grievance against lawyers, consistently.
So, what kind of expectations are you setting if you are non-responsive from the outset?
If you put the burden on your potential clients to bother you to send them an engagement letter and take their money, you’re setting up very bad expectations.
It may color their opinion of the entire engagement.
And if they are unsatisfied with your performance and responsiveness, they may recognize it as stemming from the outset of this engagement.
Clio’s latest Legal Trends Report highlights that the most important thing that clients care about is responsiveness.
So, set the right expectations from the beginning.
Ensure your workflow is very responsive and that your clients’ needs are getting met.
How to Fix All of This
So, there are problems to not having a great client intake system and not being good at sales in your law firm – so what do we do about it?
First thing’s first.
Recognize and appreciate that good sales is about good customer service.
Sales for law firms is not a zero-sum game; it’s win-win.
And, as a lawyer, you already have great sales skills; you may just need to better apply those skills to the intake part of your practice.
Next, audit your existing sales and intake process.
Have a friend or family or colleague call in for fill a website submission for your firm.
How is their intake experience?
Do they fall through the cracks or is your firm super-attentive?
Get their feedback, and take the steps to build into your intake workflow what you need to better serve your clients.
Build a Better Intake Workflow
Next, let’s build a workflow
What happens at every step of the way?
First: Does the firm answer the phone when they call?
If it’s during business hours, someone must answer the phone.
If they leave a message after-hours or fill out a form, how long does it take to get back to them? It should be the next business day.
Next: After that initial intake call – do you follow up and how often?
It should be every 2-3 days until the potential client either says, “please call me next week;” “send me your retainer agreement;” or “no, I’m not hiring you.”
Next: Once they say they want to sign on, they should get an e-sign retainer agreement so they can easily onboard, rather than having to print, sign, and return something.
Last: How can they pay you? Ideally you should accept credit cards and use an online payment service like LawPay or LexCharge.
Get the Right Tools
So that workflow is all well and good, but how do you stay on top of potential clients and know when to follow up with them? Spreadsheets?
No. Not a spreadsheet. You need a CRM.
A CRM, for the unfamiliar, is a customer relationship management application. Basically, it helps you manage all your contacts. It helps you know where they came from, what activities you did related to them (e.g. when you emailed / called them last and what your notes were), and CRMs have an to-do-like section where you get reminders to follow-up with certain potential clients on certain days.
For example, my CRM reminds me that today I need to follow up with John Smith. I last spoke with John Smith two days ago and I told him I would call him back in two days.
There are a lot of options when it comes to CRMs for lawyers.
Apps like Lexicata and Law Ruler are built specifically for law firms. They help you manage potential clients through every stage of the intake process. They also have some helpful lawyer-specific features like intake questionnaires you can use with clients and e-sign built-in (that one’s specifically for Lexicata).
There are other more general-purpose CRMs. The most well-known CRM is probably Salesforce. Salesforce is a beast, and is likely only useful to your firm if you have 25+ people on staff who would be using it. It is robust but requires a developer / someone who knows what they’re doing to customize it specifically for your practice. It’s not ready to go out of the box.
Other options include Pipedrive, which is pretty simple and easy-to-use, and Contactually, which is very relationship-based. It is great for using to manage not only your intakes, but helping you stay on top of your referrals as well.
There are also more big marketing automation platforms that have CRMs built-in like Infusionsoft or Hubspot, but unless you want to do some next-level marketing automation that you probably won’t need, and spend significantly more, I’d say stick with one of the other CRMs.
Aside from a CRM, you will need e-signature software.
Make it easy for clients to sign up with you.
If they have to print stuff out, sign, and scan and send or fax, it creates more hurdles than necessary.
Using an e-sign app helps get clients through the intake process more quickly and lets you get to working on their case sooner.
The e-sign apps all do the same thing, honestly. They’re all fine. The ones you should consider are:
- Adobe Sign
There are a million others, but these are the most popular ones.
The last tool you need is a way to accept online payments.
Sign up for a legal-complaint payment processor like LawPay or LexCharge to make sure you don’t mess things up with trust accounting. It’ll save you the anxiety.
Yes, they take a small percentage of your transaction, so you are ultimately earning less than you would if you got a check from your client. But, this makes their lives easier and it ensures you get paid. Those credit card fees are a cost of doing business. And without this, you might not get paid at all.
Test the Workflow
Now that you have all the pieces and you’ve built the workflow, it’s time to retest the workflow.
Have a friend or colleague pose as a potential client and run through your intake. This will give you the chance to test out your CRM and intake tools and processes, and tweak anything that might be amiss.
And that’s it.
In closing, take a moment to recognize and appreciate that being good at sales in your law firm is mostly about being responsive, about providing good customer service.
A good sales process is imperative because it keeps your law practice from facing potential grievances by setting a great tone from the beginning of the engagement.
And, a good sales process is vital to a successful practice. Without
You are already a master seller. By using those sales skills in an improved client intake, the world is yours for the taking!
Photo credit – Mike Whelan