Caller to Client Lead Conversion
I sometimes hear attorneys crying the blues because they are devoting lots of time and resources to marketing, but they just can’t get their firm to where they want it to be. If you find yourself singing that tune, it may be time to take a hard look at your conversion rate from caller to client. All your law firm marketing will be for naught if you can’t seal the deal when a client calls.
We enjoy a near 100% conversion rate from caller to client. That is not to say that we take every client who calls; rather, we almost always get the cases we want. And while I’d like to think it is because we bowl the clients over with our intelligence and wit, the reality is that most other attorneys set the bar so low in the manner that they handle potential clients, that it is easy to distinguish ourselves.
At the outset, let me say that the validity of the following tips will depend in some measure on the specialty of your practice area. For example, if you are a bankruptcy attorney, and you don’t immediately respond to a potential client, you can be sure that they will move onto calling other bankruptcy attorneys. However, if you are a maritime attorney who specializes in pool accidents aboard cruise ships, then a potential client may be willing to wait a little longer for your return call since they may be having difficulty finding an attorney with that narrow practice area. So, with that disclaimer in place, here are six simple rules that will maximize your caller to client conversion rate.
1. Take the call!
If you don’t immediately take the call or respond to the email, that potential client is going to move on. Even if you are the recognized expert in your area and came highly recommended, and the client is already predisposed to hire you, while they are waiting for you to get back to them, they will take that time to talk to other attorneys and you could lose the business.
I’ve told the story here before of the woman who called, talked to me at length, and scheduled an appointment to come to my office an hour and a half later to sign the fee agreement and pay the deposit. She then immediately called again, thinking she was talking to a different firm, and began providing the facts again. When I explained that we had just discussed the matter and asked why she was still calling around, she said she was hoping to find someone who could fit her in sooner.
The moment someone in the process takes a name and number and promises a call back, the odds of getting that case drop precipitously. It’s okay to have someone in the process to screen calls, so long as the calls that pass that screening process end up talking to you during the same call.
Also, don’t assume the client doesn’t want to hold. If your procedure is that upon seeing you are on the phone, your legal assistant gets the caller’s name and number and ends the call, change that procedure immediately. When a call comes in and I’m on the line, my legal assistant sends an instant message to my computer, saying, “breach of contract call holding”. I write back with my best estimate of how long it will take to complete the call, such as, “3 minutes” . She then says to the caller, “He’s finishing up a call, but he really wants to talk to you. Can you hold three minutes?” In almost all instances, they will agree to hold.
You may be thinking to yourself, “Wow, Morris, you must view yourself as completely fungible. Clients call ME because they want to hire ME.” In answer to that barb, let’s look at the way cases come to you via the Internet.
If a client finds me through my content marketing efforts that position me as an expert, then yes they will be willing to wait to hear back from me before hiring an attorney, even if they talk to other attorneys. But a large percentage of my calls come from people who searched for, say, a breach of contract attorney, and when I came up in the first position of the Google search, they dialed the number. That is the full extent of their investment in me, and if they don’t get to talk to an attorney, they move onto the next attorney in the search results.
And there is one more sad reality that you need to factor in. Many attorneys lie. They lie about the costs, and they lie about what they can achieve. If the client gets to an attorney who is prepared to lie to get the case, you will have a hard time competing with those false promises even if you do later talk to the client.
I once had a client call me hopping mad, saying I had withheld information. It was a breach of contract case, and the client had come in on a Friday and needed an emergency attachment order for the following Tuesday. I told him all the work that would be involved in such a process, and agreed to work through the weekend to get it done. He paid a significant deposit to cover all that time. After hiring me, the client got a call-back from another attorney on Monday, who informed him that everything I had told him was crazy, and that if he hired that attorney, he would simply call the judge and have the defendant put in jail until he agreed to pay the money that was owed. The client was very upset that I had not informed him of that “option”.
Those are the sort of whoppers that unscrupulous attorneys are willing to tell clients to get a case. You don’t want to compete with these fantasy tales if it can be avoided.
2. Let the client talk.
View your role during the first call with a prospective client as 75% attorney and 25% therapist. There are occasions when I completely solve a client’s problem during the first five minutes of the conversation, and yet they still continue to tell me about the facts of the case. The client needs to vent, whether it be about the ridiculousness of our legal system or how their ex is the anti-Christ.
To the client, every conceivable fact is going to be crucial to your analysis, and if you cut them off or force them to summarize, they are going to be left feeling that you do not know the facts sufficiently to properly analyze the case, and are too busy to hear them out. You need to figure out as efficiently as possible if the case is one you want to take. If so, then you can be more generous with your time. If not, then you need to end the call quickly so you are available for the next one.
The trick is to immediately take hold of the conversation in a way that does not feel like you are rushing the caller. I’ll use one of my typical defamation calls as an example. Most of the time the caller thinks they have been defamed, but in truth the statement in question was subject to a privilege, and therefore by definition is not defamatory. Trying to explain the concept of privileged speech is too time-consuming, so the best approach is to find out what was said and in what context so I can make the determination. So here is how I get it done in just a few minutes.
“Thank you for calling Morris and Stone. This is Aaron Morris. How can I help you today?”
“My name is Dave Smith, and I’d like to talk to an attorney about a possible slander case.”
“You’re talking to one, and I can help you with that. It is best to start at the end and work backwards so I don’t waste your time with a lot of unnecessary questions. A defamation case will always come down to what was said. So begin by telling me this; what was said or written about you, and who said it?”
“Oh my God. I can’t believe I actually got through to an attorney. I’ve left five messages with other firms and no one has gotten back to me. Okay, well, let me start by saying that I was born on a cold and windy night on the south side of Bangor Maine, to a single mom who lived in a walk-up apartment, who worked three jobs to make sure my two sisters and I . . .”
“Let me jump in. First, God bless your mom, and the circumstances of your birth and living conditions may or may not be relevant to the case, but regardless of those facts, the case will come down to what was said, and who said it. Answer those questions first, and then we’ll move backwards to get the facts that led up to that.” So, what was said, and who said it?”
“Well, it was my ex-wife. We’re fighting over custody of the children, and she filed a declaration with the court saying I abused the children. That is a total lie. I never abused the children.”
“Thank you so much for jumping to the end like I asked, and this is a perfect example of why I need that information from you first. Now, of course, nothing I say to you can be taken as legal advice since you haven’t hired me, but there is a rule that anything written in a court document or said in court cannot be the basis for a defamation action. It’s called the litigation privilege. So you can’t sue your ex-wife for what she said to the court. Do you know if she said it to anyone else?”
“Not that I know of.”
“OK, here’s what I want to do to make sure we didn’t miss anything. I’d like to send you a couple of articles that explain defamation and the litigation privilege. If after you read those articles, you still have any questions, I’ll be happy to talk to you again.”
That entire conversation took less than four minutes, and although I rejected the case, I did not really reject the client, as you’ll see in a minute.
I have pre-written emails that address the various legal theories with the article links already included. As the caller tells me their address, I type it into an outgoing email, and off it goes. Each time I find myself explaining the same legal principles to clients, I create an article explaining those issues in detail. I keep a list of the links to those articles, and I can customize email responses by simply cutting and pasting the links into the email.
There are two schools of thought on sending emails to rejected clients. Some think it is better to have no communication, because when they later want to claim that some attorney gave them bum advice, yours will be the name they have in front of them. On the other hand, I would rather have a paper trail of an email again stating that I do not represent them, and that nothing I said can be taken as legal advice, which is then repeated a third time in the articles I provide.
Additionally, many cases that I reject morph into viable cases as the circumstances change. That now very educated potential client knows what to look for, and when it occurs, finds my email and gives me a call.
3. Get the client invested in hiring you.
Going back to the above call, had the caller instead given me a fact pattern that signaled a valid case that I was interested in handling, I would have then gathered the information necessary to complete the case analysis, allowing him to vent while at the same time guiding him gently back onto topic when he strayed too far afield. This serves two purposes. First, facts may be revealed that kill the case (it may turn out that the great case is barred by the statute of limitations), and the more time I spend with the potential client the more he gets tied to me. He’s found an attorney willing to listen, we’ve gone over the facts of the case in detail and started to strategize on how best to proceed. The client is not going to want to go through that again with another attorney.
4. If you can’t take the call, show your interest.
But what if you are at court and can’t take the call? Getting the client invested in the process can save a case if you are not immediately available. The person who takes the call must convey to the caller that even though the attorney is not immediately available, the office is nonetheless “on the job” of analyzing the case.
I have set screening dialogs prepared for our legal assistants, which lead to various ways to handle the caller. If the case does not appear to have merit, the caller is directed to one of our websites so they can learn a little bit about the law, and perhaps not spend unnecessary time trying to pursue the action. If the case appears to have merit, but still does not pass our intake criteria, we refer the caller to another attorney. And finally, if the case meets my screening criteria, then my legal assistant asks the client to forward any key documents and perhaps prepare a summary, depending on the type of case. The client then knows that the steps necessary for an analysis are already moving forward, even though he has not yet spoken to an attorney.
5. Show some energy and drive.
When you are talking to a potential client, the evaluation is going two ways. You are deciding if this is a client you want to represent, and they of course are determining if you are the attorney for the job. Especially in the case of a litigation matter, the client wants to hear that the person on the phone will be a dynamic presence in the courtroom.
As a service to my existing clients, I will sometimes vet attorneys to handle matters for them outside my practice areas. So, while I have never had to personally hire an attorney (knock on wood), I do have experience interviewing them for possible work.
I am often flabbergasted by what I hear. I sometimes want to kill myself by the end of the call because the lack of energy from the attorney has been so life-sucking.
Changing your persona is really as simple as deciding to do so, just as an actor does when they assume a role. If you are on the low energy end of the scale, then picture yourself as a coach or motivational speaker, and channel that personality. Getting back to a client immediately keeps them from slipping away, but that won’t accomplish anything if you don’t impress them during the call.
6. View every rejected case as a potential client for the future.
There is a basic psychological principle called the Rule of Reciprocity. We tend to feel obligated to return a favor after someone has done a favor for us.
My office gets a lot of business from callers whose cases we have rejected. We are so nice and helpful during the process, that they want to return the favor in some way. We routinely get calls that begin with, “I was referred to you by Joe Davis. He called you last year about a case. You didn’t take his case, but he told me you really know your stuff about defamation.”
Just this past week, I received a call from someone in San Francisco, wanting me to handle a real estate dispute. I responded with, “Let me tell you in advance that it is unlikely to make economic sense to hire me to handle a case in San Francisco, given the travel time, but I’m happy to take a few minutes to listen to what is going on and give you my thoughts, so long as you promise not to take them as legal advice.”
I spent about ten minutes on phone with him, and provided a solution that will probably prevent the matter from having to be litigated.
He was effusive with his praise, amazed that I would take the time to talk to him knowing that I would not be handling the case, and offered to pay me for my time. I turned down the payment because I offer free telephone consultations (although I do sometimes ask for fruit baskets), but the point is that I now have a real fan in Northern California who, under the Rule of Reciprocity, owes me one. There’s no way to know if that particular caller will ever refer me work but, as history has demonstrated in my practice, if you create enough good will, it will bear fruit.
If you’re proceeding through my Starting Your Own Law Firm series, click on the big blue NEXT button to proceed to the next article. I’ll show you how rid yourself of many of the inherent money concerns with a new practice, by utilizing flat fees. Flat fees not only relieve you of collection problems since you get the money up front, but they free you to do what needs to be done on the case, without worrying whether the client thinks you are just running up the bill.
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