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Fix Your Law Firm Intake and Maximize Your Income

By Sasha Berson

If you want to improve your law firm intake and sales process (and maybe generate millions more over the course of your business), track these key success factors and fix what’s broken.

law firm intake

A good intake process generates more revenue and lowers your client acquisition costs — even if you only live off referrals. Yet so many firms get it wrong and miss out on potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

Law Firm Intake: What’s in a Name?

The word “intake” has an unpleasant connotation for me. I picture an emergency room setting where staff take in patients in pain. The smell, the coldness of the room. Patients go there because they have no choice.

Some years ago, lawyers who must have hated the word “sales” decided to use “intake” to replace it. In doing so, they’ve made a lot of law firm owners financially worse off. 

Call things what they are and you’ll know what to improve to get a better outcome.  

  • Why do you need to improve the “intake” process? To make it better and more efficient. 
  • Why do you need to improve your “sales” process? To make more money for your law firm. 

Which outcome would you rather have?

Words matter. So, let’s call the intake process what it is — a sales process for law firms. 

If it’s a good process, it delivers the desired result — more revenue and lower cost of client acquisition (fewer calls result in more clients signed), lower marketing and advertising spend to get each client. 

If it’s a bad or mediocre process, it buys your competitors a sports car, vacation home or better retirement. 

Choose wisely. Most lawyers don’t. To illustrate the point, here’s a story about what happened to me when I needed to hire a lawyer.

My Recent Intake Experience With Five Law Firms

Recently, I contacted five Chicago-based law firms to handle a matter. Three responded and two didn’t bother. 

Either the owners of those two firms don’t know about how badly their staff handles inquiries or they don’t want money, which I doubt, as that is the main reason to operate a business. 

The first lawyer to reply sent me an email demanding that I call the office again to schedule a meeting. I was ready and willing to spend money, but should I have to chase a provider to spend it? No. Opportunity and dollars lost. 

Lesson: The more friction you create for prospects, the less likely they’ll become clients.

The two lawyers I did connect with both responded to my inquiry within 12 business hours and were equally knowledgeable, professional and pleasant. 

The first one asked for a retainer that was 50% higher than the retainer requested by the second lawyer. She couldn’t explain why her retainer was so much higher so she didn’t get my business. (“This is my standard retainer.”)

In either case, the retainer was a significant sum and, in either case, if the total fees went above the retainer, I would have paid it. 

When I asked the lawyer I hired how he decided on the retainer amount, he told me he knew how much work would be required, and (this is crucial) he knew how much his competitors charged. He intentionally set his retainer at the middle of the market, maximizing the probability of getting the business. Smart. 

Lesson: Know what it costs to deliver a service and how much your competitors charge. Set your retainer at mid-market unless you believe that your services are valued at a premium. If that’s the case, you better be able to properly convey to prospects what more they get by hiring you and paying more. 

Which of the five firms’ sales processes does yours resemble most?

Fundamentals of Law Firm Intake

Before we dive into how to improve your intake and sales, let’s cover some must-know fundamentals.

Intake/sales is a business process.

It must be consistent, simple and teachable. No matter who does it, everyone knows how to do it and the standards (for example, every prospect inquiry must be responded to within one to four business hours) so that it is done consistently.

Sales are easy.

Think of selling as helping your firm decide whether a prospect is a good fit for you and whether your firm is a good fit for the prospect. It comes down to asking the right questions, answering the prospect’s questions, and sharing the right stories to illustrate your points and get them to see if you are a good fit. 

Simple. Still hate the word “sales”?

Lawyers should not be doing intake. (What!?)

Do you agree that most intelligent people can ask the right questions, answer questions and share stories with prospects to illustrate points? Yes.

Do they need to pass the bar to perform these tasks? Of course not.

Can you hire intelligent people who are not attorneys to handle intake for a fraction of what your time is worth? Yes, you can. There are plenty of smart, pleasant people who will do this for less than $50 per hour and for the prestige of working for a law firm. 

Your time is probably worth $300 per hour or more. So, stop doing work that is worth six times less.  

Your intake specialist should only set you up for consults with pre-qualified prospects who are ready to choose you and your firm.

If you’re thinking, “But I have the time and actually love doing intakes,” stop it. Get a better marketing team to attract more clients to your firm and get busy serving clients (not prospects) and making money.  

The Key Success Factors That Will Help Maximize Your Firm’s Revenue 

When you improve any or all of these key success factors (KSF) in your law firm intake process, you’ll generate more revenue with fewer headaches.

Response Rate

How quickly, on average, your firm responds to inquiries.

The faster the response rate, the higher the probability that you’ll get the business. Ideally, all calls get answered instantly and all online inquiries are answered within one business hour.

How to improve: Measure the average response rate on all calls and online inquiries over 30 days. Look for simple ideas to speed it up. Delegate!

Qualify vs. Disqualify Rate

How many incoming inquiries are qualified vs. disqualified by your intake specialists.

How to improve: Measure qualified vs. disqualified for 30 days. Take 20 disqualified cases and dig in to understand why they were disqualified. You’ll find numerous instances where prospects were a good fit but were either incorrectly disqualified or went with another firm. Then investigate each one of those cases and figure out how to eliminate the root causes of these losses. These types of errors cost lawyers millions of dollars in lost revenue over the years. It’s worth 20 to 30 hours of your time to solve this. 

Show-up Rate and Re-engagement Rate

How many prospects attend their first consult vs. how many miss the meeting with your lawyers, and how many of the no-shows respond to follow-up efforts.

There are two primary reasons why prospects do not show up. One, they did not connect very well with your intake specialist and although they set an appointment, they were leaning toward a competitor. Two, something else came up.

How to improve: First, review the initial intake conversation to find issues that may cause problems and eliminate them. Second, work with your team to develop a multistep follow-up process that reconnects with prospects via email, text and calls. Most of these steps can be automated through your CRM or practice management software. This is your re-engagement rate, which should be closely monitored and improved on. 

Intake Improvement Action Plan

So, where do you begin? Here are some simple steps for improving your law firm intake process:

  1. Measure each KSF — these will become your baseline to improve on. 
  2. Select two or three people at the firm to be your intake specialists. Ideally, they should already be familiar with your sales (intake) process.
  3. Ask them to map out how the process works and do so on paper.
  4. Teach them about the KSFs and decide how they will improve on each factor. 
  5. Have them set up a system for tracking each KSF.
  6. Set targets for each KSF and offer bonuses to those who achieve them. 
  7. Launch improved processes. Measure KSFs weekly and continue to incentivize your team to improve.

As you evaluate and improve your intake, consider where you can use technology to automate certain tasks within the process. For example, you might bring in a consultant to set up a follow-up sequence in your CRM or practice management software. This could dramatically reduce time spent on these tasks and ensure that your people do not forget to perform their tasks as scheduled. There are many other uses of technology in the intake and sales process — I’ll write up an article on the topic and link it here at a later date.  

Image © iStockPhoto.com

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Sasha Berson

Sasha Berson is a Managing Partner at Grow Law Firm, a leading digital marketing agency focused solely on helping more than 2,000 law firms double their revenue in three years or less. Sasha is the co-author, with Steve Forbes, of the bestselling book “Successonomics” and a regular contributor to Forbes.com. Connect with Sasha on LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, or email him directly at sasha@growlawfirm.com.

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