By Wendy Porter Lynn
Alice is a married, lower-to-middle class woman whose husband, Rafe, is unable to work since experiencing pain and infection following hernia mesh surgery. The couple has seen ads on TV about people suing for something like this and they want to take action, but lawsuits and attorneys are far outside their experience. Alice picks up her phone and taps the number of a firm whose name she recognizes. She gets voicemail because the firm’s intake staff had forwarded the phones to voicemail during the lunch hour. Alice hangs up, feeling intimidated. She probably won’t try contacting that firm again. She has questions and will keep calling firms until she gets a person on the line who can help her.
Smart intake practices can make all the difference in your firm’s success. You may not realize it, but intake mistakes could be causing potential revenue to slip through your fingers.
Here are the top four most common intake mistakes costing firms money and how you can avoid them — and convert more leads into clients.
Intake Mistake No. 1: Being Unavailable When Potential Clients Call
Put yourself in their shoes and keep up the pace.
As an attorney, you do business every day by leaving voicemails or sending emails to other professionals and you think nothing of it. You’re so busy, you move on to the next task on your To Do list. Your potential clients are probably not in this position, however. Like Alice in the example above, they are impatient with the litigation process, in potentially debilitating pain, and angry with how they’ve been used by the defendant to make a buck.
You simply can’t hold them to traditional office hours and expect that to work for them. When potential leads call your office, they’re likely responding to your advertising, and if you aren’t there to answer the phone, you’ve just wasted your money. Your intake staff should be available to take calls and qualify cases 24/7. They need to be trained and capable of qualifying leads on the first call. And they must work with a sense of urgency, conveying to the potential client the importance of the firm beginning to investigate their claim immediately. Finally, your intake staff must be empowered with the decision-making authority to close the deal.
Intake Mistake No. 2: Hiring for the Wrong Qualities
Hire intake staff with the right soft skills.
Seeking candidates with customer service or telemarketing backgrounds makes good sense if you think about it. Key qualities to look for are empathy, confidence, persuasion, and strong listening skills. After all, your intake staff will be reassuring leads that your firm has the necessary experience and skill, conveying a sense of urgency in starting the investigation, and immediately obtaining a retainer agreement. Finally, conduct your initial interview over the phone because that is how intake specialists will be working.
Intake Mistake No. 3: Rejecting Potential Clients Thought to Be ‘Low Value’ at Intake
Screen high, but not too high.
If the qualification criteria you give your intake staff is too stringent, you might be losing potentially solid clients. You’re not looking for perfection at this stage — you may not know every single factor that would make a perfect client this early in the game — you’re looking for a high volume of promising leads that the reviewing attorney can then qualify. Loosen qualification criteria so your intake staff can sign clients on the first call. Have an attorney immediately review all newly signed cases to determine compensability. You also need to include language in the retainer to the effect that it gives you permission to begin investigating the case and that investigation could result in the firm ceasing representation.
Intake Mistake No. 4: Not Referring Cases
Keep what you need, refer the rest.
Make sure your intake staff knows the referral attorney criteria so they can flag it for a reviewing attorney in your firm to refer it. You’ll want to lock down your referral agreements in advance. Once you refer clients that do not meet your qualifications to firms that have different qualifications, it’s critical that you regularly communicate with referral attorneys about your expectations for immediacy in dealing with leads. Get a signed fee agreement with referral attorneys and track the status of referred cases.