Improve this and your office will grow

I always ut how to improve your practice.  I am constantly refining my office manual and streamlining procedures.  But the biggest bang for your buck is improving your intake procedure.  I am going to address three separate scenarios.  First, you answer your own phones and do your own intakes.   Second, you have a receptionist who answers the phones and you do the intakes.  Third, you have a dedicated individual who screens calls and does intakes.   Improve on this and your office will grow.

If all new calls come directly to you, there are still things you should be doing to improve your retention rate.  If you are not converting over 90% of your potential cases (unless they can’t pay), you have room for improvement.  You must treat every new potential caller as if it was the most important case you have ever taken.  We all get our routine, bread and butter new case calls.  It is easy to become complacent and look at it as just another case.  But, put yourself in the shoes of the client.  This is not a routine matter for them.  Whether they are in a car accident, getting a divorce, buying a house or gotten DUI, people call because some major event is taking place in their life.  They have never been through this before and to them, it is very important.  You have handled hundreds of cases just like theirs, it is routine, but don’t let your tone of voice convey that to the potential client.  We’re all busy, but you must not convey that to a potential new caller.  It is very easy for a client to get the misconception that you don’t care about their case. 

If you have a receptionist answer your phone, it is essential that you train this person on how to handle new potential cases.  The receptionist is the first impression of your office.  Have you ever called your office and heard how the phones are being answered?  Better yet, have you ever recorded phone calls so you can hear how clients and others are being addressed?  You may be shocked when you hear.  Think about times you have called other businesses and noticed poor customer service, or less likely, good customer service.  Your receptionist must be presenting the best face for your practice. 

When your receptionist receives a new case call, the same rules as above apply:  the caller must be treated like it is the most important case you or your firm has ever gotten.  No matter how busy the receptionist is, she must make the caller feel welcome and reassured that they have called the right place.  Next, the receptionist should do a little preliminary screening as to the matter the person is calling about.  I recommend all potential clients speak with the attorney, even if they are calling about a matter you don’t handle.  You can take the opportunity to thank the client for calling, get their contact information and ask how they were referred to your office.  You will want to thank the person who referred them.  You will also want to stress the kinds of cases you do handle to this potential caller who you decline.  We add all clients we decline to our mailing list and we send a letter stating we declined the case and stress to contact us in the future. 

Here’s the most important part of new case calls:  never take a message.  Always speak to the person when they contact you.  No matter how busy you are, no matter how trivial the matter, always take the time to speak to a potential new case.  In today’s society, people will move onto the next search result on google and call someone else.  I know an attorney who took a message and lost a million dollar case.  When he called, back, they had hired another lawyer and the case settled for seven figures.  Remember every person who contacts your office may be the case you’ve been waiting for.  You will not know if you take a message.  Clients expect instant answers, and when they are calling about a new case, you must oblige. 

If you are so busy, or receive so many potential new cases for you to handle yourself, congratulations!  You should consider training a staff member to do the new case screenings.  Notice I said, “training.”  You cannot throw someone into this role without them knowing what kind of cases you handle, who you refer different matters to, what facts constitute a great case, etc..  Same rules as above apply when training a staff member for intakes:  each caller is important, no messages for later call back.  Do not let this person lose business for you.  In fact, this person may do a better job than you.  Yes, believe it or not, lawyers are not the best people to handle new case calls.  A staff member is much better equipped to discuss details with the client and set up appointments.  This way, you can concentrate on doing the legal work only you can perform.   

Here’s a major point when using a staff member to screen new case inquiries.  They must be able to identify and pass along to you very good cases.  If it’s a good case, you want to be the one talking with the potential client.  If your staff member “loses” a potentially big case, you will blame them.  In fact, if they lost it, you probably would have as well, but that is beside the point.  However you categorize “good” cases, there must be a procedure for the staff member to direct these callers to you. 

My office has had a dedicated intake coordinator for several years.  Many of you probably know her, since she also coordinates new cases from referring attorneys.  The reason my office follows up with your referrals and that I have a dedicated staff member whose job it is to make sure we speak with the client, sign them up if it is a case, properly decline if applicable and notify the referring attorney.  I think back to the days when new case calls went to me.  If I was out of the office, they would take a message.  If a client did not show for an appointment, there was no follow up.  Tracking where cases were coming from was non-existent.  All of these problems were solved with a properly trained intake coordinator. 

Tightening up your intake process can pay huge dividends.  There is no easier thing to do which will contribute so much to your bottom line.  Think about the advice above and go fix it!