Rachel Tombs, a legal marketing consultant and solicitor (non-practising), explains that the secret of winning more business is to not focus on external marketing efforts alone, but on establishing effective enquiry conversion procedures within your firm. (Updated 28 March 2023)
If your law firm isn't getting as many new clients as you hoped, there's pressure to invest more time – and effort – reaching out to find more leads. Meanwhile only a small percentage of those new leads become paying clients. There may be a better way.
By the time someone makes an enquiry, they are yours to lose. They've already had a recommendation, or looked at your website and decided they like what they see. If you can deal with the enquiry well, yours may be the only firm they contact, particularly for private clients looking for immediate advice.
The cost of improving your response to enquiries from poor to brilliant is typically negligible. The impact on new client wins can be remarkable.
"Since starting up, our website's average conversion rate – from filling in an enquiry form to making a payment to a barrister – is 65%. Making all the changes that nudge that figure upwards each month has been transformative financially."
Stephen Ward, managing director, Clerksroom Direct
The way your firm handles the initial contact is crucial. Enquirers may not remember exactly what your firm or another firm said, but they will 100% remember how you made them feel. In most cases, the buying decision will mainly be based on that feeling.
People buy from people, as the adage goes. This is your number one chance to differentiate your firm from all the other firms offering the same type of service at roughly the same price.
Ideally phone calls should be answered by dedicated reception staff – not lawyers who resent the interruption. Establish clear standards for handling incoming calls.
Train employees to answer calls in a way that demonstrates empathy and interest. From the first moment someone contacts you, you want to be building credibility and trust. Good receptionists often have naturally positive and sympathetic characters who "put a smile in their voice".
Have a contact checklist or template to make sure all the right questions are asked. And record all the answers on your contact management or CRM system, where details will be readily available in future without the need to repeat questions.
Equally, make sure receptionists have ready answers to common questions. For example, "What are your fees?", "Why should I choose your firm?", "What happens next?" and "How do I find your office?"
Perhaps the biggest common mistake is to fail to ask for the business. For matters such as conveyancing or divorce, the aim is usually to book a meeting with a lawyer. You may need a short list of screening questions to help spot any conflicts and identify the most appropriate lawyer – or indeed whether the enquiry is wrong for your firm. Have a system that allows the receptionist to check lawyers' calendars and book the appointment on the spot, without the need to call back.
Some enquiries may instead suit phone follow-up – for example, for a more detailed screening of a potential claim by a paralegal – or the caller may not be ready for a meeting. If so, there should be clear agreement on what will happen next or how you will stay in contact. Make sure you always follow through on what you say you will do.
"Simple basics can make a huge difference – like answering the phone within three rings and building rapport with the caller."
Bernadette Bennett, Legal commercial manager, Moneypenny
Messages and follow-up
Not every enquiry can be dealt with on the spot. People may contact you online, or leave an out-of-hours voicemail. Practices specialising in areas such as personal injury may aim to deal with clients without needing to meet at all.
- Make sure your website and voicemail message prompt people to leave their contact details so that you can follow up.
- Speed of response is crucial. For email enquiries, send a well-written, automated response immediately so they know you've got the message. Follow up by phone as soon as possible.
- Use trained employees to follow-up. Persistence and personality are vital; a background in telesales and customer service is ideal.
- Script a good message for employees to leave when calls go to voicemail – something that expresses empathy and interest.
- Establish clear guidance on when and how often to call back. It's not unusual to need to make several calls to get a result.
- Acknowledge and appreciate employees who work on follow-up calls – it's a hard job. Watch out for signs of burnout.
"Being the first to call back puts you at the front of the pack. Have a prompt call-back process that everyone sticks to."
Ben Trott, managing director, Marketing Lawyers
Some enquiries will come through directly to a lawyer. For example, a prospect might be given your direct line by an existing client, or you might meet someone at a networking event.
When you get a call, try to make sure you treat it in the way your trained employees would – even if it's interrupting your busy day. Your phone system should alert you to external calls, giving you the chance to adjust your attitude before you pick up.
Be empathetic and professional. Try to find out what they need – and whether you are the right person or should be passing them on to a colleague. Ideally you'll know how to work through the contact checklist and record details on the CRM system yourself.
Be patient listening to their concerns. You may have heard it all a hundred times, but it's important to them. Avoid the temptation to jump to a quick assessment. But, most importantly, do ask for the business at the appropriate point in the conversation.
"Even if it's clear someone isn't a potential client, be helpful. It's all part of building your firm's brand."
Bill Willcocks, managing partner, Barcan+Kirby
Put together a high quality package of brochures and other material to hand to visitors or send out with follow-up letters/emails.
- The collateral is an instant reminder of your firm – and your contact details.
- Strong design and copy reinforce your brand and your key marketing messages.
- You can provide more detailed information about the services you provide.
- If an enquirer is looking for immediate advice, consider including a retainer agreement or any other documentation you need completed.
- Include a business card to reassure enquirers that they have your personal attention.
- Think about ways to demonstrate tangible value. For example, including a guidance sheet on ‘Top tips for a painless house purchase' or a case study of a successful merger transaction.
Prepare in advance by checking through any information you already have on your CRM system. As well as finding out who they are and why they are visiting, you'll be able to show that you are taking an interest.
In some cases it may be appropriate to send out a questionnaire to the client/prospect in advance, to gather the key information that you need.
An initial meeting can be held remotely by video if more convenient, a medium virtually every client will be familiar with.
Put visitors at ease. Smile – ruefully if appropriate. Lawyers often have a reputation for being cold or aloof - you need to be likeable and approachable.
There's a natural urge to focus on telling visitors about the services you offer and how expert you are. Don't. As far as possible, ask questions that explore the situation. Try not to assume that you know everything about what they need, what their particular concerns are and what they are trying to achieve.
Offer your suggested solution, and identify and remove any barriers to going ahead, at the end. Add value by providing any suitable guides (eg the probate process, or the no-fault divorce process).
Follow up the meeting with a thank you letter or email. Use your judgement as to whether you should be asking for instructions or are still at an early stage of building the relationship (eg with a prospective business client). Make it clear that you are happy to speak if they have any questions or want to discuss things further.
Prospects with immediate needs should be actively followed up, either by yourself or your follow-up team. Longer-term prospects should be added to your system for staying in contact with referrers, contacts and prospects.
"Clients don't care about the law, they care about how the law impacts them. So you can't provide the best advice if you don't understand their circumstances. Asking questions to tease out that information is all-important."
Scott Simmons, BD coach and trainer, Legal Balance
Your client intake process will, of course, need to include requirements such as checking potential conflicts and complying with money-laundering regulations. But at the same time, it should be part of your whole approach to client service.
- Editable templates and well-designed systems save everyone time and make it as easy as possible for the client. Online tools (eg ID checker, money laundering) keep improving.
- Let the client know who at your firm will do what, by when, at what cost, in writing. Deal with the compliance issues at the end.
- Forms should be in approachable English, not legal jargon. If you feel you must use technical terms, include an explanation – or be prepared to talk the client through it.
- Make sure clients know what they need to do next. For example, let them know about any documentation they need to provide.
Tracking enquiries through every stage of the lead conversion process is vital. It helps you understand what's working – and more importantly, what isn't.
Your contact management system should record how many enquiries come in for each practice area. Details should include the type of enquiry (for example, by phone or online) and their source (who referred the enquirer or how they heard of you).
Then track how many enquiries turn into appointments, how many appointments actually show up, and how many of those meetings turn into clients – either immediately or at a later stage. Ideally you should be able to link all the way through from initial enquiries to the fees they result in.
Monitoring conversion percentages at each step tells you where most enquiries are dropping out, and whether there are any trends you need to worry about. You can then look more closely at how you handle enquiries and what you can do to improve.
"Look at practice areas with low conversion rates. Is that what you would expect, or are they doing something wrong?"
Andy Poole, partner, accountants Armstrong Watson
Responding to enquiries top ten
- Train dedicated reception staff.
- Be positive, patient and empathetic.
- Be ready to deal with common questions.
- Listen, don't talk.
- Provide 'added value'.
- Then ask for the business.
- Record everything in a CRM system.
- Follow up any messages quickly and persistently.
- Live up to your promises.
- Track conversion performance and continuously improve.