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By Kevin Dillon , Updated February 17th, 2023 In

Indulge me in a football analogy if you will: The remaining seconds are ticking off the scoreboard. Your team is down by 5. Through sheer determination and creative game-planning, your offense is executing the two-minute drill like men possessed. For 80 yards and 110 seconds they have become the players they’ve always dreamed they were. Now on the precipice of victory, there is only one final yard between your guys and glory. The hometown crowd hushes. The quarterback barks an audible and sets in for the snap. “Hut!” The ball is in play. The linemen engage with a crash of pads and grunts. The quarterback turns and hands off to his star running back. An opening emerges at the line of scrimmage. The end zone is right there! Years of hard work and preparation come down to a single moment. Then something weird happens. The running back turns into the empty backfield, places the football on the 10-yard line, shrugs to the crowd and then jogs off the field. Game over.

Absurd as it seems, this scenario plays out in real life all too often. Lawyers pay top dollar for an amazing website that is both beautiful and functional. Additionally, they put their resources to work marketing their services in this competitive industry with creativity and cutting edge technique. Time and energy are spent crafting a message, building a brand, and getting the word out.

Through the dual miracles of the internet and the marketplace, a potential client discovers the perfect law firm. Your firm.

After searching and researching and searching again, this potential client decides to call the phone number your savvy marketing team has put in front of them. The end zone is right there! But sadly, the call goes to an unhelpful phone tree or an unfriendly voice mail and the call is over before it begins. Frustration. Impatience. Click. Good-bye forever. Next lawyer.

Let’s look at this from a client’s perspective to flesh out how things can go wrong:

  • “Still reeling from a nasty car accident, I’ve decided to reach out for legal help. After gathering a short but promising list of personal injury attorneys from online research, I’m now calling your firm. It’s been a few rings. Why hasn’t anyone answered? It’s been a few more rings. Does anyone even work there?” Click.
  • “I’ve been arrested for DUI and just clicked your firm’s click-to-call ad on Google. I don’t know much about your business, but I’m scared and ready to talk with a defense lawyer to see what I can expect. This person who just answered my call sounds put-upon and rude, like he does not need or even want my business. No way am I trusting my case to these guys.” Dial tone.
  • “It’s time to make plans for our estate. I’m a little older, so I’m going to telephone a local attorney whose web page seems trustworthy. Hmmm. A scratchy recording with a list of options that doesn’t make a ton of sense. I’ll call someone else who can help me.” Hangs up.

Ending things before they get started is a real problem in this business. And the first step in solving it is identifying the culprits. For starters, and having grown up around my father’s law office, I can tell you for fact; good lawyers, even good lawyers with charm and people skills are not always naturals when it comes to customer service.

Client acquisition, especially at the stage we’re talking about is some of the most delicate customer service you’ll ever encounter. It’s a bit of a balancing act: You want to convey seriousness and friendliness. You want to show compassion, but still need to ascertain if the client is a good fit. But to start, and to avoid dropping the ball before you even get started, you need to simply establish the connection.

While it’s hopeful that the potential client has perused the site, or read something online like a review or even your paid search ad, and has both some pertinent info and the general feel for your practice, the first phone call is “make or break” time for a great many clients. Sloppy phone habits, confusing digital phone trees, and rude answering services are classic ways to fumble the ball right on the goal line.

So what are some solutions? Here are few strategies we consider best practices.

Avoid delay of game penalties

Answer calls promptly and politely. Most experts recommend answering by the 4th ring at the very latest. Ideally, you (or your staff) want to pick up right as the second ring occurs. It should also go without saying that conveying a professional tone on calls is vital, but I’ll say it anyway. Nobody will hire you if they feel abused or neglected on the first call.

Play man to man (or woman to woman)

Have a real, living person, answering the phone if you can. Real people can answer basic questions. They can weed out obvious non-client material for you. They can show compassion. And, they can confirm to potential clients that the solution to their legal troubles is one free consultation away. People generally dislike navigating a phone tree to get through to a real person.

Sub in only quality back-ups

Since live interaction isn’t always possible, know your answering service. If you do hire an outside answering service, make sure to give them a couple of undercover test calls. Verify for yourself that they convey your firm’s brand, are courteous, and answer calls in a timely fashion. Additionally, if your after-hour calls and busy calls go to voice mail, make sure your outgoing message is friendly and clear and concisely asks for info you need to return the call.

Have a speedy return team

Promptly return calls: This one seems obvious, but every minute you wait to return a call of a potential client is a minute for him or her to think about contacting a more-available attorney. Especially for clients who may be facing serious legal troubles and the life crises they accompany, the need to start the process of obtaining your services can feel quite urgent.

In closing, you’re not going to turn every phone call into that Hail Mary million-dollar client. But your law practice, just like football, is a game of inches. Tightening up your execution and following a smart game plan can limit the number of clients you “turn over” to your competition.

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