There is no shortage of posts and articles about business development for lawyers. However, what is not frequently discussed is what happens after a marketing initiative becomes successful. Potential clients start to call and email looking for representation. At this point, the lawyer cannot simply sit back and assume these new leads will magically result in new matters, but this is exactly what many lawyers do. They then wonder why their business is not actually growing. In fact, the lawyer must be as proactive in securing the new business as he or she was in searching for it. Otherwise, the prospective client will be lost and all the time and effort spent marketing will be for naught. As such, following a plan of action is critical. The five tips below provide a roadmap for initiating a new lawyer/client relationship:
- Answer the Phone When It Rings (Or Call Back Immediately) – It sounds simplistic, but to secure a new client, the lawyer needs to be available. Regardless of a lawyer’s impressive credentials or stellar recommendations, the prospective client’s primary concern is to have their matter addressed quickly. If the lawyer does not return the client’s call, email or other contact immediately, the client will simply move on. For many lawyers, it is difficult to recognize that if they are not ready, willing and able to take a matter, their competitor is waiting to do so. In fact, some lawyers think they are so desirable that a client will simply wait for them. What they fail to realize is that every client needs to be valued, and if it is not important enough for a lawyer to respond to a prospect at the outset, even before representation is secured, the client will believe that the lawyer is simply too busy or not interested in taking on the new matter.
- Put A System In Place – When the lawyer makes the initial contact with the potential client, there should be a system in place for determining whether the matter is even viable and whether it is one that the lawyer can take. First, the lawyer should get the names of all the involved parties in the potential matter so any conflicts can be determined and perhaps resolved. It is important to do this before the lawyer gets any substantive information about the case. Next, the lawyer needs to determine the status of the matter and his/her availability to take the matter. For example, if there is a trial scheduled in a week, and the lawyer not available, then there is the possibility that the representation should be denied immediately, so the client has the opportunity to secure a lawyer who is available to take the case. This frequently will also give the lawyer the opportunity to make a referral to a trusted colleague with the possibility of the favor being returned sometime in the future. If the lawyer is free to take the matter and there is no conflict, an appointment should be promptly scheduled (see below).
- Make Sure That the Staff Knows the Protocol for New Clients – Since most attorneys are not sitting by the phone waiting for a new client call to come in, it is important that when they are out of the office or otherwise unavailable, the office staff knows how to handle a potential client. Whoever answers the phone or responds to inquiries should be able to take the relevant information, and perhaps even schedule the initial appointment. At a minimum, the office staff should alert the lawyer to the inquiry from the potential client, so the lawyer can respond immediately.
- Determine the Referral Source – One critical question to ask a prospective client is how he/she was referred. Having this information can provide the lawyer with additional insight on how to handle the inquiry. If the client was referred from a former client or another regular referral source, they may already know about the lawyer’s practice, and there is a common connection upon which to build. On the other hand, if the client contacted the lawyer randomly, the lawyer may have to explain a bit more about their practice and perhaps why the practice may be different than some of the others about which the client may be inquiring. Most importantly, knowing the referral source will give the lawyer insight as to what marketing techniques are working.
- Promptly Schedule a Meeting – Clients are the lifeblood of the lawyer’s practice and should be treated as such. Despite how busy a lawyer may be, it is always crucial to keep in mind that new clients are always needed and should be welcomed. It usually takes a tremendous amount of courage for a prospective client to take the first step to call. After that, it is up to the lawyer to put them at ease and demonstrate how the lawyer will take charge of the matter. To do this, the lawyer needs to show the client that they will be made a priority. Scheduling an initial meeting with the client as soon as reasonably possible will put the client’s mind at ease because they know they are on track to having their problem addressed. This is also the time to disclose to the potential client any fees that will be incurred at the initial meeting and what type of payment that the lawyer accepts for same, i.e. cash, check, credit card, etc. The client will appreciate knowing what to expect at the initial meeting. Confirming the date, time and location of the meeting prior to the scheduled date is also greatly appreciated.
Developing new business can be very challenging for many lawyers. Once that hurdle is passed, however, and new clients start calling, cultivating this business should not be so daunting. All that is needed a dose of common sense and courtesy to keep the calls coming.