This is a guest post. Nothing in this post is intended to be construed as legal advice and should not be relied on as such. The views and practices expressed in the post are the author’s, and may not reflect the official stance of LawLytics.

In this guest blog, Law Firm Conversions™ founder Chris Mullins explains how attorneys can change their mindset about intake at their law firm, and the benefits of doing so.

Here’s a nuts-and-bolts approach with steps you can follow to improve the likelihood of every phone call converting to a client and case that suits your firm and ultimately creates billable hours and a better bottom line.

Imagine a scenario in which every single ringing phone is a potential good client, capable of becoming the next huge revenue boost… but the calls are never answered! The phone rings until the caller gives up and hangs up. You’ll certainly agree that any business – no matter what product or service they provide – that tries to operate without answering the phone or greeting clients walking through the door is doomed for failure. They are. However, this scenario plays out every day in countless law firms worldwide.

Okay, I exaggerated when I suggested that calls are never answered in my example scenario and the caller gives up. Or did I? I will always contend that a poorly answered phone is the equivalent of one that is allowed to ring off the hook without ever being answered. Additionally, this scenario isn’t at all hard to imagine because every single ringing phone does impact revenue! The most unfortunate part is that this happens all the time, and it is a complete waste of precious marketing dollars. Remember: The point of marketing is to get the phone to ring. That’s all. Marketing cannot impact what happens after that phone is picked up. The fortunate part is that it doesn’t have to be this way. The best part is that I can help you correct the problem.

As an attorney or managing partner, the reality is that you can’t do it all! And that’s not your fault, so you shouldn’t even try. Your core competency is interpreting the law. Your education and knowledge about the law is how you generate revenue. Clients look to you to handle their cases efficiently and effectively with the best possible outcome for them. That’s what you do; that’s what you do well; and that should be your focus.

Perhaps you’re an excellent negotiator and have settled countless cases in favor of your clients. Great. That still doesn’t mean that you’re the best negotiator when answering the phone… or when training and coaching others how to do it and do it correctly! So, step one: Change your mindset if you think you’re the best person to answer the phone or any team members that aren’t properly trained (you’re not) or the best person to suggest how it should be done (you’re not).

The person who should be answering the phone is a person who focuses on people the same way you focus on the law. That person may go by the title of intake specialist, receptionist, the front desk, first impressions director, customer service, client care, or the call center. Regardless of how you title this person and regardless of how your operation runs (e.g., a receptionist hands off prospect inquiries to an “intake specialist”), for brevity of reading (and writing) , when I use the term intake specialist, I’m referring to the person who is responsible to field a prospect’s call, determine if the case is a good fit, and take it to the next step to schedule an appointment, effectively closing the sale.

This person is the one who is going to create that all-important and critical first impression. This person is the one who can impact your revenue and bottom line. This person is the one who is as important to your firm’s success as you are.

Fixing the Intake Mindset of Managing Partners 

You need to fix your mindset if, up until this point, you have not truly considered and embraced the importance of the intake specialist.

Depending on the size of your firm, perhaps your receptionist wears the intake specialist hat as well, which is not a good idea. If that’s the case and if you think of this person only as “the one who answers the phone,” you are making a huge mistake. There is so much more to the process than picking up the phone and politely – even cheerily – saying, “Good morning. How many I direct your call?” Only experts with intake should be handling your prospect calls.

If that has been your mindset, I’m going to also suggest that you have an even bigger and more complicated problem to address. If you think of your intake specialist simply as the person (or team) who answers the phone, your intake specialist probably only thinks of themselves as “the person answering the phone” as well. You have to fix your mindset, and they have to fix theirs! However, it starts with you.

As the attorney, owner, or managing partner, you are the one setting the tone. For the most part, only when you convey the importance of the position will your intake specialist adopt that same mindset. Sure, there are exceptions to that, and there may be some very self-assured people in the role of intake specialist who clearly understand their worth to the firm, but it’s my experience that this is very much the exception and far from being the rule.

You may be convinced that you’re practicing law, note selling something; however, in every single profession and industry, there is an element of “selling” that must occur in order for an organization – from law firm to medical office to brick-and-mortar retail store – to be successful and continue to operate profitably. In your case, a “sale” occurs when a prospect in need of legal counsel or representation schedules an appointment and hires you. Yes, you are selling; you are running a business; and you are an entrepreneur.

There are a lot of people who shy away from and even downright avoid the idea of selling. The task is often linked to the image of the used car salesman – pushy, focused only on closing the deal, perhaps teetering on unethical. Change your mindset about selling if that’s the first image that pops into your head. Your intake specialist may have a similar sense of the role of “selling.” If that’s the case, they certainly have to change their mindset about the critical role they play in your firm and understand what “selling” really is in terms of your firm.

As I stated earlier, your intake specialist should be someone (team) who focuses on people the way you focus on the law, and that goes far beyond being cheerful and friendly. While those personality traits are important, the intake specialist needs to be a person who truly wants to help others. In any industry, a good salesperson is one who embraces problem-solving for other people by matching their company’s product or service to the client’s or customers’ need to alleviate their pain point… whatever that pain point may be.

Depending on the focus of your legal practice, there can be a lot of pain – literal and fiscal. You have the knowledge and experience to alleviate that pain for clients; however, they have to get to you first. This process follows the classic sales funnel: Marketing brings prospects into your funnel (e.g., the phone rings) and a positive outcome is what transpires at the end of the funnel and process. However, you’ll never reach the end of that funnel unless you have an intake specialist (team) who’s fielding the call, making the best first impression, understands sales, uses scripts, assessing the viability of the case for your firm, and then scheduling the appointment.

When posed with the question, “What did you do at work today?” you don’t want an intake specialist who answers, “I answered calls and scheduled appointments.” Nor should that be your expectation of them. That’s where the mindset needs to change. You want and need a person (team) whose answer is: “I didn’t just answer the phone. I helped solve life-altering problems for our clients!”

In effect, that is exactly what your intake specialist does. That’s what they should want to be doing, and that’s what you should expect of them. With a mindset of “solving life-altering problems, “ both you and your intake specialists will have a greater appreciation for the very important role that they play.

Law Firm Budget Inequity

With the new and expanded mindset of your intake specialists being responsible for “solving life-altering problems,” its time to look at your firm’s budget allotments. The two that you must compare are your advertising budget versus your intake budget – the amount you spend on marketing versus the amount (salary and benefits) you pay your intake specialists.

If these are unbalanced with more spent on marketing, I assure you, you are wasting all of your marketing dollars. When advertising expenditures exceed your intake allotment, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Consider a dam on a lake: If water continually flows in without an equal amount being released through the dam, the lake overflows and finally the dam will burst, leading to disaster. If you continue to spend on marketing without also increasing your intake team, you are also asking for disaster. I see this happen in far too many firms, and yes, the failure to increase the team proportionately with increased marketing expenditures always leads to added stress, lost opportunities and revenue, and a decline in profitability.

Remember the scenario I painted at the beginning of this article? The one in which the phone was ringing but no one was answering it? That’s exactly what happens when your advertising budget exceeds your intake budget. “But wait a minute, Chris,” you’ll say. “Our phones are being answered!”

I’ll concede that point but counter with an important follow-up question: “Are they being answered by someone who’s too busy and harried throughout the day to effectively serve the prospect on the other end of the line?” If so, you have a budget inequity. If the phone is ringing because your marketing is working but calls are not converting into cases that are the right match for your firm, you have an intake problem. Perhaps the person answering the phone doesn’t understand the very important role they play in the firm and doesn’t realize that they have the power to provide “life-altering solutions.” Perhaps you never told them that they could be such a person with such an important role. Perhaps you made a bad hire from the start and have the wrong type of person (team) wearing the intake specialist hat in your firm. Perhaps you’re letting all your prospects get handled by an answering service.

Either way, it’s time to fix that. It can be done. This is fixable. You’re not alone. Just imagine for a moment not only having great marketing campaigns that work, but also having high conversions by the most important team at your firm, the intake specialists, the “Unsung Heroes of Law Firms Worldwide”™.

For more than 30 years, Chris Mullins and her team have helped hundreds of law firms around the country convert more prospects into profitable clients. Learn more about Chris Mullins, The Conversion Authority Worldwide.