Phone Consults: An Efficient Tool for “Closing” Clients
In-person consults are the norm, but phone calls might be a more efficient way to attract new clients.
As attorneys, we never have enough time in the day to get all of our work done—even if we drink a pot of coffee before dawn and we skip dinner with our family at night. While it is foolhardy to assume that we will ever really be able to cram our workload into a “normal” 40-hour work week, there are some major steps, if not leaps, we can all take to help make our balancing act more manageable.
For instance, “closing” a client over the phone, if done right, is a remarkably efficient way to free up some time for the other hundred tasks we need to accomplish each day. This is because telephone consults are generally less time consuming than in-person consults. In addition, telephone consults will allow you to filter though “undesirable” (poor personality fit) or “unqualified” (poor financial fit) clients without wasting blocks of time throughout your day to meet with them and review their paperwork in person. Instead, when a potential client calls in, it is important to spend the time, up front, to get to know the details of his or her case over the phone, understand his or her goals, establish his or her expectations, and give the potential client an idea about what he or she can expect with respect to financially litigating the matter.
The First Question to Ask a Potential Client
How much money does your client have to litigate or otherwise spend on this matter? As distasteful as this question may seem, law is a business. Moreover, if someone has little access to funds, you should not be spending 20 minutes talking about your aggressive trial techniques—you will not be able to close a client by selling them something they cannot afford. While this may seem like an upfront or abrasive approach over the phone, this information will allow you to establish your client’s expectations from the start and will allow you to craft a case strategy that will meet his or her financial needs.
Though you do have to address the matter of money, subtlety can be an effective strategy. For example, in family law, it is easy to obtain this information fairly quickly because you can simply ask your potential client how much money she or he makes. Since support and property division are almost always relevant to your potential client’s family law matter, your client will not likely be offended by your inquiry.
The Benefits of Phone Consults
While talking on the phone for 15-20 minutes with numerous potential clients may seem like a time-consuming task, it will save you a great deal of time down the road for several reasons:
- It builds trust. When you spend time on the phone with your potential client, you build his or her trust from the start by showing him or her that you care about the details of the case regardless of whether or not the potential client hires you. If your potential client feels that you care about his or her case, the client is more likely to want to pay you, and feel good about paying you, to litigate the matter.
- It improves your odds. It is far easier to get a potential client to retain your services over the phone the moment he or she contacts you than it is two weeks later when you schedule a time to meet in person. Moreover, if you do not engage the potential client’s questions on the spot over the phone, he or she is likely to keep calling around to find an attorney who will answer those questions, and the client might hire that attorney before your in-person consult takes place.
- It makes assessment of a case easier. The more information you have, the easier it will be for you to assess the case from both a strategic and a financial standpoint. From a strategic standpoint, you can tell a client what you specifically can and cannot do for them. This is more meaningful, and likely appreciated, advice than making legal generalizations, rushing through the potential client’s concerns over the phone, and trying to set him or her up to come in for an in-person consult. A reasonably accurate assessment of the case is important in setting your potential client’s expectations prior to retention. Often, attorneys will make the mistake of promising the potential client the stars, when in fact, they cannot deliver on that promise. This leads to unhappy clients and awful reviews, which is clearly bad for business.
Finally, spending the time to get to know the details of the potential client’s case over the phone will allow you to determine whether or not this is a case that you want to take on. If it is not, even if you have spent 20 minutes on the phone, you have saved yourself the trouble of booking an in-person consult, which can be significantly more time consuming.
In-Person Consults: Should We Do Them?
While closing a client over the phone is often more efficient than an in-person consult, there are some situations where a potential client would prefer to meet you face-to-face. Some clients may be uncomfortable discussing sensitive personal matters over the phone, while other more fragile potential clients (such as domestic violence victims) may need the support provided by an in-person meeting. In this situation, provided that you have already obtained some basic information with respect to qualifying him or her, an in-person consult may be preferable. It is important to remember that you should adjust your routine to cater to your client’s preference. Thus, even if it is more efficient to conduct an over-the-phone retaining consultation, you should not try to force a client to retain over the phone if he or she wants to meet you in person first.
Many attorneys are reticent to provide information over the phone for fear of providing incorrect information or exposing themselves to liability. These concerns can be overcome both through verbal disclaimers (“based on the information you have provided to me …”) and through a little quick extra work. For example, when a potential client is retaining your services over the phone, it is important to try to verify the information that he or she is providing you. One simple way of doing this when there is an ongoing case, is to run a case search and audit the case print. This can help alleviate some of the risk involved in assuming your client is providing you with the correct information.
And, of course, there’s the cover-your-rear letter: after a phone consultation, it is advisable (especially where there has been substantive discussion of a case) to send a follow-up email or letter memorializing the points discussed. The letter should deal with either engagement or non-engagement, including advising the potential client to retain an attorney before any deadlines or critical points in a case have passed.
Kristen Holstrom and Samantha McBride are attorneys at Holstrom, Block, and Parke, APLC., a family law and estate planning firm with offices in Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties.