3 Tips to Combat Declining Intakes at Your Law Firm
I’ve learned a great deal in nearly 25 years of running a law firm. I’ve seen business ebb and flow. I have not seen it all, but I have seen enough to know how to face and overcome problems common to law firms. That’s how we’ve continued to grow.
Declining intakes may simultaneously be the most straightforward and most nuanced challenge a firm can face. It’s simple because you have a clear indicator that action is needed. It’s nuanced because many internal and external factors could trigger it.
Here are three tips you can use to combat declining intakes in your firm in the order I would use to attack the problem. They all depend on the data you have and your ability to analyze and leverage it.
#1 Analyze Marketing ROI and Shift Dollars to the Most Effective Media and Initiatives
If your intakes are declining, the first thing to examine is your marketing, whose sole job is to drive intakes. Do you have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t? There’s an old advertising proverb that says, “I know half of my advertising dollars are wasted, I just don’t know which half.” Firms today don’t have to be beholden to that adage thanks to data.
Data enables measurement. Your ability to respond depends on your ability to measure the effectiveness of your marketing initiatives. Ask yourself a few questions:
- Can you track where calls are coming from? Is it TV? A direct mail initiative? Pay-per-click ads or another digital source? Some marketing methods are easy to track via unique phone numbers, online addresses, or direct mail response mechanisms. Sometimes channels are interrelated. We ask potential new clients at intake what triggered their contact. Although in truth, many channels may have combined to make an impression on them, their top-of-mind response is nonetheless informative.
- Are you getting cases from those calls? Calls are one thing, but the real value in marketing is when it turns into cases. Which marketing channels are driving not just calls but cases? Are you failing to sign a number of cases that you would want? Can you improve ROI by increasing your conversion rate through a better intake process?
- What value do those cases have, and how long will they take? It’s not just the number of cases that counts, it’s the quality of the cases. We use our data to project the future value of cases, as well as the length of time the case is expected to take to resolve. True ROI measurements in marketing account for the quality of cases produced by each marketing channel.
If you’re not taking case value and length into account as you decide where to spend marketing dollars, you’re missing the forest for the trees. Use declining intakes as a trigger to investigate your marketing programs and dig into the value each provides. You may find that you can improve your profit by eliminating some underperforming programs and spending those dollars more effectively.
Consider Spending More on Marketing Channels That Are Working
Feed what works. When you find that an area in your marketing is being effective, the chances are that there is a greater opportunity there. Consider spending more to see if there’s more to be gained. When playing a winning hand, we are often surprised by how far we are from market saturation and from reaching a point of diminishing returns.
Resist the Temptation to Cut Marketing When Times Are Hard
Cutting marketing is a short-term fix that causes long-term problems. There’s a one-time savings but at the expense of long-term revenue. I believe in finding other areas to cut first.
#2 Find the Cases and Prospects Hidden in Your Data
If your firm collects and manages its data well, you may be sitting on untapped cases. In other words, you can get cases for free. This is where your case management software can make an incredible difference. Being able to mine your data, record details, search, and even trigger client contact is a massive benefit. This is easier done with some software than others.
Our firm was the test bed for GrowPath, so we take full advantage of its data collection and analysis features. It’s made believers out of us. Here’s how your firm’s data can help you reverse a declining intake trend.
Get New Cases From Your Old Cases by Mining Your Data
Your database is a gold mine. If you’ve got data and the power to search it, you’ve got an opportunity. New mass torts seem to emerge all the time. Do any of your prior contacts or clients meet the criteria? If you have the data and the right software, it’s easy to search and find these potential new cases.
We use GrowPath to identify clients and former clients who might have mass tort and other potential cases they’re not aware of. We call, email, and initiate contact with them. They are consistently impressed with our knowledge and organization and are usually grateful for the information we provide. This has led to us signing a number of cases we otherwise would not have.
Spot Additional Case Opportunities From Intake Calls and Existing Cases
What better way to combat declining intakes than to turn an intake call or existing case into two cases? Sometimes, it’s obvious. A caller may have been injured in an auto accident on the job. Most trained intake representatives or paralegals can spot that there are two potential cases there.
But other times, the additional case is not obvious. That’s where GrowPath’s patented Buzzwords™ are helpful. Your firm can create Buzzwords that, in the right circumstances, will trigger questions to help identify whether there is an opportunity for an additional case.
For example, someone was injured in an auto accident and they indicated that they had a prior hip replacement. That may trigger a Buzzword relating to a potential defective hip inquiry in addition to the auto case.
Or, say that someone calls with a Social Security Disability claim case. They explain that they are disabled due to mesothelioma. Instead of relying on the intake staffer to be well-versed enough to know that might be a lucrative asbestos case, the Buzzword will identify it for them.
You can also go back and search your existing case files for new opportunities. Perhaps that auto accident caller with the hip replacement did not have one of the affected devices. Recently, their device has demonstrated flaws, and now they may have a case? Buzzwords can help you find that case.
Build Referrals and Reviews to Generate Additional Intakes
Another cost-effective way to get more high-quality cases is by getting more referrals. Those with serious injuries tend to shop differently for their representation. They look for advice. They talk to their families and friends. They may scour online reviews.
Referrals are gold. So how do you get them?
Referrals: Cases You Get From the Goodwill You Earn
Whether it’s a glowing, five-star online review or a word-of-mouth referral, it doesn’t happen unless you’ve made a client very happy. Building referral business is an ongoing effort. Here’s how we try to do it.
- Start with excellent legal work. If you do a poor job representing a client, the rest won’t matter. The result of a case is the foundation.
- Orchestrate your client experience. Most clients don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes of their case. Communicate proactively and let them know. Tell them about the powerful adversary they’re facing – whether it’s an insurance company, a large corporation, or even the government. Explain how that adversary isn’t interested in their well-being, and tell them what they’re up against and how you’re fighting for them. GrowPath helps us accomplish this, in part, through automated messaging. The software enables us to automatically advise clients when their case status changes, explain what that means, and set expectations with next steps. This supplements our client outreach, and saves our paralegals and attorneys time.
- Show them that you’re fighting for as much as possible, as soon as possible. Most everybody understand the importance of getting as much as possible on each case. Many don’t appreciate the importance of speed. By using efficient case management software, you can reduce internal delays to move cases quicker to resolution without sacrificing value. In my experience, clients appreciate the fact that a case is resolved not only for a good amount, but also relatively quickly.
- Ask them for referrals and reviews. They trusted you with their case, you came through, and the client is happy. Ask them to share that experience. Ask for referrals and online reviews and ratings. Get clients to spread the word, pay it forward, and let people know about their excellent experience. Again, GrowPath’s automated messaging feature is helpful here. We use it to prompt happy clients for reviews and ratings. We can even include links in the texts or emails to review sites.
- Follow up on the bad reviews, too. Many bad reviews are not the result of bad experiences but miscommunication and misunderstandings. Put someone in charge of client satisfaction, and have them get in touch with anyone who leaves a negative review. That doesn’t mean demanding they change it. It means asking them what YOU could change to avoid that misunderstanding. Address the cause, not the symptom. Find out what the real issue was and fix it. Clear up the misunderstanding. Be polite. If you do it right, they may change or remove their negative review on their own.
#3 Expand Your Firm’s Practice Areas
Perhaps the most ambitious way to combat declining intakes is to add practice areas to your firm. A few things must be true for expansion to work:
- You can get enough cases.
- There’s enough value to support the new practice.
That is an oversimplification of the many factors you should be considering before you branch out. I’ve done it with my firm a few times, and while it is not an exact science, there is a methodology. If you’re considering expanding your practice, here are some things I’d recommend.
Start Small, and Test the Market
Fire bullets, then cannonballs, to paraphrase Jim Collins. Start with a small investment. If it works, increase the effort incrementally. Let’s say you’re a PI firm and want to expand into another practice area. Here’s how you might go about it.
- Run a marketing campaign to get intake calls for the new practice area. Even if you’re not equipped to help those clients, you can refer the cases out.
- Analyze case value and volume. Are you getting enough cases with great enough value to support a practice? Is the juice worth the squeeze?
- Protect the quality of your work. A different practice area means different case management needs. Be prepared. GrowPath makes it easy for us to customize intake and workflow procedures for any new practice area we adopt.
Expansion may be triggered by the desire to grow or diversify.
With the Right Data, You Can Combat Declining Intakes
Overcoming declining intakes comes down to having the right data, and putting it to good use. There are firms that are still run on feel or instinct. That’s not reliable enough for me. I prefer data-driven insights to run my firm.
That’s why the tips I’ve outlined rely on data and your ability to gather and analyze it. It’s why we use GrowPath. If you are not collecting and using the right data, combating decline will be much more difficult. Lean on your case management software – it should be helping you. And if it’s not, you may need better software.