When your office hours end, your law firm's website stays open for business. Faced with a pressing legal problem, most people today turn to the Internet as a 24-hour-a-day tool for researching issues and looking for representation.
Online inquiries can come in anytime, from anywhere, but can be lost just as quickly. Giving prospects the information they're looking for, and providing it fast, is critical to your success in closing online leads.
To convert more of your Web "clicks" into qualified clients for your firm, start by addressing the key issues.
Understand online prospects
Fast, perfect and free legal services. Realistically, that's what most online legal consumers want. By understanding those expectations and managing them effectively, you've got a better chance to establish a relationship with prospects then move them forward toward signing an engagement letter.
Particularly in areas like criminal law, family law, personal injury and consumer bankruptcy, prospects often are highly motivated but may have limited experience working with attorneys. Fees are always an issue and so is time: Often the prospect has waited to locate an attorney until the need is acute.
Above all, online prospects may have many questions they need answered: about the law, their case, how to hire an attorney. Once they complete your online intake form or request information from a legal site, you have a window of opportunity (albeit often brief) to address those concerns and demonstrate the level of service and expertise you can provide.
Online prospects typically are looking for immediate help with a legal issue. In many cases the attorney who responds first, wins.
And in a world of 2 a.m. Web searches and instantly available information, your response time ideally should be measured in terms of hours, not days.
Follow up quickly on incoming e-mails, inquiries left on your voice-mail and phone calls taken by staff. A return phone call typically is the most effective response. If there's no answer, leave a message indicating your availability, and a direct phone number or e-mail address where you can be reached 24 hours a day. Mail a brochure or other information about your firm to the prospect the same day that you receive an inquiry.
Whatever lead-tracking system you use (a prospect sheet, management software, a simple manila folder), make updating it and following up a part of your daily work routine.
Finally, check the contact information that you provide on your website. Is it complete, up-to-date and easy for site visitors to find? From every page on your Web site?
Make it easy for a prospect confronted with a time-sensitive, stressful or unfamiliar legal need. Providing clear contact information - then following up promptly with a personal response -- gives you a big advantage in converting that prospect into a client.
Provide a quality response
Invest at least a few non-billable hours per week in following up personally over the phone with prospects who've contacted your firm. They'll value the attention from an attorney. For you, it's an opportunity to gauge the client and your interest in the case.
A good rule of thumb, when you're on the phone with a prospect, is to go slightly beyond the standard FAQ information that you likely provide on your law firm's website. You want to establish your expertise, demonstrate interest and overcome any hesitancy the prospect has about hiring a lawyer -- without forming an attorney-client relationship or falling prey to unscrupulous Web surfers "phishing" for free legal advice.
The goal: to set up a free office consultation where you can persuade the prospect in person and better evaluate their needs. By then, having already responded swiftly to the initial request for help, and demonstrated your sensitivity to the prospect's concerns about cost, you'll be in a strong position to formalize the relationship.
Screen the prospect
Is the prospect a good fit for representation by your firm? Your initial e-mail and telephone interactions are a good chance to not only sell yourself to the prospect, but also to collect the key information you need about their temperament and their goals and expectations, plus of course the specifics of the case.
Take a close look, for example, at the initial e-mail or intake form response you received. Does the prospect have experience with the legal system? Do their answers provide any clues about their ability to pay? Look for other information - such as complaints about previous attorneys, the prospect's education level, whether they're "hands-off" or a micro-manager - that's useful in performing your due diligence before you commit to the case.
To handle this screening process more efficiently, you can also consider attorney-client matching services. They're online sites that allow consumers to read descriptions of attorneys in their area based on their topic of interest. Some matching services will pre-qualify leads by collecting key data from the prospect. The attorney then can self-select potential cases that are of interest.
Nearly 8 in 10 Americans (and 9 in 10 college-educated Americans) now are online, according to a Harris Interactive poll. Research shows that the vast majority use the Internet to do research and make purchasing decisions. As each generation becomes more technically savvy, Web-based leads will become an increasingly key part of your new-business development strategy.
By understanding the needs of online prospects and providing a fast, high-quality response to leads you receive, you'll have a great opportunity to convert more clicks into clients of your firm.
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