Posted by Sam Borrett, director of Legal Futures Associate Legmark 
How much time is wasted in law firms by dealing with existing client enquiries that could have been prevented? This question is particularly relevant for fixed-fee work, but also as law firms need to find all the possible marginal gains they can over their competitors.
Not many marketing agencies would concern themselves with your enquiry-to-acceptance ratios, your ongoing customer journeys, and the number of successfully concluding cases you’ve handled. They just want to get more traffic to your website.
Having spent many years working in-house managing the marketing for a firm handling 100,000 clients per year and getting that firm to the fifth highest revenue growth of all UK firms, I regularly consider what, out of everything I implemented there, can I pass on to others facing similar challenges (albeit at different scales)?
I can tell you how to stop clients calling you and eating into your profitability on fixed-cost services – and when you’ve got 40-50,000 at any one time on low-margin cases, in what was a totally new area of law (flight compensation cases), it’s pretty important to keep them at a distance!
But as pressure on costs increases, and competition heats up, the same principle becomes vital for all law firms.
Get your communications right
I’ve always maintained that an inbound call from a client almost always signifies a failure to deliver the right information, at the right time, in the right way.
When we were establishing flight delay claims, there were tens of thousands of clients waiting to find out if they were going to be eligible for compensation – all stayed pending the outcome of cases that ended up at the Supreme Court.
How do you keep them all happy (and quiet) during this time? We regularly sent updates by email, and after the first mass update we got hammered on the phones. So, we listened to the questions from clients and adapted the messaging for the next email.
Very quickly we were able to craft a template and format for updating so many clients in one hit that wouldn’t result in lots of inbound enquiries – because we were able to deliver the right information at the right time, in the right way.
No legal jargon, honest and transparent, easy to read, and direct.
You’d never pick up the phone to call a company if you had all the information you needed, right?
I know from experience that law firms are still not great at communicating with clients – I see it every day.
Make it accessible
And it’s never to be referred to as ‘dumbing down’ – it’s about making the information ‘more accessible’, whether that was through the initial sign-up and onboarding process, the website, emails, on the phone, or in client letters.
Your fee-earners also need to realise that, when communicating with their clients, it’s not a courtroom and they don’t need to impress anyone or confuse matters with verbosity. Think about the objective here – it’s to prevent an inbound enquiry from the client by providing the right information, at the right time, in the right way.
Do this, and you’ll have happier clients, who’ll be more likely to recommend your firm to friends and family, and you’ll have more profitable fee-earners on your fixed-cost work as they’re not constantly replying to questions that should already have been resolved.
Review and update current comms
We spent a lot of time reviewing standard client correspondence and adjusting to be more ‘user-friendly’ – this takes a combination of legal knowledge and high levels of skill in communications. But the results are worth the investment if you want to become more profitable and spend time billing hours rather than answering calls to repeat information previously given to that client.
One of the biggest challenges is the dreaded terms and conditions – not easy to adjust as a legal document. However, it is pretty simple to add a cover sheet picking up on the common questions and most salient aspects. This can be written in a much more user-friendly way, designed nicely, and really improve the user experience.
How to use FAQs
When we really drilled into the details, we saw that fee-earners were answering the same questions to different clients every time. If this is occurring in your firm, then you need to act now. If you don’t think it’s happening, you’ve probably not spoke to enough fee-earners and got their honest feedback.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs) – and finding out from your teams what those are – can be vital to improve your performance in a number of ways.
Firstly, if there are FAQs, then there’s likely to be a breakdown in your communications somewhere – this will cost you in the long run. Try putting together a PDF of the most common questions and send to clients when signing them up.
You can also use those FAQs on your website – if done correctly on relevant pages using Schema mark-up, you can get an edge in the Google search rankings.
Finally, use the questions and answers throughout your site on your commercial landing pages to improve the way you ‘talk’ to the potential client as they are considering your services. A firm that answers all the questions is more likely to get the phone to ring – and that’s for new clients, not existing ones.