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Law firms “getting even worse” at handling telephone enquiries, says mystery shopper

Cooper: counterproductive behaviour [1]

Cooper: counterproductive behaviour

The way law firms handle telephone enquiries from prospective clients is so bad that “it’s as if every managing partner in the land met up at a secret location and agreed the worst way possible to deal with them”, a leading consultant has claimed.

Some 18 months on from his mystery shopping research [2] that indicated a “nationwide epidemic of missed opportunities” due to flawed approaches to telephone enquiries, Professor Ian Cooper said that, if anything, the situation was getting even worse.

“There’s a complete failure to recognise that what’s going on is a two-way process,” he told Legal Futures. “Firms are totally focused on risk assessment, case assessment and whether they want the client, and ignoring whether the client wants them.”

This led to “counterproductive” behaviour, he continued, although it is different depending on the area of practice.

In personal injury (PI), for example, there is a move towards two-tier systems where a first responder/screener initially takes the call, and at the end says they need to pass it on to a solicitor. But he said firms are looking at this as an administrative, rather than sales, task – thinking that comes down from the boardroom and leads to a lack of training in dealing with calls.

As a result, the process can be slow and very rigid. “If someone has had an accident, they’re angry and anxious, and the reason they’ve called a firm of solicitors is that they want to talk to a solicitor about their case. People are most likely to buy at the peak of the anxiety or desire curve.”

He recounted calling a major PI firm at its own request – it was only after 12 minutes that the screener (who did not explain her role) asked what the injury was, and it was 29 minutes before he was told that he would have to talk to someone else. But there was no call back the following day as agreed, and no response to the five chasing calls he then made.

“If a lawyer’s too lazy to pick up the phone and talking to someone who’s injured and might give them the business, then they don’t deserve it in the first place,” Professor Cooper said. “Many firms have moved a long way from basic client values – there is a corporate arrogance that believes that if someone has rung them, they will automatically be instructed.”

But a two-tier process can work if done correctly, he added. He talked about one firm where the first responder explained that she would take his basic information and then pass it to a colleague who would respond within an hour. “I got a call within five minutes from a partner – it made me feel like my accident mattered,” he said.

By contrast, Professor Cooper said that in family law too many firms offer free consultations within 30 seconds of the call starting. “The evidence I’ve seen is that this doesn’t work, he said, highlighting one firm he consulted with that provided 560 free divorce appointments in a year, of which just 13% turned into business. When he helped the firm move to a structured call instead, the conversion rate rose steadily to 82%.

“There is still a fixation in certain areas that bringing people in will translate into cases,” he said.

He also warned that failing to ‘sell’ over the telephone left clients with no way of choosing a firm other than on price.

But Professor Cooper concluded: “The good news is that converting telephone enquiries into business is the easiest, quickest, cheapest and most guaranteed way of generating massive additional revenue.”