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In most firms, when a new client telephones for legal advice, the receptionist or secretary makes an appointment for the client to see you.  You don’t speak with them.  You simply look into your diary and see what appointments have been made for you, and wait for the clients to arrive.  Unfortunately, some, or in my experience quite a few of these new callers never show up.  So, is there anything you can do to minimise “no shows”, increase your new client retainer rate, and get the client to become your referral base?  Absolutely.  This 3 part blog tells you what you can do.


1. New callers should speak with YOU


First, if your firm’s practice is for your  secretary to simply book the new callers to see you, change that immediately.  When a new client calls, they should be put through to you.  If you are unavailable, and there is no other solicitor in your team, make sure that your secretary obtains their contact details and reassures them that you will call them back as soon as you become available. Then, when you do become available, do that.  This is because, after the caller leaves their details with your secretary, they don’t wait for you to call them back but move on to the next firm that popped up in their google or yellow pages search.  The sooner that you call them back, the better chances you have of being the first solicitor they have spoken with.


2. “Bond” with your new caller


When the new caller is put through to you, or when you call them back, it is an opportunity you don’t want to miss.  That new caller is potentially a $50,000 client, and a large portion of your annual budget.  How you handle this first telephone call determines whether they will show up for their first appointment with you.

So, what do you say?  Generally, the new caller explains what the issues are, and you then go on to tell them what it is that you do.  If the new caller is only interested in your hourly fees, don’t let that put you off.  They may simply have had an unfavourable conversation with the last solicitor they called, or think they have the advice they need, and are simply shopping around.  If you feel this is not a client that you want, that is your decision.  However, you could try saying something like this: “I understand that fees are very important.  My hourly rate is $X, however, I will be in a better position to estimate your legal fees if I know more about your matter”.  You will find that most people then start to talk about their case.

This is now your opportunity to “sell” yourself.  Tell them what you do and how you can assist them. Try and avoid a lengthy “resume” of your wins, but give a brief description of your expertise.  Don’t brag about your sporting or other irrelevant achievements.  They may sound great to you, but that is not what the client wants to hear.  What you want to do is display professionalism and confidence in your ability to handle their matter, but also sound approachable.  Remember, they cannot see you, and whether or not they come to their appointment with you will depend on how they feel when they hang up the phone.


3. Put yourself in their shoes


To help you make the caller feel at ease and confident in your ability, put yourself in their shoes.  Most people have never been to a lawyer, and when they do call, they call because they are in trouble, anxious, perhaps even desperate, and they need your help.  They may have just lost their job.  They have a family to feed and now no income.  Or they have just been in a car or workplace accident, need surgery, and their life is put on hold.  Or their relationship has broken down, their spouse or partner moved out, and their life is falling apart.  When you put yourself in their shoes you will see that what these new callers want to hear are words that are reassuring, positive, and a voice that is calming but confident.  Most don’t expect you to tell them that you will “fight” for them, or that they will “win”.  But you will gain their trust and start building that relationship in that very first telephone conversation if you listen, sympathise, and tell them that you can help them.


4. Make the appointment


You will find that after a 10 or 15 minute conversation your new caller now wants to see you, as soon as possible.  Make sure you tell the caller what your initial fees are and that they are to be paid on the day.  If you have a different arrangement, for example a “no win no fee” structure, discuss that briefly.  Tell the caller what documents they need to bring to the appointment.  Explain where you are, how to get there, and where to park.  Alternatively, get your secretary to do that.

Now that you have made the appointment, don’t rest on your laurels.  The new caller hasn’t become a client yet.  So, what should you do before and during the first consultation to get the client to retain you?  The 2nd part of this blog tells you what you can do.

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