The following is a discussion between Adam Warren, CEO of The Sentinel Group, and Gary P. Falkowitz, Esq., CEO of Maximum Intake Consulting, LLC, about the benefits and pitfalls of the client intake process. Both are deeply immersed in intake and media campaigns for mass tort and single-event personal injury cases on a regular basis.
The conversation arose in a Google chat that was memorialized for lawyers to learn from.
Adam Warren, CEO of The Sentinel Group
GARY: Adam, during my time as an Intake Manager and a consultant for law firms throughout the country, I've noticed that many law firms seem to separate their marketing plan from their intake process. I'm not so sure this is a good idea. Have you noticed this?
ADAM: Yes. We have been fortunate to be in many instances closely integrated into the top line performance information from the intake. “Top line” means I do not get specific or private plaintiff information but rather data regarding number of rejections, packets out for signature (contracts), packets back with signature and packets pending additional information before they go out.
As the result of our law firm clients opening up to us with necessary and up to date information, we have seen, heard and controlled quality for them through many intake scenarios.
GARY: What do you believe to be the biggest challenge is for law firms in marrying their marketing to their intake?
ADAM: The case begins with media and lead generation. For example, media includes advertising on local TV channels like KMOV-St. Louis or WPIX-New York, local cable like Time Warner or national cable networks like a Discovery or A&E, and internet pay-per-click advertising plus social media like FaceBook and Youtube where leads are generated online
The media is what helps you locate your potential clients. That being said, the intake is where the case is accepted or rejected. Poor results can also stem from less-than-high quality intake facilities that mishandle the calls, do not understand the cases they are reviewing and in many instances it will cause the law firm to lose the claimant from the perspective of first impression.
Additionally, the media managers need to be integrated with at least baseline information of packet economics -- the cost to send out attorney engagement packet and get it back signed. For example, if we have a Talc campaign with a $50,000 budget and we are working against a $750 cost per packet marketing objective, you would want to see 67 packets back with the client’s signature. You will have then accomplished the packet economics goal and justified the marketing spend.Gary Falkowitz, CEO of Maximum Intake Consulting
GARY: For reasons that I cannot fathom, many law firms are unaware of what type of first impressions their intake staff are conveying. I’ve been in their seats, Adam. I know the message that we as law firms want to convey. What I realized very quickly as a Managing Attorney at a national law firm is that until you start to inspect your intake seriously, you really have no idea what type of message you are conveying to potential clients.
Most claimants call our law firm because they are seeking assistance. And in this day and age, that assistance comes in the form of many different law firms. To excel at the intake level requires you to truly appreciate the competitive nature of our industry. I like to remind my law firm clients, including any attorneys whom I speak with, that they must act on the presumption that the claimant has spoken with an attorney before they called your law firm and they intend to call another attorney after they speak with your law firm. So, you have to ask yourself: "What can I do to separate myself from my competitors?"
ADAM: Right, the first impression is what seals the opportunity to work with an individual, while you are determining if they have a good case or not. If your intake is subpar, it may cause you to have doubt about the media, but that may not be the right read.
What your marketing firm needs is simple. It should know your packet goals or cost per packet numbers both on out for signature or packet back with signed retainer. If the marketing team knows this, they understand what to look for in performance, how to manage good calls vs. bad as well as good media vs. poor media.
Marketing can also quickly recognize stagnation in the campaign signaling a time to utilize fresh media types. We always look at calls and call durations as well as raw volume. It is so important to go a step farther and measure your performance/response data to the intake data to be sure you are on the right track and so you can maximize on success and remain proactive in resolving any campaign weakness.
GARY: In order to know how your media is really doing, what in-house key performance indicators do you seek from your law firm clients?
ADAM: Gary, we look at a few variables. We are curious to hear how a law firm became interested in a specific case type, especially when it is outside their usual wheelhouse such as a personal injury firm stating to move into mass torts. We are seeing this occur more and more.
Did they look into the science and were they convinced by it? Have they already written intake criteria? Who is handling their intake and do they have a 24/7 solution that converts in similar fashion to their peak hour intake? Are they scalable? Can they handle more than a couple of calls per hour? Do they have intake specialists either on hand or answering the phones? Do they outsource? Are they able to handle Spanish calls? We're interested in every aspect of the caller experience. We want to be sure that that if the phones ring and we do our job, the client is ready.
GARY: Very prudent of you. Your brand/results are directly dependent upon the work product and response of your law firm clients. If there was one area of intake that you think is neglected by law firms, what do you think it is?
ADAM: That's really a tough question because anything can cause a shaky caller experience where the intake operator, the first voice they hear just was not ready. We do hear intake getting caught off guard. We have observed bad attitudes and frustration at times as well some misunderstandings about the campaigns or case types. It really seems to be something that can likely be fixed and/or managed with more in-depth training.
GARY: Training is a significant issue and a potentially huge black hole for law firms. As a law firm intake consultant, I hear many law firms readily admit that their in-house training is short and lacks detail. One thing that I’ve noticed is that law firms tend to severely undervalue their intake staff, which is mind-boggling to me given how much power they have to retain clients or turn them away. In order to maximize our marketing dollars, we must hold our intake staff accountable for meeting high standards and using best practices. And, in my experience, the only way to do that is by properly teaching, frequently observing, and constantly critiquing.
Allow me to use one example. Most law firms that I speak with do not listen to their staff on the phones which means they have no idea what’s really being stated or how it’s being stated. One of the most effective and valuable managerial responsibilities that I can recommend is to listen to your staff on the phones. It is eye-opening and beyond helpful.
ADAM: Agreed. We have a quality control team, because we would like to take every step possible to help our law firm partners improve their intake.
GARY: Regarding training, having a script is only the first step. Explaining to your staff why they are asking the scripted questions is equally important. But it doesn't stop there. We really need to train our staff on how to answer certain questions that are not in the script because the last thing any claimant (or any law firm) wants to hear is "I don't know," "We'll have to get back to you," or "Let me look into this for you." It stinks of lack of preparation and we both know what that means for the call.
ADAM: That type of training is very important and equally as relevant is showing sensitivity and understanding the deeply intimate nature of these calls where people are sharing personal facts about themselves or someone they were close to. Some of the more frustrating examples of intake is a disengaged or annoyed intake specialist. Those will destroy a call quickly. Gary, do your law firm clients handle their own intake in house or do they mostly outsource?
GARY: Adam, I couldn't agree with you more about training. I like to tell my clients that you can train someone on procedures but you can't train them on eagerness to excel.
Outsourcing, to some degree, has become a necessity in this industry. Most of my clients outsource some aspect, if not all, of their intake. The smart ones understand that this is a 24/7 operation and if the response isn't adequate at any given moment, they are going to be at a significant disadvantage to their competitors.
One of the areas where I believe marketing and Intake can do a better job at working together is having a better understanding of when the marketing messages are being communicated. Adam, how are you able to adequately prepare your clients regarding call volume at different times of the day?
ADAM: Gary, I’m really glad you brought this up. We are the ultimate advocates of letting the data make the decisions. The majority of our business is driven by performance. Over time, we collect time-of-day data as it relates to response. We are able to track patterns of when calls should be expected and what volume of calls on average to expect by hour by day of the week. We know that 80% of our call volume as a whole comes in during peak hours and drops down heavily on nights and weekends. So we take a top line view to the call data and break it down to hour-by-hour data where we can properly inform intake of when the calls are coming.
As we are as much a tech-data company as a media company, we are able to merge the results of data with the activity in response and drive a result. In many cases, I do think the intake takes us seriously and adjusts staffing based on our representation of the information we provide.
GARY: Have you noticed your clients making the appropriate changes to this information? For example, do they change the schedule of their intake staff? And are they informing their answering service of expected call volume?
ADAM: Usually we can set a call expectation through a data sample of about three weeks. For us, our call patterns take on a level of consistency relatively fast and that is also a function of our average delivery breakouts between peak hours at about 80% and then nights and weekends comprising 20% of lead delivery. To our knowledge they do make relevant staffing and off-hour adjustments should that be applicable based on our data and input.
It just makes sense. Don't overstaff and don't understaff if you have the information that helps set the guideline of what to expect.
GARY: Adam, I think this has been a good first conversation for those looking to improve their intake. I'm hopeful that we'll have more in the future. As a summary, and I'll do the same, what's the best advice you have for law firms looking to market more (and better) for their firms?
ADAM: My advice would be before you want to start a media campaign you must have a plan for in-house intake that is designed around expected conversion rates and the reality of the caller. If you do not have the staff to manage such a complex operation, find the right outsource solution. Make 24/7 solutions your priority. Callers call when they call, and for the sake of your investment and case acquisition, do not let calls hit the floor or reject the opportunity to have them answered. If you do not take the call, another firm will.
As far as marketing firms, make sure your agency can analyze data and provide campaign transparency while proactively moving on data and results at the same time to further the success of the investment. Focus on their experience in media and intake, and a proven understanding of the moving parts before you spend your first dollar in mass tort acquisition.
GARY: Great stuff. For me, it's simple: I am not aware of any other industry in the world that has the potential return on investment that our industry does. It shocks me to the core that law firms are not doing everything in their power to maximize their marketing dollars. Whether it's getting attorneys involved at intake, referring cases to other law firms, listening to calls, managing staff, adequately following up with potential claimants or a host of other important intake procedures. We must start doing a better job at converting potential claimants into happy clients. I am a strong believer (because I'm a witness to the results) that the more attention to detail we commit to intake, the more cases we will sign and the more revenue we will earn.
About Adam Warren and The Sentinel Group:
Adam is CEO and Co-Founder of The Sentinel Group®, the legal marketing division and premium brand of full-service advertising firm OpenJar Concepts®. TSG has become one of the most widely recognized and successful brands in lead generation for case acquisition. We understand how to walk the line between what media needs in ROI and what law firms need in their packet economics. The OJC/TSG team has over 40 years of combined mass media, performance-driven lead generation experience, using mass media vehicles such as TV, RADIO, PRINT and DIGITAL. The TSG senior management team has successfully been involved in the advertising for nearly every Mass Tort campaign during the last decade plus, dating back to 2001.
The core of TSG merges the perfect balance between deep media and client relationships with in-house proprietary tracking capability, utilizing our system TrafTrack®, for unlimited reporting technologies. We offer one of the most robust license and back end free trademark protected content libraries industry wide (in many cases with complimenting web/landing page components) for our clients to utilize either with or without their own law firm brands to scale in ways previously not possible. TSG couples our media savvy and technology prowess with in-house production allowing us to move fast to market with unique quality content. We enable the possibility of driving leads cost effectively with an aggressive movement towards market share. TSG maintains Tier 1 relationships with the top most endorsed legal focused intake facilities and law firm funding partners all ready to engage and deploy with you. Together, our pieces of the case acquisition puzzle provide endless solutions to enabling a cost effective platform for driving quality calls and leads to our network of participating law firms. Simply, this is…. WHERE THE CASE BEGINS™.
For further information:
Contact Phone: 800.TSG.Tort (800.874.8678)
The Web: www.thesentinelgroup.com/legal
About Gary P. Falkowitz, Esq.
Gary is the CEO of Maximum Intake Consulting, LLC. Gary advises law firms, attorneys and legal organizations on the importance of creating, utilizing, managing and maximizing the intake process. He has worked with managing partners, associates, paralegals and all other support staff to assist law firms in improving their intake process and, importantly, increasing their conversion percentages. Gary creates customized programs to improve leadership, time management, project management, delegation, prospective client relations and sales skills.
Gary earned his Bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University in 2002 and his Juris Doctorate from St. John’s University School of Law in 2005, where he served as a member of the Moot Court Honor Society. Upon graduating from law school, Gary served as an Assistant District Attorney at the Kings County District Attorney's Office where he focused on the prosecution of criminal matters. Thereafter, he transitioned to the private sector, representing hospitals and doctors against medical malpractice claims at the law firm of Martin, Clearwater and Bell. In 2009, Gary began litigating mass torts cases at Parker Waichman LLP. He was quickly promoted to a Managing Attorney role within the firm where his primary responsibilities included strengthening the firm’s brand, increasing the firm’s conversion percentage and growing the firm’s referral business, among other responsibilities. Through his years of experience, Gary has realized that accountability, implementing strong internal procedures and responsiveness are three of the most important factors to ensure a successful and efficient intake process. It doesn't hurt that his passion for the subject matter is unrivaled. In short, Gary believes that the key to maximizing a law firm's revenue is strongly dependent upon the ability to appropriately prioritize and adequately scrutinize the intake process.
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