intake process

ABA Benchmark Study on Law Firm Intake Process: Part I

This post comes from the ABA Law Practice Division’s Social Media, Legal Blogs, and Websites Committee. In this two-part series, the Committee explored the intake process at law firms around the country. Read Part II here!

The mission that we undertook was to get a feel for what the average prospective client experiences when trying to engage with a law firm. To achieve this, we posed as prospective clients on hundreds of calls to law firms. We also analyzed data from thousands of inbound calls to law firms across the country. Some of the results are shocking:

  • Less than 10% of prospective clients actually speak with a lawyer.
  • 42% of the time, law firms take three or more days to reply to a voicemail or web-generated form fill from a prospective client.
  • 3% of callers gave up before the phone was even answered and 11% of calls lasted less than 10 seconds—most likely prospective clients frustrated by their inability to reach a person.

Most of the firms were appalled at their performance, and couldn’t believe some of the recordings when we played them back. Our worst result was a voicemail message that, instead of transitioning to the prospective client leaving a voicemail, simply looped back and repeated the voicemail message ad nauseam—and this was for a client investing in Adwords advertising to generate business.

Across the board, firms’ failed to deliver an outstanding first impression to potential clients.

Nordstrom Level Of Customer Service

Overall, the standard of customer service law firms should evaluate themselves against is the shoe salesperson at Nordstrom, not the ineffective, substandard experience delivered by the law firm across the street. We looked at that Nordstrom approach and lifted key elements that turn a commodity purchase into a fantastic experience (which in turn, sells a lot of shoes). Combine this with the data from an Avvo study that shows the number one thing prospective clients look for in an attorney is responsiveness, and you start to understand just how important a stellar intake process is.


The study was conducted utilizing data from call tracking services for consumer-centric law firms across the country in a variety of different practice areas, although personal injury was heavily represented (roughly 55%). Mystery calls were placed during and outside of business hours, as were web based form fills if the client. We evaluated a variety of objective (i.e how long was I on hold?) and subjective (was the person empathetic?) metrics to establish a benchmark of performance.

Stop Marketing, Start Converting

The agency I work for markets exclusively for lawyers, but I’ve found the single most impactful thing most law firms can do is improve their intake process. Focus less on spending money for marketing, like Adwords or FindLaw, and more on ensuring that those prospective clientss who call you decide to hire you because you’ve delivered that Nordstrom level of customer service. Fortunately, the bar among your competitors is so low that delivering a stand-out experience shouldn’t take much.


The Phone Call

One out of every three callers to a law firm didn’t get to actually speak to a person and less than 10% of the time, the caller was able to speak with an attorney during their initial call. Some of the firms we reviewed this data with said that was by design: “We can’t waste our lawyer’s time speaking with potential business—if the case is important, we’ll get back to them.” Now consider walking through the Nordstrom shoe department, unable to find a salesperson or unable to try on some shoes yourself.

Intake Process Intake Process

The very first impression a prospective client gets is the way the phone is answered… yet one out of every four callers didn’t even hear the name of the firm when their call was answered. The non-descriptive greeting of “law firm” communicates to the client that you view yourself as interchangeable with any other law firm—a pretty bad message to deliver as a first impression. And yes, this issue is probably exacerbated by answering services, so perhaps it’s time to find a different service.

Intake Process

Some prospective clients found themselves on hold for an inordinate period of time, during which they may very well be surfing the web for a new appointment with someone less busy. Another tip: lullaby hold music should be avoided, as it makes the time seem to stretch out even longer. Reserve Eine Kleine Nachtmusik for your nursery, not your firm.

Intake Process Intake Process

Everyone’s favorite word is their own name, and the regular use of someone’s name consistently ranks as one of the easiest ways to build rapport and trust between strangers. And yet, in more than half of the calls, the person who answered the phone never identified themselves by name and almost as frequently failed to even ask for the caller’s name. (This of course, can make follow-up decidedly awkward: “Uhh… Someone at this number called about a car accident?”)

Intake ProcessIntake Process

To be continued tomorrow! Read more results in Part II of the ABA Benchmark Study on the Law Firm Intake Process here.

Webinar Series

We’ll be reviewing the results of this audit during the inaugural webinar of ABA Interest Group on Website, Social Media, and Blogs. All sessions at 2:00 PM EST:

February 8: Social Media Disasters with guest Ruth Carter

February 22: SEO:  Advanced Linkbuilding

February 23: ABA Benchmark Study: Intake Process, with John Reed

March 8: Big Enough Data with Guest, Jarred Correia

March 21: Insiders Guide to Avvo with Guest, Josh King

April 4: ABA Benchmark Study: Law Firm Website Performance

April 18: SEO:  Local SEO


About Conrad Saam

Conrad Saam

Conrad Saam is a member of the Social Media, Legal Blogs, and Websites Committee. He’s also the founder of Mockingbird– an agency delivering advanced online marketing exclusively for the legal industry. He is one of 34 Google Small Business Advisors with a focus on SEO and PR. Prior to Mockingbird, Conrad architected Avvo’s ascendancy from concept to legal directory market leader through advanced search engine optimization tactics. Conrad is a frequent guest speaker at Local U, a panelist of David Mihm’s Local Search Ranking Factors survey, and has spoken at Mozcon, SMX, SearchFest, Lawyernomics and Pubcon. He was an early contributor to Search Engine Land’s In-House column, has been featured in USA Today, the New York Times and the Huffington Post. Conrad at Google Plus.

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  • This is so important. So many lawyers spend big time and money to “get the phone to ring” without analyzing what’s happening when it does. My .02, at minimum, a human answers every single time and takes a message. Ideally, that human is a lawyer. But that’s not realistic for all firms. Then there’s the follow-up process. Perhaps a good topic for a future study?

    • Aaron George

      we’re just happy people are now finally paying attention to this! You make amazing points though, so much wasted marketing dollars putting prospects into a leaky sales/intake funnel

  • Aaron George

    This is why you don’t just want Lexicata (client intake software built exclusively for law firms), but you need it. Like the article said, focus on conversions, not marketing. No other software will get you the same conversion rates on intake as Lexicata’s will. Schedule a free product demo here –

  • Karen Brady

    What makes you assume only lawyers can “sell”? All of my team is trained to market the firm. Do you expect doctors to get on the phone with everyone who calls their office? The analogy to Nordstrom’s has its problems, starting with the fact that you compare a phone call with a visit to the establishment. When someone calls Nordstrom’s they do not expect to speak with the shoe salesperson, they understand that the salesperson cannot size their foot or show them shoes or let them try on shoes over the phone. Marketing takes place by phone and email for certain, but sales don’t. Your “salesperson” should be on the sales floor not fielding phone calls.

    • Conrad Saam

      Karen – I think you’ve nailed my point exactly here – the sales process crosses all facets of that first impression and absolutely shouldn’t be delegated to a single person. Inculcating that Nordstrom mindset across individuals and processes is key to creating that amazing experience…

      As for calling Nordstrom’s and asking a shoe question – give it a shot and see what happens, I think you’ll be surprised.


  • Dan Jacobs

    Great article ABA! As far as solving this problem, you should have a look at Law Ruler / legal case intake software. Law Ruler is a full featured legal CRM and marketing automation app that is the chosen market leader by law firms with 3-150+ employees, and is the ONLY legal case intake software application that truly works. Law Ruler is the ONLY app that is endorsed exclusively for legal case intake by the leading Personal Injury and Mass Tort Associations. Anything else is simply a toy.