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


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