Qualify, qualify, qualify! These are the three words I always heard from my sales manager when I took my sales training program nearly thirty years ago in my first job after college selling cars. These words are as applicable today in the business of law as they were when I first heard them.
In a law practice, the failure to properly qualify a potential client can bring disastrous consequences for the attorney and for the client. The challenge we have as lawyers is we have to maximize our time to yield the highest profitability. The problem is that the time we have to accomplish all our tasks on given day is limited. In fact, and I wrote about this in a previous article, in one year we have about two hundred business days to accomplish our financial goals. This is a high-pressure time-driven challenge. In addition to having a solid business plan, you must have a system, or at least guidelines, on how to qualify a prospective client.
1. Determine your guidelines
The client qualification process in my firm begins when prospective clients first contact my office. I look for responsiveness, timeliness, are they willing to provide us complete contact information and a summary of their issue? Are they willing to pay a fee to discuss the legal matter in more depth? These guidelines assist me in determining whether or not to move forward with this potential client. In my firm, we do not give free consultations and I understand we may miss some potential clients along the way. However, I prefer clients that understand the value we offer and are willing to pay for it.
2. Set expectations
The qualification process continues at the first consultation. At this meeting, the client is evaluating whether to retain our services; but also, we are evaluating if this is the type of case we would accept and be a good fit. Generally speaking, we go more in-depth into the legal matter, determine the client’s objectives in resolving the matter, whether it is something we routinely handle, or if it is something specialized that would most likely be referred out, the estimated cost of legal work, and the client’s ability and willingness to commit the financial resources required to see the matter to completion. This last point is very important. It is essential to have an honest “money conversation” with the client before going forward. If the client is not willing to commit the financial resources needed for the work required, it is not going to be a good match, and taking a case knowing this most likely will not end well.
3. Create a Retainer Agreement
The last step in the qualification process we use is the Retainer Agreement. In our agreement, we outline the services that will be rendered, as well as the fees and costs that the client is expected to incur, and the terms of payment and the amount due upon retainer. Further, the client acknowledges the financial discussion we had at the consultation. Since in many cases, we send out the agreements electronically, I evaluate the time it takes the client to sign and submit the initial retainer. The shorter the time span, this tells me the client is committed to resolving the legal issue at hand and he/she has the ability and the willingness to pay for our services, resulting in a mutually productive relationship.
In closing, having a client qualification process, whether formal or informal, will help you stay focused on retaining the clients that will yield higher profits. In turn, your clients will be happier because you took the time to determine if you can help them resolve their legal issue which brought them to your office in the first place. Remember, qualify, qualify, qualify!