Why Solicitors Focusing On Billing Targets Is The Wrong Thing To Do!

I remember from my practising solicitor days that billing targets were the be all and end all. However, I now know that focusing on billing targets is completely the wrong thing to do. Let me share a little of my story with you to explain why.

Why Solicitors Focusing On Billing Targets Is The Wrong Thing To Do!

I remember some parts of my practising days so much more clearly than others.

I am sure that many of them I have blocked out because ultimately I have always been a marketing man as opposed to a solicitor. So some parts of the job were really quite difficult for me – like drafting witness statements that tied the whole claim together, or the numerous litigation deadlines.

One thing I can never forget is that chat with the senior partner around the 20th of every month. It went something like this.

“Jervis, you are £5,000 short this month, get billing boy!” (I was young then. Ho hum.)

“But I billed £20,000 over last month Anthony.”

“I don’t care. I need that £5,000 this month or else.”

The sad part about this is that I have realised in the many years since leaving the law that he was focusing on completely the wrong number.

Think about a cake shop. Whilst they might like to make 100 cakes every day, they know that if they only focus on that number with blind hope, no cakes will ever be made.

They know that they need the eggs, flour and the sugar. If they have the right number of those ingredients the 100 cakes will surely follow.

It is exactly the same with billing targets. Focusing on the billing amount each month is not the smart thing to do. The smart thing to do is to focus on the eggs, flour and the sugar.

In a law firm, this is simple to do.

If you want to close 10 files a month at an average billing amount of £1,000 to hit a modest £120,000 per annum, you have to open 10 files a month consistently. If you focus on this number, the 10 closures will follow once the consistent 10 files are opened.

So how do you open the 10 files?

You need to speak to 14 to 30 people a month about your service.

Why 14 to 30? Well, the number varies so much because it is down to how well you have the Meaningful Conversation with the client. If you are really good at this, 14 conversations will lead to 10 new clients. If, however, you don’t really understand how to have this Meaningful Conversation with the client and instead you focus just on the law and not the clients wants and needs, you will need at least 30 conversations.

I know these figures are accurate because I discuss these sorts of numbers all of the time.

Where are you on the 14 to 30 scale?

If you want to improve this and move from a 30 conversation person to land 10 clients, to a 14 conversation person, you could do what solicitor David Edwards did:

Many years ago I attended a conference on a mission for CPD points. The speaker was droning on and even in those pre-smart phone days the audience was finding ways to distract itself. “You have heard all this before” said the speaker breaking through the collective trance, to be met with a general murmur of agreement, “but are you doing it? Knowing is not doing”. I offer this brief case study in the same spirit. It is not original but it made a difference.

About three years ago I decided we would abandon all bulk referred conveyancing work and withdraw from all referral agreements. That meant turning away more than 20% of our turnover over-night. Instead we aligned our conveyancing service with the rest of the firm and looked for good quality clients paying a bit over the market average fees.

We started off using the same old approach –

“How much do you charge for conveyancing?”

“Well £x plus vat and there will be disbursements including SDLT of £x, Land Registry of £x and search fees …”

“OK, thanks I’ll get back to you.”

Which of course they didn’t as another firm would undercut us. As well as that a large chunk of the market, tied to their referral networks were not even ringing us for a quote.

We had to examine our process.

The first step was to take quoting away from the conveyancing team to be done by someone who had the time to talk to enquirers without sounding as if they wanted to be doing something else.

Then we thought about what we were trying to tell the client; was it that conveyancing would cost them £x plus vat or that we would look after them, talk to them when they rang and so on? How were we going to make the caller choose us? Could we really expect a client to compare solicitors on the basis of price and then choose the more expensive one?

That led us to Nick’s meaningful conversation.

We wanted callers to judge and compare us on the things that really mattered to them. For some that was the cheapest price but for the majority, making the biggest financial commitment of their life, there were other issues. We found out those issues in the meaningful conversation, listening to the client and asking questions so that we could understand what mattered to them and what was motivating them.

We have tried all different ways and questions; timescales, reasons for moving, the type of property, location, we have even asked clients to consider what sort of a solicitor they wanted “Ford or Mercedes” (and after reflecting overnight the particular caller chose us, representing the Mercedes).

The point is we need clients to focus on what really matters to them and then form a judgment as to whether they think we can deliver that. For those who want a personal, proactive service, with experts in place solving and heading off problems then we were the right choice. For those who wanted the cheapest we weren’t.

A quality service offering is not the only approach and others would work – converted flat specialist, new-build specialist (and we also use that approach) – but whatever the proposition we needed to understand where we could out-compete the opposition, understand what the caller wanted and then help them understand that we could deliver that.

Nick talks about people making decisions largely based on their emotions. That is undoubtedly true and for many we found the rapport the caller established with the person we had dealing with the enquiries was central to our success. Our person wasn’t a fee-earner and in fact she has no legal experience. But she is intuitive, friendly, straight-forward, listens and inspires confidence in her ability to deliver – or have the fee-earner deliver. Most importantly she communicates at the caller’s level, entirely free of the jargon or shorthand that the legal expert so readily deploys. The caller felt she was on their side.

Did it work? Our conversion rate fluctuates, depending on the competition and volume of transactions, but we see a conversion rate of 75% and better based on fees that are in the upper quartile. In other words 7 or 8 out 10 callers choose us although we are more expensive (sometimes significantly more) than most of the competition. Our profit margin on conveyancing has more than trebled.

David Edwards. Burt Brill & Cardens Solicitors.

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