My Meaningful Conversation Method has helped solicitors to generate conversions of new enquiries into client instructions by as much as 75% (see the case study below) and completely removes price as an objection.
The True Cost of Each New Enquiry
Before moving onto The Meaningful Conversation Method in detail, it is worth stressing why it is so very important and why I believe it is some of my most powerful and profitable work for solicitors.
To do this let’s take a look at how much each new enquiry for your services costs to generate.
Use the formula below to work out the cost of every new enquiry:
Annual marketing spend ÷ new enquiries per month = cost per enquiry (advertising, sponsorship,
brochures, website, website marketing, etc.)
Even for a small high street law firm this is a good exercise to carry out.
If we look at a firm turning over £500,000, with a marketing spend estimated at 5%, the example might be:
Marketing spend £25,000 ÷ new enquiries (per annum) 500 = cost per lead £50
I find that when you attach a real monetary value to every telephone call, your team start to treat them more seriously and not ignore the telephone when it rings or make excuses as to why they cannot talk to a potential new client at that moment.
Now let’s move onto The Meaningful Conversation itself.
The Meaningful Conversation Method
If your prospective client has made it past your receptionist, you have done well. We now move on to the crucial part of the process, and one that should not be rushed.
This is where the only sales acronym you will ever need in your law firm comes into play: 2E1M:
2E1M = Two Ears, One Mouth
Or, in its extended format: Two Ears, One Mouth: Use them in the correct proportion.
If this part of the call goes well, subject to following up properly and consistently and not charging a disproportionate sum for your services, you will win the instruction.
However, to win the instruction you must also remember this fact, which often confuses solicitors/
fee earners: the initial prospect telephone call is never about giving legal advice.
I know from many years’ experience of training law firms that fee earners often dive straight into the legal issues because that is where they feel most comfortable and because they believe that will
convince the client to instruct them.
However, this rarely works.
So, if the meaningful conversation is not about giving legal advice, what is it about then?
The meaningful conversation is all about finding out what matters to your client.
My marketing mantra is always Clients First!
Understanding your client’s needs and concerns is all that you should be looking to achieve in this call. If you can achieve this, you will have the best possible chance of winning the instruction.
If you do as the other 99% of solicitors do and talk about yourself, your experience, you, you and more you, you will lose the instruction.
The call must be all about your client, as a person, and what matters to them. This applies to both business and individual legal matters, because in both cases you are doing the same thing: selling your services to a person.
Let me give you some examples of telephone calls that I have heard and explain where the fee earner is going wrong.
1. Conveyancing new client enquiry call:
Prospect I would like a quote for moving house, please.
Fee earner How much is the house you are buying?
Fee earner OK, well, our legal fees will be £575 plus VAT, and the disbursements will be xxx, xxx and xxx. How does that sound?
Prospect Well, I am just ringing round at the moment so I will
come back to you.
2. Personal injury new client enquiry call:
Prospect I’ve had an accident at work, can you help me, please?
Fee earner Yes, I deal with lots of accident at work claims. I am
a member of the Law Society’s personal injury panel and have
a lot of experience in this area. Tell me a bit about the accident.
Prospect I was going down a ladder and the rung gave way. I fell 20 feet to the ground, shattering my left heel.
Fee earner I am sorry to hear that [it’s not genuine, as the solicitor is too excited that the prospect has a good claim – and the prospect will be able to tell]. Yes, it sounds as if you have a good case. When would you like to come in and see me so that I can get the paperwork signed up?
Prospect I will have a think about it and come back to you.
3. Commercial client new enquiry call
Prospect Hi, I am in a partnership but we are unable to work together any more. I want to discuss ending the partnership. Can you help?
Fee earner Yes, I deal with a lot of partnership disputes. I am something of an expert in this area. They can drag on for months and usually cost a fortune, so the sooner we get started, the better. When can you come in to see me?
I know that this is how most phone calls in all areas of law will proceed. I have heard hundreds of them. You may be thinking that these are quite normal phone calls and that that is how you handle incoming enquiries. If you do think that, the good news is that you are now going to learn a method that will increase your conversion rates and make you more successful at securing instructions, which will dramatically increase your profits without
spending a penny.
The initial telephone call is all about listening. You must find out what matters to your client. Without this knowledge, how can you secure their trust and subsequent instructions? Remember, 2E1M means that if you are talking more than your client, you are failing in your task.
The call must be all about your client, their concerns, their needs, and what matters to them about the legal issue in question.
They don’t care if you have an urgent matter to attend to and need to rush them off the phone, or whether you want to get home early on the day that they call.
Quite rightly, all they care about is feeling that they are being listened to and that someone who seems to care
is showing some empathy about their situation. In the examples above, no one asked about the client.
In the first example, why was the client buying a house? Was it for themselves or a family? If they have a family or a spouse, are they relocating for a new job or a new school, which means that that timing is critical? How did they find the house? Is it the house they have been hoping to move into for the last five years and they
cannot believe their luck that they are now going ahead? If the fee earner had taken the time to ask these questions, they might have found out what was important to the client. If they had, they would
have built rapport and already started establishing a relationship with the client. They would win the instruction.
This is what the meaningful conversation method is all about.
People make decisions largely based on emotions.
Think of all the times that you have engaged the services of others. I guarantee that on most occasions the person who won your business was the one who took the most time and showed a genuine interest in you.
You must show a genuine interest in your prospects if you want to increase your conversion rates and win more instructions.
Before I dive into the details, I want you to hear from a solicitor who has already taken action. I think it will set the scene well for you.
Many years ago, I attended a conference on a mission for CPD points. The speaker was droning on and, even in those pre-smartphone 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”.
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 overnight. 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. 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 and 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 the 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, by listening to the client and asking questions
so that we could understand what mattered to them and what was motivating them.
We have tried 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, 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, straightforward, 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, seven or eight out of ten 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.
Hopefully, that convinces you that this is a worthwhile exercise.
Now, looking back to the examples above, let’s see how they could be improved to make the conversations all about the prospective client.
1. 2E1M new conveyancing enquiry call
Prospect I would like a quote for moving house, please.
Fee earner Certainly, Mr Hughes. Can I find out a little more about the reasons for your move, please, so that I can ensure I offer you the right service for your needs?
Prospect Yes, of course.
Fee earner Where are you moving from and to, and is there a reason for the move, such as a new school or employment?
Prospect Well, actually, I’ve got a new job and we’re new to the area. I start my new position in eight weeks’ time and we are in rented accommodation at the moment, which we need to be out of by then, too, so it is quite important that we move quickly.
Fee earner I understand. It’s important that we can complete your move for you well in time for your new job. If we can agree the fees, how quickly can you have your mortgage in place, do you think? I want to ensure that that will not hold up matters for you.
Prospect Well, all of the paperwork went off to the building society this morning and they tell me that they should be able to get an offer out to me within seven days, subject to the survey results.
Fee Earner That is excellent, Mr Hughes. We still don’t have a lot of time, so if I can clear some time in my diary for you today, would you be able to come in so that I can start the ball rolling?
Every day that passes could jeopardise your move date. I want to avoid that at all costs. When could you come in?
In this situation, by asking questions about the client’s needs (‘Clients First’), the solicitor has found the key trigger here – timing.
He can now use that back in conversation with the client to show empathy. Your client may push for details of costs, but in my experience, they often will not if you have shown enough interest to secure their trust. You can discuss fees face to face when you have all the papers ready to go. If the client insists on hearing your
costs on the telephone, by the time you present them, unlike all the other solicitors that they have called, you will be in a much stronger position to secure their instruction, having taken the time to find out what matters most to them.
2. 2E1M personal injury new client enquiry call
Prospect I’ve had an accident at work, can you help me, please?
Fee earner I’m sure I can, but to be certain can you let me know exactly what happened and how you would like me to help you, please?
Prospect Certainly. I was going down a ladder and the rung gave way. I fell 20 feet to the ground, shattering my left heel.
Fee earner I’m sorry to hear that. How are you now?
Prospect I’m still in hospital and in a lot of pain at the moment.
Fee earner I’m sure you are, Mr Hughes. How is your treatment going?
Prospect Slowly. I’ve got another week in hospital, and they are saying it could be as long as three months to recover. I can’t afford to be off work for that long, as I won’t be able to pay my mortgage.
Fee earner I can help you there, Mr Hughes, by obtaining a payment in advance of your compensation. This might ease the financial pressure for you and help you to pay your bills.
Would that be helpful?
Prospect Yes, please, that would be really helpful.
Fee earner Good. OK, we need to move quickly then Mr Hughes. When can I come and visit you in hospital to get the ball rolling?
3. 2E1M new commercial client enquiry call
Prospect Hi, I’m in a partnership but we are unable to work together any more. I want to discuss ending the partnership.
Can you help?
Fee earner Yes of course Mr Hughes. First, can you tell me a bit about your business and the challenges you are currently facing with your business partner, so that I can explain how I can help you?
Prospect We own and run a fishing lake. My business partner has lost interest in it and isn’t helping at all, but still expects to take half of the income.
Fee earner I see. That does sound very unfair. What would be your ideal outcome, Mr Hughes?
Prospect Well, I love running the lake and want to continue to do so, so ideally I would like to be able to buy out my partner’s share of the business.
Fee earner Excellent, I understand. In fact, I recently helped someone to reach an agreement with a partner in a very similar situation to yours, Mr Hughes. I was even able to put my client in touch with someone to provide the finance to buy out the other partner.
Prospect Really? That sounds excellent. When can I come to see you?
Notice the following in each of these calls:
- The call is all about the client and their needs, and not all about the legal issues. Using the client’s name can sound clichéd, but it will always work. We are all very attached to our names, so you should use it, especially during the meaningful conversation.
- The fee earner, on discovering what the crux of the issue is for the prospective client, is able to suggest an action that excites the prospect and makes them want to get moving (the fast house move, the interim payment and the financing of the partnership deal). There will always be a trigger like this that you can draw out from your prospect in all of your meaningful conversations. It is your job to find this trigger.
I have some advice for you here: some fee earners, however hard you try or however much training you provide for them, will never be good at this part of the process. If that is the case, yet they are really good at the legal work, they should not handle the meaningful conversation. It is better to hand a matter over to them once the instruction has been received. I have instigated this in several firms where a fee earner is an expert in their field, but very poor at building rapport with the client.
Someone else, often a secretary or another solicitor, handles the meaningful conversation, secures the instruction, and then passes the matter over to the fee earner.
How does this happen in practice?
The call will go something like this:
‘OK, our best conveyancer to get you moving as quickly as possible is one of our partners, Nick Jones. I’m pleased to say that you are in luck! I’ve just checked his diary and can see that he is free at 2 PM today, so we can get started straight away for you.’
It is far easier to sing the praises of a colleague than it is to blow your own trumpet, so this works incredibly well.
The Meaningful Conversation Method comes from my book, The Law Firm Growth Formula; How smart solicitors attract more of the right clients at the right price to grow their law firm quickly.