How to Run the Business Side of Personal Injury Practice

Ninth in a Series of Quarterly Columns
Four Things You Can Do to Make More Money for Your Practice
William L. Speizman
America's #1 Business Consultant to the Plaintiff's Bar

1. “Cross-sell” your services. There’s an old rule in legal practice, “People think you only do what they come to you for.” The following story illustrates the negative impact that rule can have. It was told to me by an attorney who does personal injury and workers comp:

“I was in court one day and saw a client for whom I had handled a workers comp case. I went over and said hello and asked him why he was in court. Another attorney was with him. My former client informed me he had been hit by a car and was suing the driver; this was his day in court. I asked him why he hadn’t called me. He said, ‘I got hit by a car. I needed a personal injury attorney. You do workers compensation.’”

If you do more than personal injury, you need to make your clients aware of all the types of cases you handle. You should instruct them as to what you do at the signup and again at the settlement when you hand them their checks. In corporate law firms, this type of client education is called “cross-selling services.”

Moreover, you shouldn’t just tell your clients what you do. You should show them. Print the types of matters you handle on some sheets of letterhead. You should put personal injury at the top of the list followed by family law, workers compensation, bankruptcy, elder law, criminal defense, etc.--whatever you do. When instructing clients about the kinds of matters you handle, use one of those sheets as a visual aid. When you are finished instructing clients, fold the sheet, put it in an envelope and send it home with them.

2. Become your clients’ attorney. Huh? Clients who are middle income and down typically don’t know attorneys socially. Navigating through this world not knowing an attorney who can be called in time of crisis is like living without health insurance and the peace of mind it provides.

Whenever you are handling a matter for a client who is unlikely to know an attorney socially, remember to make the following proffer at sign up and settlement: “I’m in your corner from now on. I want you to think of me as your personal injury attorney [or personal attorney if you do more than PI.] Whenever you, your loved ones or friends get injured [or have a legal problem], give me a call or have them call me. I never charge for my first consultation.”

Whether you use this script, edit it or create one of your own, commit it to memory and rehearse it until you can say it smoothly and sincerely. Saying this to your clients will help you convert your handling of their cases into long-term, referring relationships with them.

3. Give clients permission to refer to you. It may make no sense, but many lower socio-economic status people are reluctant to refer friends and loved ones to professionals. So you must invite referrals explicitly and assure your lower socio-economic status clients that you really want to receive referrals from them.

I don’t have space to explain the reasons for this surprising reluctance to refer, but it does exist. For example, while discussing the phenomenon with a couple of attorneys from Virginia at an ATLA meeting in the 1990s, one of them told me, “A couple of weeks ago, I got a referral from a former client. A few days later my former client called to make certain I wasn’t angry at him for sending me the case.”

You should have a small, well-designed placard sitting on your receptionist’s counter which says, “We appreciate it when you refer your friends and loved ones to us. We will be happy to help them. Our first consultation is always free.” That placard should also sit on your desk and the desk of everyone in your law firm who meets with your clients face-to-face. (If you want to receive personal injury cases only, the first sentence should read, “We appreciate it when you refer your friends and loved ones to us when they get injured.”)

Also, you should include those three sentences as a postscript in every letter and email your law firm sends to your current and former clients.

Finally, remember to say those three sentences when you talk to your clients in person or via the telephone. When staff members speak with clients, have them repeat those three sentences as well.

4. Mind how your telephone is answered. Most personal injury law firms do either an acceptable or a good job answering their phones and directing in-coming calls to the appropriate party. Unfortunately, a few firms handle new case, status and other calls in a manner that all but shouts to the caller, “GO AWAY. YOU’RE BOTHERING ME.”

Most usually, such law firms use a machine rather than a person to answer in-coming calls. The machine instructs callers, many of whom are highly unsophisticated, to “press 5 for a firm directory.”

In some of these law firms, it has been months, even years, since anyone has checked the answering system. Often, it is out of kilter in whole or in part. For example, the directory options may make no sense. Or, if the caller waits too long to make a selection, the system may roll him or her over to “the operator.” In turn, the operator may not answer. Instead, a recorded message may instruct the caller to “press 4” which takes the caller to a staff directory which could be on the fritz.

If at all possible, a person, not a machine, should answer your telephone. It may cost more, but the additional cost may be defrayed by the cases you sign up which you would otherwise lose to caller frustration with your telephone answering system.

Sometimes the problem with a law firm’s telephone system lies in its on-hold selections. While waiting to speak to a live person, a caller may be subjected to music featuring extremely raunchy lyrics because of the law firm’s poor choice of a radio station. Think how the mother of a four-year-old killed by a hit-and-run driver feels when she is on hold and must listen to “(bleep) him, (bleep) her, (bleep’in bleep) ‘em all”.

I recommend that you Google “messages on hold.” You will find websites of companies that craft and record professional on-hold messages. Along with providing appropriate background music, these messages can inform callers of the types of cases you handle, assure them you are happy to receive referrals and tell them your first consultation is always free.

Finally, it is extremely important that from time to time you check on how your telephone is being answered and what callers are listening to on hold. After coaching them in what to do, have some friends make “mystery new case calls” to your law firm during office hours and in the evening. Have them report to you their impressions of how well their calls were handled.

These are four little things that can make a big difference in the amount of revenue your practice generates. Other things being equal, the more revenue your practice generates, the more income you will derive from it.

Copyright 2009 William L. Speizman
All Rights Reserved