finkelsteinIntake Academy:  Hello, everyone. I have a very special guest on our interview series this week. Andrew Finkelstein is the managing partner of Jacoby and Meyers, Finkelstein and Partners, and Fine, Olin, and Anderman.

I met Andrew at a marketing conference where he was the keynote speaker. He was talking a lot about change in the consumer law profession, and he had a lot of very unique things to say.

He has a tremendous amount of experience. He’s handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases. He served as a captain of the 9/11 victims compensation fund in a pro bono capacity through Trial Lawyers Care, which I assume is a non-profit organization.

In 2014, he was listed as one of the top 100 trial lawyers in the country by National Trial Lawyers. He’s a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and the Multi-million Dollar Advocates Forum.

Andrew, thanks for being with us on the call.

Andrew:  Thank you. Happy to be with you.

Intake Academy:  Let me just jump right in to some of the questions I have for you. What makes the legal selling environment unique from other professional service businesses?

Andrew:  There are a lot of challenges related to the legal services market. The first and foremost is from the consumer standpoint, it’s not measurable. There’s no quantifiable matrix they can look at to see what the quality of service is that they can expect.

Without it being measurable, it leaves the consumer in a very uncomfortable situation. That, coupled with the fact that there’s little to no opportunity to seek out competitive pricing for the services that they’re seeking. There’s really no standard pricing that’s ever posted. There are always challenges for consumers to determine what they will actually be paying.

The only time there’s an exception to that is on a contingency basis, but even there, they don’t know what services they will be receiving. They know what they’ll be paying – a percentage of their recovery – but they don’t really know what services that will be buying for them.

The consumer then perceives most of their legal issues as being complex. Generally, they are not time-sensitive, so they often put it off, so that call to action and asking them to retain counsel only happens when they feel pressure or an event occurs that requires them to seek counsel.

The result of that, and the legal industry being highly fragmented – being there are a lot of very small providers in a geographically dispersed area; it’s rare that a law firm has more than one location, so there’s very little brand identity out in the consumer world – is that ultimately consumers are fearful, because there’s more unknown in legal services than there are known in legal services – certainly, compared to any other service that’s provided.

Those are some significant unique challenges in the legal services environment.

Intake Academy:  There’s no flagship branded entity out there that someone can use as an anchor point or reference point when they are making a buying decision?

Andrew:  There may be in a regional area, but certainly not on a national basis. Regionally, there are some anchor firms depending on what that region is, but that anchor firm would be generally relegated to one area of practice.

There’s no consumer firm that really handles all areas of practice that would be that anchor firm that I’m aware of.

Intake Academy:  In your mind, how does the consumer perceive the law firm during…? Let’s say they’re in that situation, it’s top of consciousness, they’re ready to make a decision, what’s going through their mind, or how do they perceive the law firm during their buying decision?

Andrew:  My experience is that consumers base their determination on every touch and exposure they’ve received from that firm, whether it’s an advertisement in a brochure or Yellow Pages, television, radio, or word of mouth, right on through to that very first and most critically important first communication with the consumer – from the way they are greeted at the front desk or the way that initial phone call is answered, whether that communication is consistent with whatever the law firm is seeking to put out as what their brand represents.

Whether law firms affirmatively and actively create their brand, they have a brand. Whether it’s done proactively or not, the consumer equates whatever their firm, what their advertisement, the name, their logo, it represents something to them.

If the communication doesn’t support what that representation is, then it creates some uneasy sensation in the consumer where they would be more reluctant to purchase the services from that firm. So it’s super important to make sure there’s consistency in all messaging and branding – from top to bottom – that the legal firm does.

Intake Academy:  How does the legal profession compare to other service-based businesses when it comes to sales? Maybe I’ll add another little extra question on this: is the word “sales” a dirty word in the industry?

Andrew:  I guess it depends on who you’re talking to. It certainly isn’t a dirty word in any of the firms I’m involved with. That’s what we do. We sell services. People purchase services from my firm, and we deliver services.

Anybody who feels that you’re not delivering services and a sale doesn’t occur, I’d ask simply “Are you taxed on it?” If you’re taxed on it, you’re providing something of value and you’re selling something. I guess that may rub some attorneys the wrong way, but I think they’re detached from reality if they don’t think of what they do as sales.

Certainly, every time you sit down with a client, the opportunity to service that client yields future business if you do it right, because that client to whom you’ve delivered good services will recognize it and recommend you and your firm to their friends and family.

Every component of what you’re doing with your client has an element of sales to it. In law, it’s a bit different, though, because so much is transactionally based that after you provide your services, there are ancillary transactions that are and can flow from that initial core representation if you engage in cross-selling and you communicate other needs that the client may have and oftentimes that they don’t even realize that they have.

As a simple example, you’re representing somebody for whatever the matter is, and you ask them, “I hope you have a will,” and their response is, “No, I don’t have a will,” there’s an opportunity to generate a sale – whether or not you do wills or not.

You have the opportunity to explain the importance of having a will, that failure to have one leaves anything that they have for the state to decide how it gets distributed, and certainly everybody I’ve spoken to would prefer to control, upon their death, the distribution of their assets as opposed to allow the state to make that determination.

That, in and of itself, is a very simple sale, and if lawyers aren’t cognizant of that, then they are missing that opportunity.

It’s different than other types of service industries, because other service industries are usually one transaction. For example, real estate sales: if someone purchases a home, they go to a real estate agent who brings them around, they select the home, they walk them through the sales process, but once that’s complete, they generally don’t need that real estate agent anymore. Taxes: a tax provider is a yearly event, but after that annual filing, generally, most consumers don’t need tax advice.

It is a bit different in that you have the opportunity for developing a deep relationship where you can have many, many sales to the same people if you go about doing it the right way.

Intake Academy:  Is it possible for a law firm to develop a sales culture with their intake department?

Andrew:  Absolutely. If it’s delivered from the owners of a firm that that’s a priority, then most certainly a sales culture can be developed. If the owners of the firm don’t take an interest in it, then those who are in their intake department or anybody within the firm won’t take an interest in it.

The firm requires leadership, and that leadership requires the establishment of clear vision and strategy that has to be communicated to everybody within the firm. If it resides solely within the leadership’s mind and they don’t communicate it or set those priorities, it will never happen.

It’s a relatively easy thing to accomplish – if you’re committed to accomplishing it. The way you go about accomplishing it is setting clear, measurable benchmarks, defining what people have to do to accomplish those benchmarks, but more importantly, teaching them how to accomplish those benchmarks.

If a managing partner wants to drive a new business by – and I’ll just use my same example, wills – they ought to put in place a measurable event where every single person must ask their client, “By the way, do you have a will?”

Now, just putting that in place in and of itself is not enough; that goal must be measured. If you don’t measure it, you never know what’s going to happen. What I always say is if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

You have to put in place clear, measurable events and require everyone to accomplish those things. If you do, suddenly, you’ll have a dedicated sales force accomplishing what you want to accomplish. Whether it’s from intake right on through to completion of the matter, you want to always be, in my opinion, focusing on various opportunities to sell the firm.

Intake Academy:  Based on your experience, how do consumers shop for the right law firm?

Andrew:   First, they talk to friends and family. Or, if they don’t know anybody who has a recommendation for a relationship, they then go to some type of external medium, whether it’s television, traditional Yellow Pages or online directories, or now more and more, Facebook and social media.

They are asking and confirming before reaching out to any law firm – asking friends and family or confirming on various sites.

Intake Academy:  So then when they pick up the phone and have a conversation, are they trying to corroborate what their expectation is with the experience they have during the intake process?

Andrew:  Absolutely. They’ve already established something in their mind as to what that experience should be, and what they’re really doing, whether it’s conscious or subconscious, they are confirming whether the impression that they’ve received from either friends, family, or social media comports with that expectation.

If it doesn’t, the likelihood of you closing that sale is greatly diminished.

Intake Academy:   What gaps or opportunities are there for law firms to improve the buying experience for prospective clients?

Andrew:  I think you have to make sure that every single touch with the client is consistent with what the firm stands for. Starting from that initial phone call, actually even monitoring your social media and all your advertisements and whatever promises you set forth in those advertisements, it follows through with that first impression on that phone call or the first person, when they walk in, how they are greeted and the documents that are provided to them.

Are they consistent with what your messaging and what your brand stands for? That’s where there are a tremendous amount of gaps. Then, what I have found in firms that I have spoken to, is there’s a presumption that if that first touch, which is generally the case, is a non-attorney, they are consistent with what the brand is, but then when the client gets passed to a lawyer, the lawyer acts in a way that is not consistent with what their firm represents because they, frankly, it’s not top of mind – and it must be top of mind.

I think a tremendous gap in many firms is that managing partners spend so much time focusing on support staff, they forget to focus on the professional staff, as well.

Intake Academy:  What you’re saying is that in some cases, firms have done a pretty good job of developing what I would call a sales culture in their non-professional staff – meaning non-attorney staff, intake, reception, paralegal, or case managers – but a lot of times those initial prospective client calls, when they get passed to the attorney, in some cases that’s a gap; that’s an opportunity that’s being missed.

Andrew: Absolutely. I would encourage every managing partner to make sure the first thing every attorney does when they speak to a prospective client is thank them for the opportunity to possibly represent them, because that’s exactly what you’re doing.

The person you are on the phone with is giving you the opportunity to help them and ultimately earn a fee, and everybody in my office appreciates that, and we thank our prospective clients for giving us that opportunity to gain their trust.

There’s no greater honor than representing somebody else, and if somebody is reaching out to us to give us that opportunity, we should show our appreciation. I would challenge those who are listening to this or reading this to enquire of your attorneys how often they actually thank the prospective clients.

Intake Academy: Yeah, I would take it even a step further and ask what are their skill levels in terms of selling relationship-building engagement, empathy, following a process, gaining commitment – all of those things?

In many cases, our experience has been they’re great at the lawyering or the doing of the thing – and that’s why they got in to the doing of the thing – but at the end of the day, a big part of that is gaining commitment from people who have given you the opportunity, who have raised their hand and taken that next step to call you. It’s a very important component.

Andrew:  Let me just add that I agree with you, but if you don’t measure it, you’re not going to know if it really happens. I would encourage people to record phone calls. We record phone calls, and we evaluate them and we audit it.

Part of the matrix that we audit is to make sure that the employed person – whether it’s professional or non-professional – shows what we call the three Cs: that they’re showing caring, compassion, and concern for the caller.

That has to happen in the first 15 seconds of the conversation. If you’re not showing that caring, compassion, and concern, then it’s an uphill battle.

Intake Academy:  That’s tremendous. Let me shift gears on you, because you shared a lot of really good information, and obviously, I don’t think we can get this compressed down in this interview, but what are the three biggest challenges or trends on the horizon for consumer law firms that they should be prepared for?

Andrew:  I don’t know if I can narrow it to three, but I’ll tell you some of them. I think, although it feels like there’s a lot of competition right now, I think competition is going to grow significantly over the next few years, because the competition – and it’s going on already – isn’t restricted to lawyers.

It used to be that lawyers competed against lawyers for business. Now, there are so many non-lawyers engaged in the solicitation of potential clients, law firms have to not only distinguish themselves from one another but they also need to distinguish themselves from these non-law-firm highly capitalized entities that are out soliciting business.

That is a significant trend that I think will continue over the next several years.

Intake Academy:  Competing not only with other law firms, but with other entities outside of that realm?

Andrew:  Sure. As part of that, these lead-generation companies, online companies, are a significant challenge to any law firm. The other, I think, significant challenge is social media and controlling what your messaging is out on social media and being agile to be engaged in social media.

Because we are a consumer business, law is compared not to just lawyer on lawyer but also what are non-lawyers doing? If non-lawyers are allowing access to information through either social media or the Internet, and you are not, consumers don’t say “Well, no law firm does,” they say, “Well, GEICO allows me to complete an application online. How come my law firm doesn’t?”

The comparison isn’t just restricted to law firm to law firm; it’s really across many industries. That technology component will be a significant challenge, and it has been, over time.

I think the result of those two main forces – that is more competition from non-lawyers as well as increased pressures related to technologies… And to make that clear, those increased pressures related to technologies aren’t related to sustaining technologies – those things that make us work better or faster internally, like a better computer system or case management system – I’m talking about technologies that the consumer is driving towards.

Those two pressures – increased competition and increased technological pressures – are going to result in a consolidation within law. I think lawyers will need to collaborate far more than they do now, whether it’s formally or informally, to allow them to properly compete with all these competitive pressures.

Intake Academy: Do you feel in the future people will be more likely – as they are now, but even more likely – to self-diagnose, self-serve, access information that they feel like they can do things independently without the advice of a professional service provider?

Andrew:  I actually don’t view that as a significant threat to lawyers, because it’s actually good to have an informed consumer. They can come in and give better direction. And yes, while they have access to do their own research and prepare their own documents possibly, my experience is… The term, the acronym is DIY, do-it-yourself. But these do-it-yourself legal services really are, I actually call it the acronym DIWF – do it with fear.

That’s really what consumers do. They do it with fear. Sure, they may fill out something online, but before they actually push that button or execute that document, there is a tremendous amount of concern that can drive them to law firms.

But that’s really on the commodity side of what lawyers do, and lawyers aren’t in the commodity business. That’s for technology companies to provide those commodity services. Unless there’s some type of seal of approval from a law firm, I think consumers will continue to do it with some level of fear.

Ultimately, though, it is moving to what I define as DIWC – do it with confidence – where they will generate and maybe do 80% of the work themselves, but then will require an attorney to come and review the document, confirm it, and then the execution side of it, so they can do it with confidence.

But I don’t see that as a significant threat to lawyers in and of itself. What it really does, though, is it is consolidating a large consumer base into a few document generation providers, and the consumer then going to those document generation providers and asking for certified counsel.

That’s where lawyers ought to be considering getting engaged with: delivering services through those document generation companies.

Intake Academy:  Interesting. Alright, my final question for you: if you could give our listeners, and particularly managing partners of law firms, any one nugget of wisdom or advice based on your experience to be more effective in the future, what would it be?

Andrew:  I would say, trust, but verify. That would be my one little comment. Trust but verify. Trust that people are delivering the services that you want them to deliver, but you ought to verify it.

Make sure that you go sit in your intake room for at least an hour a week – if not more – so that they are handling the phone calls in the manner that you want them handled. Examine and look through your intake packets as if you are a potential client.

Send questionnaires to your clients. Don’t be afraid to ask, “How are we doing?” The old Ed Koch question, “How’m I doin’?” It’s very easy to do now. There are a whole bunch of online surveys. Clients are happy to do it. Lawyers who are afraid of sending those surveys out, that should tell you something.

You want to learn where you can improve and where your services may not rise to the level of what they should be. You can trust that they are, but you better verify it. There’s no better place to start than with your client, by asking them specifically.

Intake Academy:  Wonderful. Andrew, thank you so much for being on the call with us today. It was Andrew Finkelstein from Jacoby and Meyers, Finkelstein and Partners. I think you’ve shared a lot of really good information with our listeners.

Andrew:  Happy to help.

Jacoby and Meyers is associated with Andrew Finkelstein.