Intake Academy Interviews 101713 Harlan Interview
Intake Academy: I want to welcome you to this special interview. I have a very special guest with us on the line. He’s a friend of mine and a great business person. His name is Harlan Schillinger from Network Affiliates. Harlan, thanks for joining us on the call today.
Harlan Schillinger: I really appreciate it, it’s my pleasure.
Intake Academy: Before we get into the interview, I just want to give everybody a quick overview about who you are and kind of give you a bio. So, Harlan Schillinger is vice president and director of marketing for Network Affiliates, the oldest, largest and most comprehensive full service lawyer advertising agency since 1982. Network Affiliates was started by a lawyer for lawyers. They work with big firms such as Jacoby Meyers, The Cochran Firm, Michael DeMayo and Stark and Stark to name a few. I had the great pleasure and opportunity of meeting Harlan a number of years ago at several different lawyer marketing conferences. And the first time I met Harlan, he actually came up to me and said, “You know I have a feeling that I need you more than you need me.” And I kind of looked at him in funny way and said “What do you mean?”
So Harlan, tell us a little bit about what you meant by that or give our listeners some insight of that and also tell us a little bit more about who you are and what you do.
Harlan Schillinger: You know, I remember that first time that we met and you were a vendor sitting in your booth and I came up to you and asked you what you did and you said you do call tracking and so on and so forth. And I do remember that specific the line and I say it as strong today as I did it then. In fact I think I need you even more today than I did then. What’s happened since then in a last couple of years is that we’re focused and also plagued by the metrics. Many of my law firms did a fantastic job and no matter what they did, they couldn’t get away from phone calls and success in the 80’s and 90’s. And as competition grew, so did the challenge of capturing telephone calls and capturing clients and getting good cases and doing good business. You know the pie hasn’t really grown, what’s grown is the amount of people eating from the pie. So everyone has to really step up and do much better. So when I said to you, “I need you more than you need me,” I was specifically referring to call tracking and call training.
It’s amazing to me how a few lawyers really understand training and tracking. In fact, throughout my last couple of years, we’ve done a very comprehensive job in doing secret shopping and understanding this. And to use an example, I have clients that come to me and say, “Well my intake is 92%,” and I said to them, “Well yeah, when you’re sitting across knee to knee with a client and with a contingency fee agreement in front, you probably write almost every one them. Oh yes that’s correct.” And then when we get deeply into the metrics which they rarely have and understand accountability, we find that they don’t understand what’s not coming to them. What’s coming to them and falls through the cracks, what comes to them committed to come into their office with a good case and doesn’t show up and they don’t follow up as to why.
You know it’s kind of like a tsunami coming at everybody, they’re all running in every direction trying to salvage everything, and when you’re spending tons of money. For instance I have a client in Washington DC that spends $200,000 a month and they do phenomenally well. They don’t know what’s falling to the cracks and they don’t know what’s no-show and not coming to them. What they do know is what is coming to them and it’s an awful lot. With a firm like that, I used as an example, what if we can capture 2% more without giving me any more money. In a firm that size, with that kind of budget which we’re in a million dollar conversation. Bottom line, net-net after everything.
Intake Academy: So let me ask you this. So here you are, you’re an advertising guy and you see this, you recognize this as a challenge, so what does this mean to your client and to you? Does this mean, I mean typically, will the firms just say “Let’s spend more money on marketing and advertising and just get more leads,” versus converting what they’ve got?
Harlan Schilllinger: Well, that’s one option, and that’s pretty self-serving on my part but as a professional with total commitment to my clients, that’s not good advice. I have to sit back and say, “You know can spend more money but you’re not going to get any more business.” And the cheapest business for you to get with least expensive case to acquire is to do better at what you do without spending any more money and that’s solid advice.
Intake Academy: So, do you see this across the board with more and more firms in terms of their essentially leaving opportunities on the table?
Harlan Schillinger: I see with every firm I work with and every firm my competitors work with and every firm that’s out there, as an example, I was with a firm that probably says I would get 92 94 percent of everything. After coming back from our last convention, he called me and said, “You know I owe you a great apology. I’ve had five no-shows in the last three days and unfortunately, we didn’t really follow up very well as to why they didn’t show.” If they were to simply capture one or two of those people that didn’t show in their office, that’s business. But what they don’t know is what they don’t know. I find it actually amazing that they didn’t really follow up or follow up well on that kind of business because those were committed cases. Those are cases that my law firms say “Those are cases that I want.” They made the appointment, the injury qualified, they wanted the deal.
Intake Academy: So in terms of — what this would mean to a law firm if they were able to salvage… let’s just say they were able to salvage two percent and we’re talking about the types of firms that you work with. What would it mean to them from a monthly revenue stand point? I mean roughly, what does that translate to?
Harlan Schillinger: If you look at that kind of a firm and let’s deal with the actual numbers. If they were getting 400 inquiries a month as a hundred a week, that’s kind of average for a medium size advertising firm. And they take in 20 percent of that business and they were to increase their business by two percent and their average fee, and the average settlement I should say is $7,500. You can do the math. That’s a minimum of $499,000 at the end of the year and in their pocket net.
Intake Academy: So this is a significant amount of money that’s being left on the table by not focusing on conversion.
Harlan Schillinger: Absolutely, The weakest hole in everyone’s bucket. You know, a client came to me and said, “So let me understand that it’s kind of like a bucket of water and the water sloshing out on the top.” I said “Not really, it’s like a bucket of water with a hole in the bottom that you’re looking at the water dissipate while not realizing how it’s dissipating from the bottom. It’s dripping on your foot and you’re still looking at the top.” What you don’t know, you don’t know.
Intake Academy: It’s a great analogy. So let me ask you this because you’ve mentioned it to me before. I take that it will be valuable for our listeners. When a firm is doing well, they’re successful, they clearly are beyond successful, they’re doing very well, is it even more difficult to focus in on this? And when they realize, “Hey, maybe there’s a problem but it’s just not something that we want to address right now,” or is it because they don’t know how to address the problem.
Harlan Schillinger: It’s clearly a problem. It’s a problem because they want more business but they don’t want to recognize what they’re not doing. You know lawyers they’re a funny group. The ego is extremely strong, you have to have good ego to be successful. You know, back to “what you don’t know,” you don’t know, they’ve done incredibly well. How do you go to a lawyer that has done phenomenally well and you’re sitting on his yacht or you’re standing in his mansion using that facetiously and kiddingly and say, “You know, you’re really losing a lot of business.” They laughed at me and I said, “Well, I know that. I’m pretty good at what I do.” So you’re challenging them personally.
The question is, are they good lawyers? Are they good businessmen? A good businessman runs a business with complete accountability and most lawyers received about an hours worth of a training in law school on business. So they have to find their way and try to tell somebody what they’re not doing, well, when they’re doing so many things that are right. But in this day and age, when you’re paying so much for business, you’ve got to look at those opportunities. The thing that amazes me the most is they spend gobs and gobs of money on advertising and spend the least amount of money on intake. The first person in your law firm to answer the telephone is your ambassador of first impressions. That will set the tone and the tenor for anything else. Call a couple of firms, the lack of empathy, the lack of accountability, the lack of understanding that these people are desperate that they’re calling in blows my mind.
Intake Academy: Yeah, we see it all the time and typically, what we find is, at the very tactical level, the attorney see it as, “Hey we need to screen these calls.” And the people who are taking the calls see themselves as screeners. So they don’t understand that they’re actually in sales and that sales is not a dirty word, and that their job is really to develop a relationship whether it’s a qualified case or not. You want to walk away and be able to provide good information to this person and to empathize with them. And yeah, we see this all the time. So, let me ask you this. So clearly there’s a challenge. You see this all the time with your clients. I mean, you have a broad spectrum of wisdom and experience in working with your clients. What are some action items that you would recommend that law firms could take to deal with this or to work on it to improve?
Harlan Schillinger: Well the first thing, action item that you have to do as we are as parents or people in society use to recognize the issue. Unless you recognize the issue, you can’t really go and fix it. I think it’s harder to recognize the issue then to fix it. So I really think that one of the things that I recommend and I’ll go back to the comment I made to you when I first met you. “I need you Chris more than you need me.” I’ll use you to recognize the issue and help me bridge the gap between myself and the client and say. “Hey, you know here’s reality, secret shopping is deadly because you can’t avoid it. I mean, this is exactly how your firm is. I’m not telling you this. You’re listening to yourself and understanding that if you don’t have really good metrics on your phone and know exactly what’s going on, on your phone and your conversion, you can’t fix the problems. SO the very first thing, you have to really recognize the issue. And it’s on every law firm.
Intake Academy: Okay. This is great. Alright, so assuming they can recognize it, obviously we have a variety or different things that we recommend in terms of holding people accountable, coaching people, giving them the skills set to be successful. All those things are part and parcel to what we do at the Intake Academy. In your experience, what are some trends or things coming down the line overall with consumer law that you see in the future, that you think will be valuable to share on this call?
Harlan Schillinger: I think the biggest challenge is for law firms to truly understand the consumer better. We’re all trained to understand what the case is, what they’re looking for. We’re looking for a slipping fall or we’re looking for truck accident and we’re looking for a catastrophic injury, medical malpractice case. But by understanding the consumer and the patterns, I think that that would be a huge challenge to law firms. Certainly with the understanding that, you know social media is here to stay, we are in a society that is driven by referrals and by—what do they call it on social media? Chris, help me out. What is driven by—you know referrals basically.
Intake Academy: No, I mean people will have access, they have access 24/7 to so many different options. The social media is influencing things in terms of how many friends do you have on your facebook page, what are people saying about your review sites? Sites like AVVO where the consumer can go out and they could…
Harlan Schillinger: Correct, we’re in a referral and recommendation world. That’s what social media is all about, and in one minute, somebody can make you or break you and everyone wants to know, “Did you see this guy?” So it’s no longer the upper crust that recommends lawyers. To go on social media or a website and Google entire platform as based on reviews. “Hey, did you get a good review or not a review?” Everything is transparent with the internet. So that’s one of the biggest challenges. Technology is another huge challenge for law firms. You’ve got to embrace it. The third thing I think as a huge challenge is understanding, managing metrics and KPI’s for business. If you are not tracking your business through, really technology and understanding why you have to track it, I think you’re lost in this world. And also the three biggest issues relating to consumer practices. They all go back to employment, how you hire people, how you obtain clients.
Intake Academy: Let me get any final words of wisdom or any nuggets of knowledge that you would like to share with our listeners in closing?
Harlan Schillinger: The most significant thing I think you can do with your practice, step back and see what you really have and not being in denial about things. Your receptionist or first person to answer the telephone after you spend all of your energy and money and time and effort, sweat and equity, you get people to ring your phone is so significant. We are people of business, it’s all about relationships. People hire people because of relationships. That relationship starts the moment that phone rings. And I mean that’s the most important thing. In the X generations, their relationship is texting. What’s going to happen when they eventually have to go to a job interview? Because the guy who’s going to hire them is not going to text them the question. So we’ve really got to understand that relationships, whether it is on the telephone or whether in email communication or any communication is still rock solid and the most important thing to recognize.
Intake Academy: Phenomenal. This is great stuff, Harlan. Harlan, I want to thank you so much for joining us for this interview. Just a quick note about Harlan, again, he’s a generous guy, he’s always taken the time to connect with myself and Chris Mullins every time we see at this various marketing events and he’s been very generous with us on this interviews, so I appreciate it.
Harlan Schillinger: Well if you like to continue this and if anyone would like to contact me directly, my cell phone number is 303-817-7313. I market our firm though relationships. I believe you have to walk the walk before you can talk it. You can look myself at NetAff.com at Network Affiliates. I would be happy to whether do business with you or not, track of you whatever I can contribute to you in life. It’s better to give more than take.
Intake Academy: Well thank you so much for joining us for this interview and we will look forward to seeing you soon Harlan.
Harlan Schillinger: Thank you so much, good luck to you and Chris. I need you more than you need me.
Intake Academy: [Laughter] Okay, bye bye for now.
Harlan Schillinger: You bet.
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