Chad Dudley Vista
Intake Academy: Welcome, everybody, from the Intake Academy. We have a very special guest on the line with us today. Chad Dudley is the managing partner of Dudley DeBosier Injury Lawyers. Dudley DeBosier has offices throughout Louisiana and focuses on the areas of personal injury, workers’ compensation, social security, disability, and mass torts.
Chad is the founding partner of Vista Consulting, a consulting company that provides operational consulting to personal injury law firms across the country. We’re very happy to have Chad on the line with us today.
Chad: Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure for me.
Intake Academy: Great. I met Chad at a marketing conference in Hawaii, where he was talking about measuring key performance indicators and return on investment and tracking. He really had a lot of great ideas, and so I thought it would be great to have him on the call today.
Without further ado, I’m going to ask you some questions and get your feedback. We’re going to start really basic. What are key performance indicators?
Chad: I define key performance indicators for a firm as metrics or statistics that a manager or an owner can look at on a recurring basis to know how their firm is doing. There’s a lot of stuff. Over the past five or six years, Vista has had the opportunity to work with probably close to about three or four dozen law firms in various capacities and look at what they track, how they track it, and so forth.
Over the course of time, we’ve come to realize that metrics break down into two broad categories. One are scoreboard metrics, and then the other ones are more diagnostic metrics. When you think of key performance indicators, I think most people are talking about scoreboard metrics, and I define those as these are metrics that tell you are you winning or are you losing? If you look at it, it is really simple to know, “We’re doing good,” or, “We’re doing bad.”
Diagnostic metrics are the dozens of other reports that tell you why you’re winning or why you’re losing. When we work with firms, we usually start off by getting the scoreboard stuff locked down, and then we build some diagnostic metric dashboards or tracking mechanisms.
Intake Academy: Let me just break down to make sure I understand it. If you’re talking about key performance indicators, these are metrics or key numbers or things that you’re measuring in a law firm that have an impact on the business overall. And you’ve broken it down into two categories: scoreboard metrics, or key performance indicators, and diagnostic metrics. Is that correct?
Chad: Correct. Good examples of scoreboard metrics or key performance indicators would be a law firm’s want ratio and their conversation ratio. If a law firm gets 100 phone calls, how many of those did they want to sign up? Their want ratio is whatever percentage that is. Then their conversion ratio is, of the ones who they wanted to sign up, how many did they actually sign up?
Those are scoreboard metrics or KPIs, in my opinion. Those are things you’re looking at every day that are telling you how you’re doing.
Now, if those numbers were not in good shape, then you would dig deeper and find out why your conversion ratio is low – and to do that, you would use diagnostic reports, looking at what was the method of signup? Who was in charge of getting the case signed up? If your want ratio is off, who was in charge of making the decision to sign the case up or reject the case?
Sometimes what you’ll find is the data points to a new intake person who didn’t understand the procedures or possibly an intake person who’s been there a while, who’s burnt out and is not doing a good job, or a particular method of signup is off.
Those diagnostic reports will tell you why that conversion rate was off and then you go back in and make the adjustments to get it back to where it needs to be.
Intake Academy: That’s great. I was going to ask you, and it’s probably not this simple, but if you had to simplify it, what are the top key performance indicators as it relates to intake that you see in your experience?
Chad: Breaking it down by case type, and sometimes even breaking it down by market area, but knowing how many leads did you get, how many of those did you want, how many of those you actually signed, how many of those you actually made no decision on, and then what we call true signups, and the difference between how many you signed and true signups.
If there’s one area that a lot of firms get wrong in their tracking is if you got 100 calls in the month of January, you want to know what happened to those 100 calls. You want to know how your intake department performed on those 100 calls. Whether you ultimately ended up signing them up in February or March or whatever it was, you still want to know what ultimately happened to those 100 leads.
Lots of firms will say, “We got 100 calls in January, and we signed up 80 cases,” or 50 cases, or whatever the number is in January. But those signups may have been from calls that occurred in December or November or October, and so their data gets messed up. What we call true signups are signups that occurred where the case was opened in the date range that you’re looking at – the cases were opened in January.
Intake Academy: It’s attributable to the lead flow associated with that whatever area you’re measuring.
Chad: Say we’re looking at January, true signups would be all cases that were opened in January, regardless of when the call came in. Signups would be cases where the call came in January, and they could have gotten signed up in February or March or however long it took to get the contract back.
The two purposes of separating those statistics is that, one, you want to know how many cases you actually signed up regardless of when the call came in – that tells you just how your signup process is going – and the other is looking at how well your intake department is performing. You want to know, if you got 100 calls, what ultimately happened on those 100 calls?
We break those up into signups and true signups, and that helps law firms keep the data clean.
Intake Academy: How do you go about measuring that stuff at your firm? How could other firms do the same thing? What tools do you use, or what strategies?
Chad: A lot of the firms that we work with use Needles. What we do with Needles is Vista Consulting will go in and do an audit of how a firm is tracking their intakes in Needles. We’ve done it with other case management programs. There’s SmartAdvocate out there and others that we can work with, but most of them use Needles.
Then we go through the process and make sure that their data tracking methods are clean, that there’s no overlap, that everyone’s on the same page as to how things are to be coded. Once we do that, a lot of times what we’ll do then is build what we call a dashboard, which is a program that communicates with Needles or their case management system and aggregates the data in a very easy-to-see format that tells them at the click of a button all the statistics I went through earlier: want ratios, conversion ratios, and stuff like that.
Intake Academy: Let me shift gears on you. What are the most common but overlooked metrics that have a high impact? You alluded to it earlier but maybe revisit it, or if there’s something else that you haven’t covered that you find when you’re working with clients.
Chad: When we work with clients, the two that they struggle the most often to get right is what I talked about earlier: tracking the want ratio correctly. Some either don’t track how many they wanted to sign up versus what they signed up, or they confuse tracking that part of the process from date of intake versus the date that the case is actually signed up.
Intake Academy: What was that? True signup and signup?
Chad: Right. They get signups and true signups confused and so their data gets messed up at that level. That’s probably the number one, and it will throw their want ratios, it’ll throw off their conversion ratios. That’s the number one thing that most firms get wrong.
The second thing that a lot of firms overlook – and this is shocking to many – is they don’t track the number of cases that go through their building where no decision was made as to whether or not you want to sign the case up or not.
When I speak at conferences or speak to owners, they think it is inconceivable that someone would call their office, want to hire their firm, and no one at their firm ever made a decision as to whether or not they wanted to take on that case.
But if you don’t measure that metric, I’ve seen more stuff slip through the cracks because of that. It will shock you. That is a big deal that almost everybody overlooks.
Intake Academy: That is really, really big.
I’m going to read this because I’ve prepped for this ahead of time. We hear comments like this from attorneys all the time. It’s, “We convert 90% of the cases we want.” But at the Intake Academy, we feel like there are many viable case opportunities that never make it to the want category, so conversion at the bottom of the funnel is not as much of a challenge as is boosting the number of prospects or qualified prospects that actually make it to the want stage.
How do you feel about that?
Chad: I agree with you 100%. I think that you have to pay attention to what I call the want ratio to make sure you’re maximizing every opportunity. What we call this is calibrating your want ratio. Typically, we look at your intakes over a three-month or six-month period, and if you’ve got, say, 1000 leads and you wanted 500 of those, your want ratio would be 50%.
To make sure that that’s accurate, we typically do an audit of all the ones you turned down and make sure that the right decisions were made in terms of did you want the case or not want the case. Sometimes, we’ll pick up and say, “You should have wanted about 600 of these,” or some number more. We call that calibrating your want ratio.
Then we know that any intake specialist or any intake person who is working at your firm should have a want ratio in the same range. If you have one intake specialist who has a want ratio of 20% and another one who has one at 80%, they’re clearly not on the same page as to what the firm should sign up or should not sign up. We want to calibrate so it’s consistent along all people who are handling intake.
The other part of intake that I forgot to mention that a lot of firms don’t pay attention to is a key part of understanding your intake stats is understanding your closed case statistics. What I mean by that is you can sign up every single client who calls your office but your closed-with-fee numbers or ratio could be really low – you’re going to close out a bunch of junk.
If you have a really high want ratio but your closed-with-fee ratio is really low, you might want to tighten the net so that you’re more efficient. Does that make sense?
Intake Academy: It does. Let me clarify and make sure I understand this. What you’re saying is, if at the end of the day, you’re ending up with closed cases but the fees aren’t paid or it’s simply not a profitable case, then you need to reevaluate how you’re qualifying those leads, and that they’re making it through the want stage, they’re making it all the way through the process.
Chad: Correct. Say you’re working with a firm and they have a high want ratio of 70% – they want to sign up 70% of the calls that come through their office – if their closed-with-fee ratio is 90% (90% of the cases closed with a fee), that’s great. Good for them. But if their closed-with-fee ratio is 30%, then you’ve got to say, “Whoa, are you telling me that seven out of ten cases our office is working on will never generate a fee? We need to reevaluate what we’re signing up and tighten the reins and bring that want ratio down, or else we’re just wasting our time.”
Intake Academy: Yes, you’re spinning your wheels. This brings up a good question here. How should a law firm handle inquiries from unqualified callers or basically inquiries that are not viable? What opportunities, if any, are there?
Chad: I think that if you look at a case and say, “This is not a case that we want to handle,” and you say, “This is not a case that someone else would want to handle in terms of a referral or co-counsel,” then the last thing is – I think you guys touched on it in your presentation – “Can we at least leave the interaction, leave the client or potential client, with a favorable impression of our firm? Do it in a way where their experience with us was, ‘This is not a case that they would take now but in the future I would go back to them because of how they handled this process.’” That’s the goal.
In addition to that, you can still get information from them – e-mail addresses, mailing addresses – to keep them informed about what’s going on at your firm. Also, find out how did they hear about you, so even though it’s not a case that you wanted, you can understand how they got to your office. Did they heard about you from a friend or visit your webpage? It helps you understand what marketing channels are working and not working.
Intake Academy: So there’s still value. I want to recap a couple of the things that you said. Number one, if it’s not a case and it’s clear… Because there’s a big distinction there.
Actually, I almost mentioned it earlier, there’s almost a subcategory of the cases that come through that they make it into the want category. In some cases they would almost be indistinguishable – and this is from the experience we have and listening to phone calls – so it couldn’t be determined one way or another whether it would be even a viable case. It may have been; it may not have been.
But in terms of taking those initial inquiry calls, and how you’re responding on the front end and how you’re engaging with those clients, we’ve had situations where simply callers just go away, meaning they don’t have their question answered, the person, the intake specialist or the receptionist doesn’t answer their question. They say, “Okay, thank you,” and they hang up the phone.
It’s almost like we don’t know if that could have even been an opportunity had we not taken them through the intake process.
Chad: Exactly. I agree.
Intake Academy: There’s almost like a subcategory there. You could call it maybe stranded or unknown, and most likely, what you want to do is reduce that unknown factor so it’s a yes or no. But the bottom line is we’ve got to reduce that, so that’s eliminated altogether.
But the other thing you said is, “If it’s not a case we want, can we refer?” and do you intake people know this? We paid for the lead, as in we invested all this money in marketing to get them to respond. At some point or another, do they know somebody who could have a case? Could they have a case in the future? A family member or friend?
It’s about nurturing that relationship and you’ve already made the investment. As any real marketer will tell you, the opportunity is in the database. The opportunity is in the list in the long run.
All great points. This has been extremely valuable. Chad, if our listeners could walk away with one piece of advice or nugget of wisdom – and I’ve got to limit you to one or two things – based on everything we’ve said, what would you say?
Chad: Constant, never-ending improvement. I don’t care how long you’ve been doing it, how long you have had an intake department or people handling intake, just think of constant, never-ending improvement. Never be complacent and think that you have it all locked down, figured out.
I think using resources like Intake Academy or Vista Consulting, to have a third party come in, look at your systems and processes, look at the mechanics of how you take an intake, it’s worth it.
The worst thing that can happen is you come away and Intake Academy or Vista Consulting says, “We couldn’t find any problems with your intake.” At least you have a seal of approval and you can sleep at night knowing, “I’m good and I’ll check back on it sometime down the road.”
But in each and every case – and I’m sure you could say the same – you find little tweaks that you can make, and those tweaks add up and make a difference. The guys, the firms I’ve visited that do really, really well, they just have an attitude of constant, never-ending improvement.
Intake Academy: That’s great. If people want to learn more about Vista Consulting and how you can help them and how to get in touch with you, what should they do?
Intake Academy: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for being on the call today. We really appreciate it and there was some really valuable information that you’ve shared with us.
Chad: Thank you.