8 Steps to Close the Sale at the Initial Consultation

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By Stephen Fairley

Do you close every sale at the initial consultation? You’d be amazed (or maybe not) at how many attorneys tell me they always get every client they want. I know that’s not true, even if you won’t admit it.

If you’ve gone to the time and expense of generating a lead, qualifying the lead over the phone, setting the appointment, and conducting an initial consultation, then you naturally want to close as many prospects as possible. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been practicing, everyone can get a little better. Here are some techniques we teach our clients:

Step 1: Create the right environment.

The impression you want to give is one of professionalism, courtesy and comfort. Your front office and the conference space where you meet prospects will form their first impressions of you and your competency. If you have a conference room, then it should be staged for consultations. Create the environment that best reflects how you want prospects to feel about you. Put a sign on the door welcoming them, using their name or their company name if you’re firm focuses on business law. Keep it meticulously clean – no clutter! Set up a Keurig machine with a wide variety of choices for them to choose from and a minifridge with soft drinks and water.

Step 2: Make the right greeting.

Make sure prospects are greeted immediately by name. Establish a five-minute wait rule for all attorneys and paralegals – no prospect or client waits more than five minutes for an appointment (unless they show up really early). Greet them with a warm hello and a handshake and eye contact. Make them feel that you are truly glad to see them.

Step 3: Never have them fill out forms.

No one enjoys filling out forms. We’ve all been to the doctors and been given a wad of papers to fill out before the doctor will see us. It’s very off -putting. Never have prospects fill out forms at your office (unless it’s only one or two pages long) and never send them a detailed questionnaire ahead of time. Instead, have them meet with an intake specialist who is trained to establish rapport, ask qualifying questions, position the attorney or the firm as the best place to get their problem solved, share a few success stories or testimonials with the prospect, and set up the attorney for a quick win. The intake specialist can also fill out the necessary information to give to the attorney when they meet with them. While this technique may not work for a few practice areas (intellectual property and commercial litigation), the vast majority of consumer law firms could easily benefit from this kind of set up.

Step 4: Provide a road map.

After you’re seated and they have been given a refreshment, briefly explain to them how the consultation works: “Let’s talk first about what brought you here today and then we can discuss how we’ll be able to help you solve your problem. I’m here to answer your questions, so please don’t hesitate to ask and be sure to let me know if you need clarification on any issues.” Remember, even though you do this every day, for most people this is the first attorney they’ve ever hired. Make it easy on them by providing some structure.

Step 5: Ask clarifying questions to control the conversation.

Be sure you listen more than you talk during the initial consult. Far too many attorneys try to talk their way into a new client. That’s a rookie mistake. You “listen your way” into a new client. They are coming to you with a serious problem that is rocking their world and they want a sympathetic ear more than anything else. Don’t jump in too early with your advice or thoughts – let them talk everything out first. If possible, don’t give any legal advice during the consult. Why? Because you don’t know the whole story. Clients never tell you the whole story until sometime down the road. Don’t be too quick to jump on a solution.

Some clients talk too much. Use clarifying questions to control the conversation (“So what you’re saying is … ” “Let me make sure I understand, you said … did I get that right?”). Don’t focus too much on taking notes. If they hire you, they’ll be happy to repeat anything you need to know. Give them lots of eye contact and make the appropriate comments that demonstrate empathy along the way. It may seem contrived at first, but trust me, it is important to the client that you can empathize with them. Remember, most buying decisions are made emotionally, then justified rationally. Not the other way around. Connect emotionally with prospects and more of them will hire you.

Step 6: Tell them only what they need to know.

One of the biggest reasons attorneys don’t convert more prospects into paying clients is because they over educate them. Do not be overly concerned about educating prospects all at once about the process used to solve their specific problem. Just tell them the basics of what they need to know right now. Instead, focus on building a relationship with them and asking the questions you need to qualify them as a good client.

Step 7: Ask for the business.

Once you have identified a good case, never let them walk out the door without directly asking them to sign up at least twice – on the spot! Ask them closing questions like, do you have any other questions I haven’t answered today that would keep you from signing up? If they say yes, answer the question and then ask them if there’s anything else. Always bring in a retainer agreement ready to go. Make the sign-up process easy. “So all I need to move forward is for you to sign these three forms and then we can get started right away.” Assume they want to sign up. Never tell them to go home and think about it! If they agree to hire you on the spot, then stay with them through your client intake process. Don’t just leave them in the room – or worse, put them back in the lobby – with a bunch of paperwork where they can get distracted. If they say they have to think about it, then be sure to set a firm day and time for a follow-up call or visit when they will decide. Be sure to walk them out, shake their hand, and let them know you would be honored to represent them and your team is ready to get started as soon as possible.

Step 8: Follow up.

Send them an immediate “no hire” email and have a staff member call them the next day to see if they have any questions you didn’t have a chance to answer during the consult. Keep following up with a series of emails and phone calls that gently remind them you care and that you are ready to move forward with solving their problem.

5 Follow-Up Mistakes to Avoid

If you are failing at lead conversion, you shouldn’t necessarily blame it immediately on the quality of your leads. It just may be that you are committing one or more of the following common mistakes law firms make when following up with leads:

Mistake No. 1: Taking too long to follow up. Timing is everything when following up on a lead. Research shows that you are 100x more likely to connect with a prospect if you follow up within five minutes versus a half hour. Unfortunately, fast follow-up is a real stumbling block for most law firms, especially for solos, litigators and small firms who usually rely on attorneys to return a call or email inquiry.

Every contingency can be planned for in advance with an automatic response system. A prospect calls in, a staff member gets an email address, enters it into the system, and that person is immediately sent an email. The email encourages them to set an appointment, educates them further about your firm, includes some testimonials from other clients, offers a free consultation, or whatever step you want them to take next.

The same process can be put in place for leads that you capture through your website, blog or social media posts.

Mistake No. 2: Failing to provide value. When you use an automated process to follow up, you are able to respond with information that your prospect will find immediately useful. Emails are written according to what legal problem the prospect is facing, providing solutions that encourage the prospect to take that next step of scheduling an appointment. Selling legal services should be approached as a consulting sale, not a product sale. Prospects can easily find background information on firms and attorneys on the Internet; when you contact them, they are looking for more, not just a recitation of facts they could easily read on your website.

Mistake No. 3: Not understanding the prospect. The primary reason someone hires an attorney is to alleviate his or her “pain.” They may use words like goal, challenge, problem or issue, but their pain is whatever they are experiencing that they want you to fix. Once you understand the signs to look for, use these tips to turn a prospect with pain into a paying client:

  • Know the words your prospects typically use to define and describe their “pain.”
  • Talk about the problem using their language not yours.
  • Ask them a lot of questions about their problem and their pain and what the cost of that pain is to them.
  • Don’t waste time describing the process you will use to resolve their pain. Instead, focus on helping them understand your solution and results.
  • Give them a sense of hope that things can get better and you know how to help.
  • Project confidence in your ability to help.
  • Listen to them and make them feel understood or they won’t listen to you.

Client acquisition begins with listening, then digging deeper to get the whole picture of a potential client’s needs and taking the time to talk with them about how you can help.

Mistake No. 4: Not demonstrating empathy. We do a lot of secret shopper calls to law firms around the country. As of this month, we have secret shopped over 2,700 law firms. Consistently, we find 85 percent of the firms we call do a poor job at compelling us to do business with their firm. For example, we call personal injury firms all the time and the person on the other end of the phone rarely even says, “I’m sorry you were in an accident.” He/she immediately begins to ask qualifying questions without showing any compassion or even trying to build rapport with us. Fixing this is simple, yet often overlooked. You must train all your people how to empathize with prospects and build rapport.

Mistake No. 5: Not understanding the prospect’s buyer stage. There are four stages a prospect goes through on their journey to selecting an attorney: awareness, consideration, evaluation and decision. Each of these stages demands a different type of approach with different messaging. Not understanding where your prospect is in his or her buying stage is a signal to the prospect that you do not understand their needs. The content you share and conversations you have with prospects as you lead them through the purchase process must be tailored to their needs, not yours.


Two-time international bestselling author, Stephen Fairley is CEO of The Rainmaker Institute LLC, the nation’s largest law firm marketing company for small to medium law firms. Over 18,000 attorneys nationwide have benefited from learning and implementing the Rainmaker Marketing System. Over the last 16 years, he has become a nationally recognized legal marketing expert and been named America’s Top Marketing Coach. He has spoken numerous times for over 35 of the nation’s state and local bar associations and has a large virtual footprint with his legal marketing blog and more than 200,000 followers on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. For more information, call (888) 588-5891 or visit www.TheRainmakerInstitute.com.