It happens to everyone. A prospective client calls your office and peppers you with questions. She lives 50 miles away.
Where some people see ten minutes of lost time, others see an opportunity. Instead of huffing and puffing on the phone, why not look at the ways that this call can help you grow your practice? Here are five ideas to help you convert those random calls into new clients.
1. Get on the road
It's no secret that the legal industry is struggling. If your practice has been hit by the flood of lawyers and the draught of business, it might be worth your time to represent a client who lives an hour away. Granted, you have to calculate the opportunity cost of travel into your analysis: Your time is valuable and gas costs money. Perhaps it's time to get creative. Find out if this client would be open phone calls and Skype sessions in lieu of traditional face-to-face meetings.
2. Outsource the legwork
In case you haven't noticed, there are a lot of unemployed lawyers out there. Is it time to tap the lawyer supply to grow your staff? Even if you're not ready to take on a full-time employee, you could hire an attorney on a contract basis to expand the geographic reach of your practice.
3. Follow the clients.
If your practice appears in a listing like FindLaw's Lawyer Directory, extend the areas you serve to capitalize on opportunities outside your neighborhood. For example, if you focus on worker's compensation claims, and there's a major industrial center 40 miles away, you might want to service the center's city as well. If you keep receiving calls from prospective clients in that area, it might be a sign that there aren't enough worker's comp lawyers in that town.
4. Referrals are your friend.
You work in Cityville, but the prospective client who just called lives two hours away in Countryville. Fine. Do you know an attorney in Countryville who could help this client? Whether you do it for a referral fee, for good karma, or as part of a reciprocal referral arrangement, referrals can be a mutually-beneficial move. Referrals are strictly regulated; before you get started, brush up on your state's rules. Also keep in mind that the ABA Model Rules say that you should only refer a client to a lawyer who you reasonably believe is competent to handle the matter.
5. Just be nice.
You receive a call from a father in Mountain Town who needs a lawyer for a custody battle. You're a bankruptcy attorney in Cityville, and you don't know a Mountain Town family law attorney. Politely explain, "Unfortunately, I'm not a family law attorney; I practice bankruptcy law. But if you know anyone who needs a bankruptcy attorney in Cityville, please tell them to call me." Maybe that caller will refer you to his Cityville friends.
A misguided inquiry isn't the end of the world. With the right attitude, it could even be a way to expand your client base.