Secret Shop Your Law Firm

woman in grey notched lapel suit

Recently the Clio Trends Report 2019 was released and some of the findings had many lawyers in a state of denial. Clio hired a third-party research company to “shop” for a lawyer and 60% of law firms did not respond to emails at all and 27% did not answer or return phone calls. However, when asking lawyers about their responsiveness 89% of legal professionals said they responded to phone calls and emails within 24 hours. Where is the disconnect and how can you find out how your firm is really doing to respond to potential clients?

Clio’s Findings – Consumers Survey

As part of the trends report, Clio surveyed 2,000 consumers to understand what they look for when seeking legal services. The survey found that 44% of clients believe that they need to shop around and talk to more than one lawyer and 57% of those who have never shopped for a lawyer say they contacted more than one firm. However, 42% of consumers surveyed said that if they like the first lawyer they speak with they won’t need to speak with any others.

Respondents to the Clio consumer survey indicated 45% expected a response from an email/contact us message or voicemail within 24 hours. But it isn’t just about answering the phone or responding to an email. What do clients want when they speak with a lawyer? While their desires may not line up with a lawyer’s responsibilities to check for conflicts there are certainly some ways a firm’s response to a potential client can meet their expectations, which include:

  • 81% want a response to each question they ask
  • 80% say it’s important to have a clear understanding of how to proceed
  • 76% also want to get a clear sense of how much their legal issue could cost
  • 74% want to know what the full process will look like for their case

Clio’s Findings – Secret Shopper Results

With most lawyers asserting that they respond within 24 hours and knowing what potential client’s expectations are, Clio hired a third-party research company to contact 1,000 law firms via email and phoned 500 firms from the same group. The shoppers inquired about issues pertaining to the law firm’s practice areas as identified by their own website, social media page or directory listing. The shoppers, when they got a response, also inquired about booking a consultation and fees.

Sixty percent of law firms contacted by email did not respond at all. Of the firms that did respond only 29% provided a response that was timely, answered at least one question, and provided some information on either booking a consultation or cost.

Also, 68% of the firms that responded via email requested that further communication be conducted by phone. Millennials, the generation representing ages 22-37, consider talking on the phone “too time-consuming”.

The results from the secret shopping found that law firms are better at answering their phones. Fifty-six percent of law firms answered calls, but of the 39% of calls that went to voicemail 57% did not return the call within 72 hours and 5% of the calls went unanswered entirely. Remember, if a consumer is shopping for a lawyer they likely have a list of firms to call and their expectation is a response at least within 24 hours.

When the shoppers did get a law firm on the phone many firms were hesitant to discuss fees or explain the legal process and next steps, preferring to schedule a follow-up meeting – adding further delay to the process of getting legal services.

ABA Secret Shopper Survey

The results in the Clio Legal Trends Report 2019 is not an anomaly. In 2016 the ABA Law Practice Division’s Social Media, Legal Blogs and Websites Committee did a similar secret shopper survey and the results were much the same, if not worse. One in three callers didn’t speak to a person when they called. Of the firms that answered, 28% of law firm’s phone were answered with a generic “law firm” greeting or just “hello”. Prospective clients were put on hold 45% of the time and nearly 25% were on hold for a couple of minutes. In more than half the calls the person who answered the phone did not provide their name and almost as frequently did not ask the caller’s name.

Conduct Your Own Secret Shopping Experiment

To provide excellent customer experience and to turn leads into clients, law firms should check to see how well they are responding to phone calls and emails. How are the phones answered? How are emails answered? Is pricing transparent? Are the next steps outlined?

If your firm is leveraging an answering service or virtual receptionist have someone call to see how quickly the phones are answered, if the greeting is satisfactory and how the service responds to questions.

For solos with no support, virtual or otherwise, answering the phone or responding to emails in a timely manner is extra tricky. Setting up automation may help relieve some of the pressures of a quick response. Online calendar apps like Calendly or Microsoft Bookings can let a potential client schedule an initial consultation. Online forms embedded in the online calendar app or as a follow up to an email can help collect information to properly check for conflicts prior to scheduling a consultation. Even an auto-response to an email sent from a “contact us” form that indicates the email was received and will be responded to as soon as possible is an opportunity to at least provide an initial response to a potential client.

Proactive Communication

Much of the information sought by potential clients can be included on a law firm’s website. The exact fee amount doesn’t have to be included, but some indication of how the firm charges is helpful. If you have a mix of hourly and flat fees that can be disclosed. If you do work on a contingency basis, make note of that and describe what that means.

For many transactional practices, a timeline or workflow can be included on the firm’s website to let the potential clients get an indication of next steps. For instance, a firm that provides services for small businesses to set up a corporate structure can provide an  infographic that shows the process. Similarly, if a firm provides mediation explain what the process involves. Firms that provide litigation services can usually at least provide some outline of what the first steps in the matter look like.

Other Initial Communication Touch Points

Neither survey explored how firms are responding to two newer ways law firms are providing for initial contact. One is via text. Many firms are adding “Call or Text” in their call to action on the firm’s website. Are the text messages being responded to in a timely manner? What about law firm pages on social media that beckon communication?  Systems should be in place to ensure that the firm sees and responds to contacts on social media. On sites like Facebook the responsiveness on business pages is provided by the system. It is not a good sign when a firm’s Facebook page indicates that requests for information are not responded to promptly.


All lawyers in private practice should read and absorb the findings from the Clio Trends Report 2019 and the ABA study.  Take a close look at how the firm is responding to initial contacts from prospective clients. It isn’t just about a quick response, but also the quality of the response that helps provide a great client experience. Secret shop your firm from the client’s perspective and see how you can improve.