Here’s a subject that makes lawyers nervous:  paying a bonus to intake personnel for decreasing your no-show rate.  Many of you think you can’t do that, but you are wrong.  You can and you should.

Any time you do a performance bonus incentive plan, it has to meet two criteria:

1.  It has to make the firm money or save the firm money.

2.  It has to be within that person’s control. For the show-up bonus, you never incentivize the team; you incentivize the individual people who set the appointments. If the receptionist was not responsible for setting the appointment, then you would not bonus him or her; you would bonus the actual person who sets the appointment, as long as it wasn’t the attorney because you never want to have the attorney talk with people over the phone if you can at all help it. The first time they talk to the attorney should be when they see them face-to-face.

If your firm is being plagued by no-shows, what you should do is set up a performance bonus plan. We’re not talking a lot of money — $10, $15, or $20 max per appointment that shows up. The staff person doesn’t get the bonus if the prospect doesn’t show. They only get the bonus if the prospect actually shows up.

I’ve had a couple of attorneys that have said, “Wait a minute, you can’t fee-split with a non-attorney. That’s unethical.”

Of course you can’t fee-split with a non-attorney. However, you can absolutely provide a performance bonus for an employee of your law firm. There is no state that prohibits you giving a performance bonus to an employee as long as it is not fee splitting.

For example, if you charge a flat fee of $1,500 for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and you give your intake person $150, that’s 10%. That’s a fee-split. You want to make sure that the bonus passes the sniff test if a bar association asks you about it.

That’s why it shouldn’t be a lot of money — just $10, $15 or $20 per appointment that shows. It’s a flat amount regardless of whether or not the prospect signs up. As long as the staff member sets the appointment and the prospect shows up to the appointment, they get the performance bonus, and that is 100% ethical.

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