The 2018 Clio Legal Trends Report highlighted some startling statistics about the daily work habits of attorneys, misalignments among attorney-client expectations, and the misuse of the resource that arguably limits lawyers (and all working professionals, frankly) the most: time.
If you’re on Lawyer Exchange, whether you’re seeking new legal work or staff for existing work, you’re likely already aware of your time constraints. And you’re not alone. Not even close.
Based on data from 70,000 legal professionals, the report revealed many widespread issues related to the management and valuation of precious labor hours:
● 59% of people didn't hire an attorney even after a consultation
● 78% of legal professionals report "often" interruptions from existing clients
● Out of every 3 hours of billable work, only 2 hours of revenue are collected
What this indicates is that attorneys waste time by:
● Overspending it on leads who aren’t likely to convert into clients
● Accepting productivity-crushing interruptions
● Neglecting to capture more earnings
Take a look at the state of the industry in the infographic below, The Rewards of Responsiveness, which I originally published on the Smith.ai blog, and which draws from data in the 2018 Clio report:
As you can imagine (and as you’d expect from this article’s title), solo and small-firm lawyers are particularly sensitive to lost revenue, tight deadlines where the work is squarely on their backs, and wasted marketing dollars. So that’s whom I’m focusing on here, but the recommendations herein are applicable to larger firms, too, especially with regard to managing “overflow” communications (namely, phone calls) and new communications channels where in-house talent and software may not meet current demand (e.g., staffing live web chat).
If you’re not yet using a virtual receptionist service, it’s critical you consider the impact that working solo (or repurposing your paralegal for admin work, as is often the case) is having on the growth and sustainability of your law practice.
If you are using a virtual receptionist service, it’s time to consider whether they’re fully equipped to handle all of the needs of your modern firm. Basic call-answering services offer limited impact, and the best services deliver much more, including the abilities to:
● Qualify potential clients
● Answer web chats in addition to calls
● Block spam, unsolicited sales calls, and wrong numbers
● Make outbound calls
● Integrate with your CRM, intake, practice management, and marketing automation software like Clio, Lexicata, PracticePanther, and HubSpot
● Schedule appointments directly on your calendar using tools like Calendly, Appointy, and Acuity
● Collect payments through your billing software, like LawPay and Headnote
All of these capabilities directly contribute to the growth of your solo or small law firm by taking meaningful work off your plate, not just delaying it for later when you finally have a chance to review all the call summaries from the day.
Now, let’s dig in! Here are just 5 of the myriad ways that virtual receptionists can have a drastic impact on your time, which we have seen results in productivity, professionalism, and profitability gains.
Tip: As you read this, also consider the potential impacts on stress, sleep, and your overall work/life balance -- because law firm growth isn’t worth pursuing unless it also establishes a firm that’s sustainable for you to operate in the long run.
Whether your leads come from referrals, lawyer-listing sites, Google search visitors, or paid ads, you and your marketing agency can only generate them; capturing and converting these leads to clients is on you. Wait to respond, and they’ve already reached other attorneys. The first to answer typically gets the business two-thirds of the time.
The problem is, your day is booked solid with court dates, meetings, chargeable tasks, and admin chores. You’re lawyering and you’re laboring. There’s no time for “unnecessary” interruptions. But if you don’t answer calls from potential clients, there won’t even be a law firm to interrupt…
The way to make time is to get capable people to not only answer your phones, but also respond to leads visiting your website.
A team of virtual receptionists can answer one or multiple incoming calls at once. You can even auto-forward them the notification emails when website visitors complete your “contact us” form, and your receptionists can call the leads, thereby calling them back at the time of intent, not later in the day or tomorrow when you’re finally able to carve out time -- and when they’ve likely already connected with another firm.
Better still, add a chat widget to your website, and capture leads before they even complete your web form. It’s a faster way to qualify them -- and delivers a much more prompt and personalized experience, too.
What do you do once you have a live lead on the phone or web chat? I recommend you entrust your receptionists to qualify the lead based on your custom criteria and clear directions. Let them get some real work done for you.
They can ask things of the potential new client like:
● Do they need work within your practice area?
● Are they in the right county where you practice?
● Do they understand, and are they willing to pay, your fees?
● Does their timing align with your work schedule and bandwidth to accept new clients?
The receptionist will record the answers and, based on your instructions, either flag them as a good potential client or as a “bad” lead.
One note here: Don’t just instruct the receptionists to ask questions; also give them information to proactively share, so callers are well informed and can even “self filter” themselves as good or bad leads. Sometimes by stating your fees, receptionists can take away the discomfort that sometimes comes when topics related to money arise. They’re the ones who mention your fees, and the caller never needs to disclose their ability to pay; they can simply turn down the opportunity to work with your firm, saving you from finding that out during a more time-consuming initial consultation.
Tip: You can even provide different criteria for you and each of your partners if you have multiple attorneys at your firm.
After the “qualification” step comes intake: The “good” leads get logged.
Use an intake form built within your CRM or other case/practice management software, or through your calendaring software, since many online scheduling programs now include optional form fields that you can require to be completed before an appointment is booked.
Instruct your receptionists to complete the fields in the form, and submit it, so that it’s logged in your system. This way, when the first appointment happens, you already have a new record for that client, and all you need to do is add to it. And you’re equipped to have a call where you’re well informed at the outset.
Tip: At any point after a lead is “qualified” by one of your receptionists, a live transfer to you (or a paralegal, intake specialist, associate, or partner at your firm) is possible, if that’s your preference. If an attempt is made and fails, you can instruct the receptionist to continue with intake, or schedule a call-back appointment on your (or your colleague’s) calendar, so responsiveness isn’t bottlenecked by you and your team’s availability.
Whether it’s a call-back, a phone consultation, or an in-person meeting, virtual receptionists can schedule appointments directly on your calendar, so there are fewer follow-up tasks after the calls they handle on your behalf.
Fully featured and affordable online scheduling tools abound, and if you use Google Calendar, Office 365, Outlook, or iCloud, there’s even a free option available through Calendly, a simple online program that allows you to display your availability to your receptionists (and anyone else who has your calendar link) and book appointments. You can opt to put the link on your website so anyone can schedule a consultation with you, embed it in your email signature, and/or make your calendar link available to your receptionist service (for better “gatekeeping”).
If you do embed your calendar on your website, consider charging for consultations to reduce the chance of no-shows and cancellations. You can credit this to their account balance if they hire you, to ease concerns they may have about paying you for this time.
You can also enlist the help of your receptionists here: Request that they make outbound calls to individuals with upcoming appointments 24 to 48 hours in advance. This is also an opportunity to inform potential and existing clients of any preparation required of them prior to your call or meeting, to confirm that they have meeting address and parking details, and more.
No law firm captures 100% of the revenue billed, but the goal is to collect as much as possible. It’s not uncommon for firms we work with to boast 90-95% earnings capture. Virtual receptionists can take payment by phone under a number of scenarios, such as:
● A new client calls in and books a consultation, for which you charge a fee. The receptionist answers the phone, books the appointment, collects the new client’s credit card information, and processes the payment right on the spot.
● An existing client calls to make a payment on an invoice. Save yourself an interruption. When receptionists answer your calls, and an existing client dials in to make a payment, the receptionist can take payment by phone and note the invoice number so you don’t have to spend time tracking it down.
● An existing client emails in with questions about an invoice. Sometimes clients want to discuss line items on invoices before making a payment. When an email comes through from a client who has a question about their invoice, simply forward that email to the receptionist service with the answer(s) to the client’s question(s) and a receptionist will call them to provide the answer and take payment by phone.
● Existing clients have payments that are due this week or past due. Provide your receptionist service with the contact information and invoice amount (or unique invoice link) for a client or a list of clients from whom payments are due or past due, and save yourself the chase. Your receptionists will make outbound calls to these clients so you’re not waiting and wondering if they’re going to submit payment on time (or ever!).
Online credit card payment solutions built for lawyers, like LawPay and Headnote, allow you to add a payment collection page to your website, have a publicly accessible URL available to your payment page, and generate unique invoice links for specific clients. So, whether a client unexpectedly calls in and wants to make a payment, or your receptionist is making calls to specific clients to request payment on past-due invoices, you can remain hands-off and focus your time and energy on billable work.
Additionally, clients often report that they’re more comfortable speaking about financial matters with a neutral third party rather than their attorney, with whom a close relationship has very often been established. Handing payment follow-up tasks to receptionists is not only more efficient, it also leads to greater client comfort (not to mention, greater comfort for many attorneys, too).
As I alluded to earlier, not every virtual receptionist service offers lead qualification, new client intake, appointment booking, payment collection, and referral services. Almost none also offer live web chat by the same receptionists who are already trained to answer your calls. Make sure you ask about these features when shopping around for a new or replacement service.
Smith.ai virtual receptionists offers all of these services. Professional, U.S.-based receptionists answer, transfer, and return calls during business hours, freeing you up to practice law, network, write articles, and do everything else that no one but you can do.
What’s with the “AI” in the name? That stands for “artificial intelligence,” and it powers the following features:
● Automatic spam blocking of 20 million numbers
● Live call transfer requests via SMS and Slack
● Easy status changes via SMS (e.g., text “Do Not Disturb” when you arrive at court)
● Instant call notes via email, SMS, or Slack
Unlike most virtual receptionist services, billing is per-call, not per-minute. Leads who need to explain their case in detail? Clients who need to track down their credit card to book a consultation? These calls can take 3 to 5 minutes. Be wary of answering services that suggest the average call is 1 to 2 minutes. How much are those agents really doing?
Moreover, per-call pricing makes it much easier to calculate the cost of acquiring a new client. From your marketing campaigns, you can determine the cost to make your phone ring with a new lead. When a potential client converts from a phone call into a consultation, you know how much that call cost you. The same approach applies to web chats: You know the cost of driving traffic to your website as well as the per-chat cost from Smith.ai.
Here’s the general scope of Smith.ai’s virtual receptionist services:
● Inbound & outbound calls
● Live web chat
● AI chatbot for 24/7 responsiveness
● Lead capture & qualification
● Appointment scheduling & reminders, with calendar integration with Appointy, Acuity, Calendly, ScheduleOnce, and more
● CRM and practice management software integration with Clio, Lexicata, PracticePanther, Infusionsoft, HubSpot and more
● Payment processing through LawyPay, Headnote, TrialPay and more
● Coverage Monday to Friday, 6AM to 6PM PST / 9AM to 9PM EST
● U.S.-based professionals familiar with law firm operations
● Spanish-speaking receptionists available at no additional cost
● Call screening, prioritization, and VIP lists
● Instant call summaries and end-of-day reports
● Voicemails transcribed and sent to email or SMS
With call-based plans starting at $70/month and live-chat plans starting at $60/month, law firms get the experience and quality of an in-house receptionist at a small fraction of the price.
Reject the age-old trade-offs between running your business and practicing law — with Smith.ai’s professional receptionists and powerful AI, you’re able to get more work done, collect more of what you’ve earned, and run a more sustainable law firm.
If you’d like to sign up for Smith.ai, you may do so online at https://smith.ai, by phone at (650) 727-6484, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Use code LAWEX50 to get $50 off your first month. This can be combined with Smith.ai’s 30-day/10-call free trial for $120 total savings!
Smith.ai also offers web chat services staffed by our live, U.S.-based professionals and backed by our after-hours chatbot for 24/7 responsiveness. To learn more and sign up, visit https://smith.ai/chat. (The $50 discount above can be applied to your first month of live web chat, if you prefer.)
Questions about virtual receptionists? Looking for more best practices? Smith.ai support can offer guidance so you implement the most efficient and effective communications processes from the start. Contact Smith.ai Monday through Friday between 5 AM and 6 PM PST at (650) 727-6484 or email@example.com.
Maddy Martin is the head of growth and education at Smith.ai, which provides integrated phone and web chat services for solo and small-firm attorneys, including their virtual receptionist & intake service, live website chat, and Keypad cloud phone system. She has spent the last decade growing tech startups from New York to California, and has expertise in digital marketing, small business communications, lead conversion, email marketing, SEO, and event marketing. Maddy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can also connect with her on LinkedIn.