We’ve established that your firm can’t thrive and grow without streamlining your communications. It will always be a dilemma: your clients and prospects will always be demanding your attention, but at the same time, you will want to minimize these interruptions and maximize your responsiveness to be an effective law firm. 

The only solution to this dilemma is to get organized and address those two things:

  • Minimizing interruptions 
  • Maximizing responsiveness

Sounds impossible, right? But in reality, it’s very doable. You can even compete with much bigger firms when it comes to responsiveness and productivity! Keeping your clients happy and gaining an edge over your competitors are the reasons it’s incredibly important for solos and smaller firms to leverage technology. 

Technology makes you more efficient by allowing you to automate and sync tasks, processes, and data. 

In a small practice, you have limited to no IT or admin support, and you certainly can’t spend all day learning and configuring technology. You need simple, intelligent tools. 

In this blog post, I’ll share with you some of the most helpful points of my talk on productivity and efficiency with Maddy Martin, head of growth and education for Smith.ai, a virtual receptionist service for live calls and webchat. They handle over 800,000 calls mostly for solo and small firm US attorneys. You get such good tips from Maddy here. 

The Often Forgotten Benefit of Technology and Automation

You’re your own boss, so you control how you work, when you work, and what you work on. It’s a noble aspiration. 

But what traps many solos is this: having way more control than you wanted. All that power transforms into a massive burden weighing on your shoulders. 

When you control everything, everything also depends on you. The result is that you can’t get out from under it. You’re always required to handle the day to day of your firm, and this is the opposite of efficiency! You’re always getting interrupted, forced to be the admin in your firm, instead of being what you are, a lawyer! 

You and your clients don’t need that weight on your shoulders. You need effective and efficient systems to get rid of that burden. 

Phone Calls

Some ideas for your phone calls from Maddy Martin of Smith.ai:

Your phone system and VoIP options: 

  • Establish a professional greeting and menu

As I’ve mentioned in Law Firm Business School, you need scripts for answering calls. You can work with your assistant to come up with each script for every scenario, so you’re ready to direct calls wherever they need to go. 

  • Routing depends on the time of day, holiday, vacation, and schedule adjustments
  • Utilize live call handling

Achieve this through real human beings and/or robot programming. You can enter a few words into the program and it will be read by an automated voice. This has limited utility, but it does allow you to say, “Press one for new clients, two for existing clients,” and routes calls appropriately.

The best efficiency and effectiveness is still achieved with human answering services, which does more to capture basic information and qualifying leads. 

  • Blasts and sequences: Overflow call handling
  • After-hours voicemail
  • Office directory (partners, associates, paralegals, assistants, remote staff and outsourced teams)
  • Call and text from any device – mobile phone, VoIP desk phone, computer, tablet, SiP softphone
  • Contacts – common callers and current clients
  • Block spam and unsolicited sales calls
  • VIP direct transfer and blocked caller lists

Marketing Performance Tracking

  • Where did the call originate from and did the source yield quality leads? 

Business Monitoring and Metrics

  • Know the number of answered calls, missed calls, the number of rings, duration, etc 
  • Call recording for recordkeeping and performance monitoring

I often hear from solo practitioners and small firms that they’re sick of salespeople and robocalls, so they ask callers to leave a voicemail, reasoning that only real clients with real needs would bother to leave a voicemail. 

Well, the truth is, they won’t leave a voicemail. A lot of people don’t. If you’re screening spam this way, you’ll end up screening yourself out of new clients because you don’t get a voicemail from them. Because of your lack of response, your prospect is likely already talking to another attorney! 

Get a cloud phone system that screens out spam so you’re sure every number that calls your firm is relevant, not robocalls. Phone services are around $25 a month, and a receptionist service which handles your phone calls is around $70 a month. 

Calculate the costs and benefits based on the value of your time every day, and how many hours you lose trying and failing to stay on top of phone calls.

Abroad vs Domestic

Something to consider is that even if a prospect speaks fluent English if they’re from a different country there’s often a cultural gap, which creates a language barrier in the norms and business practices that American consumers expect. 

Trust erosion happens when the initial call is answered. Sometimes there isn’t that familiarity with how a business call happens in America, and by bringing a level of professionalism and understanding of nuances within a conversation you allow your prospect to feel more comfortable and understood.

Dedicated vs Distributed Receptionists

Receptionist services offer dedicated or distributed receptionists. 

Dedicated service provides you with a team that is focused on you. The problem is when your call volume eventually goes down after a marketing push, you’re paying too much for people who are essentially just sitting around. This can hold back your growth. 

Distributed service gets you a team where any of the receptionists in the service can handle your calls because they’re all following the same directions, and they are trained on being sensitive and familiar with the best practices in customer services and hospitality in general.

For example, at Smith AI, we have prompts and automated workflows that are specific to each business. The receptionist who uses our software can follow these workflows to have an effective conversation that’s specific to the needs of your particular firm. 

If a bunch of calls come in at the same time, a reception service can handle them all at once because they’re distributed. 

Remote vs In-House

For most solo and small firm attorneys, as long as you’re using a high-quality receptionist service, it’s not distinguishable that the people answering your calls are not in your office.  

There are also two-fold benefits to having remote reception: 

  • You won’t be responsible for the livelihood of someone on staff, in case of mergers and layoffs.
  • More flexibility. Your calls–and your business– are unaffected by sick leaves and maternity leaves. 

Emails

An email system allows you to see and respond in a more automated way for routine communications and takes off a lot from your plate. You remove the lag time between seeing the email and finding the time to reply to it. Hand it off to get done. 

  • Automatic forwarding
  • CRM and email integration so that messages are more securely handled and recorded in the CRM
  • Reminders/auto-replies when you’re unavailable at certain times during the day 
  • What to do in an emergency
  • Rules and prompts set up, like automatically scheduling to call the person who completes a certain intake form, etc. 

Free options for bulk email management: Mailshake and Mail Merge for Gmail

Text Messaging

Text gets a lot of resistance and the most common reason I hear is that you don’t know who’s on the other side of the phone, reading your message. 

But on the client’s side, especially if you’ve already been on the phone with them, it can be so easy for them to just snap a photo of an image or document you need and send it to you by text message. 

Integrations now also allow you to work more efficiently and get paid for your time spent texting with clients. 

Tools and apps

  • Time Miner – crawl your calls and texts and log the billable times spent while texting with clients. 
  • Zip Dweck – automatic followup texts sent to people who text your number, based on keywords or other pumps. 

You can have these conversations into your CRM and case management software, and if the phone number is connected to a case or client, you have it in there and reduces data entry. 

Web Chat 

This needs to be integrated with your CRM. Especially for new clients, you need to record and keep their conversation and details about their situation, so they don’t have to keep repeating it, which can be annoying, aside from being a time suck. 

It would be nice for everyone to be able to say, “Here’s what you’ve already shared with us.” 

When it comes to website chat, what do you automate and what should be human-driven? For maximum efficiency, you should combine both. 

Webchat is proactive and actively engages your visitors. It also serves as your gatekeeper to identify leads with your custom criteria, and lead them to your online calendar for your consultations, to reduce no-shows and cancellations. 

To reduce costs, focus your webchat on top-converting pages. 

Chatbot

  • Low-cost and lightning-fast 
  • Stock answers to most common questions
  • Appointments and links to more information/forms
  • Escalation or service extension via email/phone 

Human-staffed 

  • low (self-staffed) to medium cost (outsource) 
  • pay per contact, chat, or lead (definitions vary) 
  • lead capture, qualification, intake, scheduling, links, etc, 
  • might become unattended, then it becomes another contact form

Both

Automate routine answers but escalate it fast to humans via chat or email to answer questions, not in the stock answers. 

Remember to add a disclaimer that your web chat does not offer legal advice and engaging with the chat does not establish a lawyer-client relationship. 

Audit your systems

Once you have these systems in place, audit them. Are they serving your firm and your clients as they should? Are there any hidden issues? 

Pricing 

When you look into these systems, you might be surprised at how affordable AI and receptionist services actually are, especially considering how much time and efficiency they give you. You might pay per month for a certain level of service or access. 

Bot and human hybrid services might charge on a per lead captured basis and/or a monthly minimum. 

  • Check that the service you’re paying for are really doing a good job of triaging your client conversations. 
  • Check that you’re not paying for big set up fees for unqualified leads. 

Phone systems 

  • Check for ring delays where you only hear ONE ring but your client hears the phone ring 8 times before someone answers! 
  • Check that you have activity logs and post-call notes 

Integrate your communications into your existing systems

Record keeping

– call and text within CRM

– log business tests in CRM

– Add and update records in CRM 

    – new lead contact info

    – post call notes

    – activity logs (new appointment)

    – triggered workflow actions (new lead drip addition)

Project and document management and workflows

– document generation

– email integration

    – signature requests

    – incoming and outgoing e-faxes

Operations

– Call recording in lieu of live meeting transcripts

– dictation software  3-4 times faster than typing

– conference all convening services

– notifications, call transfer requests via SMS or Slack

Marketing and new business growth

– automatically add new leads to email drips

– performance tracking for SEO, PPC, retargeting, etc

   – volume

   – quality

   – cost (both generation and capture) 

Why You Should Invest in Effective and Efficient Systems

I had to start from scratch. I was trying to run my law firm, but I refused to invest in someone to answer the phones because I thought it was too expensive to spend $99 to answer the phone when I can do it myself. But I barely answered the phone! And when I did, I was snappy. I was short, I was terrible at customer service. 

These services seem like they cost so much but you’re actually losing money by not getting them. Even when it was no longer just me, my assistant was too burdened with the phones because I had a lot of other things to do. 

Hire someone solely to answer your phones. I found that to be a turning point for my firm. Critical to my success! 

The Fear and Paralysis of Waiting to Know More

We have this fear and paralysis that we need to figure it all out, that we need to know exactly what phone routing and scripts we should have, and any other qualifications before we even initiate a conversation with these services and software programs. 

But there’s no way of knowing those things until you get started. It’s actually the opposite! When you hire these services, you get reports and you’ll get so much data on how to improve and do so quickly. 

Your life gets better, even if you’re not super aggressive about the growth mindset, you still give yourself time to do the things you love. 

If you can believe it, I have even more knowledge to share on this topic! If you’d like to learn more about streamlining communications, sign up for my Six Figure Solo program!  Six Figure Solo now comes in three tiers – Executive, Solopreneur, and CEO. Sign up here!