Master Class: A Client's Perspective: Searching For an Attorney

Elizabeth Lockwood

We've all heard the phrase "walk a mile in their shoes" at least once in our lives. As an attorney, you might think you already know what it's like for your clients to search for an attorney. You've been trained to recognize the customer buyer experience and how to use it to capture, convert, and retain new clients. But you may have never had to search for legal representation and, if you have, you might have enjoyed insider knowledge, experience, and connections, leading you to have a much different experience than a majority of your clients. It's important to learn what your clients go through when they embark on their journey to find an attorney to adequately address their concerns. In the long run, this will result in more converted clients and better growth for your law practice.

In a webinar recorded October 2nd, 2020, Jim and Jolyn Armstrong, co-founders of the FOTA Project, joined Maddy Martin, head of growth and education at Smith.ai, to discuss this exact issue. From a lack of empathy to viewing clients as a paycheck, Jim and Jolyn touch on the damaging things attorneys do that may turn their new clients away. They go on to share their tips for creating a more welcoming environment and a more professional atmosphere that not only makes your clients feel more comfortable, but enables your firm to convert and retain more clients successfully. Jim and Jolyn's insight can help you learn what it might be like for your clients to search for an attorney and can give you the tools you need to make the appropriate adjustments to your lead conversion processes and learn how to better serve your clients.

If you're interested in hearing more, we've provided a full transcript of the video below, edited for readability. You can watch the full webinar for free on YouTube by clicking the image below. To check out more videos like this one, with tons of free tips for soloprenuers, small business owners, and lawyers, subscribe to our YouTube channel!

Moderator

Maddy Martin

Head of Growth and 

Education at Smith.ai

Speakers

Jim and Jolyn Armstrong

Co-founders of The FOTA Project

INTRODUCTION:

MADDY MARTIN, HEAD OF GROWTH & EDUCATION AT SMITH.AI:

And just as a brief introduction, I am Maddie Martin. I am the head of growth and education for Smith.ai. We are a virtual receptionist and web chat company, and we've been around for five years now. And we focus primarily on helping small businesses and mostly solo and small firm attorneys to be more responsive, to be more productive, to be more profitable, and run a sustainable small business.

It's such a huge advantage being in a small business. You get to connect more, and serve more closely with the clients, but there are burdens and you have to offload some of those burdens.

You can't do it all. So that's what we're here for.

And we have the great pleasure of getting connected with others who are helping similar, literally minded, small businesses and small business owners to level up their practice, to get more deeply ingrained in their communities.

We know with the lawyer community, with attorney communities, that you're so deeply involved in the place where you live and work and referrals are so important to you.

So we're gonna touch on sort of how to be a bigger member of your community and to contribute and to draw other experts into your sphere when you're working with clients.

So really excited to share with you today, the perspective of Jim and Jolyn Armstrong. They're going to be talking about searching for an attorney, a client's perspective and their journey that was brought about in a very broad way.

And I will share also the blog posts that they wrote for our blog that dives deep into that story as well. But we're going to hear from them, their story, their journey, and finding an attorney and then what that taught them and inspired in them to create that now is accessible to everyone here.

So without further ado, Jim and Jolyn, so nice to have you here.

If you'll just provide a brief introduction and then, you can go right ahead into your presentation.

JIM ARMSTRONG, COFOUNDER OF THE FOTA PROJECT:

Yeah. Thank you so much, Maddy. Jolyn and I are, we're– first, we're really thrilled to have been introduced to you. Smith.ai and you in particular, Maddy, have been fantastic in helping us kind of break the ice and get involved with a lot of forward thinking attorneys and organizations that are helping attorneys. So thank you so much.

And this is my wife, Jolyn, who's– we're co-founders and partners together in the FOTA Project, which we'll talk about in a little while. Yeah.

JOLYN ARMSTRONG, COFOUNDER OF THE FOTA PROJECT:

Yeah. Thanks. And thanks, Maddy. Yeah, it's a pleasure to be here. Yeah, we– our story is not a pleasant one, but we'll share it nonetheless.

And it's one that probably, attorneys recognize a little bit, but sharing our perspective was something that we thought would be super helpful.

So I'll dive right in, without further ado.

JIM & JOLYN'S EXPERIENCE SEARCHING FOR AN ATTORNEY

We had been spending the winter– Jim and I travel around quite a little bit. And we had been spending the winter one winter in California and just working.

It was a normal work day for me. We were staying in a place where I didn't have great cell service and that kind of kicked this whole thing off.

I ended my workday, closed up my computer, took my cell phone to a different part of the house I was sitting in. And just suddenly all of these messages came into my phone and texts from my youngest son, voicemails from my ex-husband, his father.

And I looked at the text from my youngest son first and he said, "Mom, you know, Dad's trying to get ahold of you and, you know, where are you? We're trying to get in touch with you and he was talking about, you know, trying to get in touch with you about that brother."

And my other son was in the military at the time.

And my mind immediately went to, "Oh my gosh, he's been deployed where there's been, you know, an accident or something. Something terrible has happened to him related to the military."

And I saw it. Four of the messages that came into my phone or from voicemails, from a number I didn't recognize in Colorado where my son was stationed.

And so I played the first one and it wasn't from the military. It wasn't from a hospital or anything like that. It was one of those automated messages from a county jail.

And he let me know he had been arrested and, oh my gosh, like, my world crumbled.

Well, so the only thing I could think of was called my husband. Like "I need Jim by me."

So I did that. He was that the gym at the time, he had wrapped up his work day and gone to the gym 'cause he's good that way.

So I left him a voicemail, and begged him to come home quick, which he did. So I appreciated that.

JIM:

Yes, I'm in the middle of my workout and she left the voicemail and normally I don't check them, but I did, you know, if I'm working out and normally, I wait, but for some reason, I checked this one and I heard her in a state that I have never, ever heard her before and it scared me.

So I went home immediately. Jolyn barely knew– all she knew was that her son was in jail. No details, no anything. And mind's racing, you know, how to get in touch with him.

Of course, they don't let you, you know, they don't pass messages to inmates, we learned. So, yeah, we didn't know what to do at first. It was, yeah, it was like entering a nightmare that you can't wake up from, you know. You go to sleep, you know, you go to bed that night and then wake up and the nightmares there.

So we have– our other business is doing training and coaching on sales and marketing for small businesses, a lot of what Smith.ai does for your clients, Maddy.

And so we had a mastermind coming up in Las Vegas for some of our higher, you know, our top clients and it's a two day intensive, you know, we had the conference room, you know, arrangements.

We were in the middle of catering and just all the, you know, a hundred and one details that go into putting on a live event. And, you know, these dog-gone–

MADDY:

Not to mention the investment, right?

JIM:

Oh yeah. Yeah. People counting on us. Oh, flights are purchased. There's no bag.

MADDY:

Everything's prepaid, deposited. Oh, yeah.

JIM:

Oh yeah. And plus, it was connected to the largest– our main work with you is in the flooring industry– and it was tied to the largest trade show in the flooring industry in the United States so they're not going to move that forward.

JOLYN:

Yeah, we had to march on ahead.

JIM:

You know, the criminal justice system is so impolite in that it doesn't consult your schedule.

What immediately began happening is I started making travel arrangements to fly to Colorado, then to Vegas, and back to California and then, just jumped into that. And Jolynn, you started started–

JOLYN:

I just started calling attorneys, Googling attorneys in that area. And, yeah, calling them, setting up appointments for the following week.

We were going to travel over the following weekend and meet attorneys the next week. And I swear, the first attorney–if I wasn't afraid enough, the first attorney I talked to terrified me more 'cause he asked me a question. He said, "You know, when does your flight get into town?"

And I told them, "Oh, well, over the weekend, Sunday, so if we can set something up during the week."

And he said, "No," he said, "I'll take you to dinner Sunday night."

And I just thought, "Oh my gosh, this isn't just serious to me, like, this is a serious case.

And I was horrified at the prospect, but he, you know, I made dinner plans with him and his managing partner that both of them were going to give up their time on a Sunday night to make sure they were the first ones to talk to us.

And I just, I was horrified by it, but I went on, scheduled, you know, half a dozen or so other appointments for the following week.

And, yeah, we got on a plane on Sunday and headed to Colorado to figure all of this out and start meeting with attorneys.

So, well, what a nightmare that time.

JIM:

So, you know, we're flying in and, just to kind of set the stage, you know, we were feeling like, again, like a nightmare we couldn't wake up from, confusion, a tremendous sense of isolation. Because by then we had an idea of what the charges were and they're pretty serious.

And they, you know, for our defense attorneys who are on this, you know, that the families who are part of, you know, your client's families, you know, they are often guilty by association. There's all kinds of social and societal.

MADDY:

Stigmas and– right.

JIM:

Oh my God. Yes.

MADDY:

At the same time, I mean, it's a whole mix of emotions.

JOLYN:

Oh my gosh. It's terrible. And unexpected. I remember thinking, you know, my first fear when all of those messages came into my phone was that, you know, he's either been hurt in some training exercise or he's been or being deployed.

And that, to me, was so terrifying. And I remember thinking, you know what? I wish he would have been deployed.

MADDY:

That would at least be his burden of responsibility instead of now what's become your burden of responsibility. Yeah.

JOLYN:

It just, it, oh my goodness.

JIM:

So, we're flying into town. And one thing that we discovered through our journey was what we later started calling, points of light or, you know, beacons of light out there because it's pure darkness.

You know, we– the flight attendant that gave us a blanket or when we were at the hotel where we were staying, we got a last minute call and we had the dash, we were eating in their restaurant. And the waiter or waitress could tell we were stressed. And so she took our food and boxed it up and said, "Hey, we'll have it waiting for you when you get back.

'Cause we couldn't– we had two bites and we had to go. And on and on, these points of light– it's hard to overstate what that meant to us. Okay.

MADDY:

It's almost like the taking care of the caretaker, you know, like you always think about now, the parents who are taking care of multiple generations, you know.

They often, in this middle web generation– people who are in their forties and fifties and sixties have elderly parents who are living much longer.

They have children still, maybe even in the household, who's taking care of them, right? Because they're running around frantic all the time.

And it's much like that.

You know, who's taking care of the nurses right now during COVID, as we're recording this, there are a lot of, you know, frontline workers who are giving a lot more and not necessarily having their own needs met.

JOLYN:

Right, right. That's where we were. That's what it felt like. Yeah. Those beacons, really, those couple little in the darkness–

JIM:

But going into these attorney meetings kind of in this mindset or emotional state, really. And what we found– we wound up interviewing six attorneys.

And so, you know, some of them made some real blunders. They didn't mean to. But they– we wound up not going with them.

And then, there was the one attorney who really gets some things right. So let's talk about that a little bit.

MADDY:

Let's talk about what people did wrong. So I think that everyone here is dying to know the right and the wrong.

So like, let's start with sort of the wrong and maybe that leads us into the right. What from – and how do we frame it as what your expectation was versus what was delivered, if that's relevant?

SEARCHING FOR AN ATTORNEY: EXPECTATION VS. REALITY

WHAT THESE ATTORNEYS DID WRONG

JOLYN:

Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, I really expected, you know, short to medium length appointments in an attorney's office. I had never dealt with something like this.

MADDY:

Or a doctor's appointment or something.

JOLYN:

Yeah! Where we come in and get shuffled in and talk to them and leave. So the dinner appointment knocked me off my feet a little bit. I went, "Oh my, why in the world?" Right?

MADDY:

So that felt overly intimate to you. Is that what– or overly hungry and aggressive almost, even though it was sort of shrouded in this very gifting approach?

JOLYN:

Yeah. Yeah. And, and it, I mean, it had an effect that terrified me more, like, "Why would they do this for this case?" and "Oh my God, it's a serious case."

And so it just, it sent me off more, but I was hoping for an arm-around-the-shoulder when we met with them.

I was hoping for, okay, at least we are going to be greeted back in Colorado with–

MADDY:

But it was a little too much salivating over it.

JOLYN:

And it wasn't just salivating, there was a little bit too much tequila, too. So that's one thing that they did – really, like, they took us to a Mexican restaurant and immediately ordered a round a drinks, which is fine. That's fine.

But then, they continued drinking and–

JIM:

And we weren't drinking so.

MADDY:

I mean, how could you be compost mentis, you know, and get through the days and get all the things you need to do. Right. And a little bit of a party atmosphere and I'm sure you didn't feel like celebrating.

JOLYN:

Right. Right. And then we're kind of, I mean, as, as liquor flows, you get a little jovial and they started mocking the case a little bit and I thought–

MADDY:

Their true colors, right.

JOLYN:

Yeah. So yeah, making a joke of what our son was, you know– some of our son's statements, not what we expected and–

MADDY:

Right.

JIM:

But there were– the one partner was just, like, going to town on the chips and salsa. It was like we were at a cocktail party.

MADDY:

And not necessarily– that's interesting.  

I think that there are ways to have dinners that are professional and constructive and there are, then, just dinners.

Right. And it seems like there's a loss of focus that happened there when you went and you saw the other four or however many there were.

Before you hit the good one, what qualities or experiences did those exhibit?

JOLYN:

Yeah, so they kind of ran the gamut a little bit. There was one that had really great reviews and that's why I scheduled an appointment with him.

The minute we walked into his office, though, it was unprofessional and he was– it was not welcoming at all, a little bit of a cold kind of sterile atmosphere. And then he was super condescending, real economy.

I argued with that one.

JIM:

She almost wound up in a shouting match with him that– this isn't your usual – it's a high emotional state, which is how people are coming to your office.

They're usually seeing you at the worst time in their lives, especially in the criminal defense world.

So this, yeah, he was very–

JOLYN:

Yeah, he was rude.

JIM:

I mean, he was wrong too. We found out later that he was saying, were just. They were, you know– some of them, they, like one attorney came and met us at the hotel. Really kind gentleman, a nice fellow, but he was very young. He came across as though he was just fresh out of law school.

And so he lacked the confidence, lacked that– we could just tell he, we were not going to put our son's life in his hands. We went away saying, "Okay, well, he needs five or eight years of–"

MADDY:

You're not going to be the test case.

JIM:

No.

MADDY:

Well, it's too severe anyway, to risk giving someone who you may have liked a chance. There's too much risk on the other side of it.

JOYLN:

And he should've known that, you know?

JIM:

This wasn't, like, we needed a letter written to send to accreditor or something. This is jail time we're talking about.

So he was off the list and then the others just.

JOLYN:

There were some that were decent. They just, yeah.

JIM:

So we'd go into the office. There were one, one or two of them that made us, in their questioning, almost made us feel like we were being cross-examined.

MADDY:

To see if you had any more information or if you were being truthful?

JOLYN:

Yeah. A little bit like down the nose a little bit, like, "Oh, you're the parents, you know?" Yeah.

JIM:

And why it's, like, maybe they're so used to dealing with criminals that they expect us to be criminals or something. I'm just guessing, but it felt like almost–

MADDY:

Almost stand-offish, then. A little distancing and cold maybe?

JIM:

And their manner suggested they didn't trust us to give them answers to their questions. And it was like they were skeptical. Like come on, we're not going to lie to you. We have no– we're trying to get, you know– so that was happening.

And then, just when we would enter the law office and – I'll, we'll contrast this in a minute with what the one did right – but we'd go in and it wasn't as though we had an expectation, Maddy. You said what was our expectations? We had none. We, our minds were spending so much that when we went in and they'd say, the receptionist or whoever would say, "Uh, may I help you?"

And it wasn't rude exactly, but it certainly wasn't warm and welcoming and made us feel like they really were glad to see us or even comforting in any way.

MADDY:

Sort of perfunctory.

JIM:

Very.

MADDY:

Like I've been told I should say these things. Yeah.

JIM:

Yeah, that's what it was. And the ones, and there were a couple of them, who didn't really do anything wrong. Like, they didn't, you know, get drunk on Margarita's and, you know, it's just–

MADDY:

They didn't inspire confidence>

JIM:

It wasn't even that. They were perfectly competent. It was that the one we wound up going with did so much better.

MADDY:

That's a really good point there that it was so apparent to you, even having been so new to the experience, that you knew what you needed when you found it, basically.

JIM:

Yes. Yes. We literally went in with no expectations. Yeah. I've never had to do this before. This is way outside of, like–

MADDY:

I feel like I should have had music ready for the, like, "Oh, you know?" Like what did they do? I'm so excited.

JIM:

Well, it's gonna, it's–

JOLYN:

It wasn't super over the top either so.

JIM:

And I wanna make this point clear before I tell you what they did right.

It sounds like small things. What we're about to say, you're going to go, "Oh, is that all?" It's be tempting to say that.

And a marketing guru of mindset, little hinges swing big doors.

And it was these things that we're going to relay to you.

And at the time, we didn't analyze it the way– we're trainers and we've had much more time to analyze what happened. All we knew at the time was it felt like a warm blanket around us. It felt like that beacon of light and like, "Hey, we got a fire here. Come sit down by the fire. Hey, here's a, you know, here's some hot cocoa and here's a blanket. It's dark and cold and there's wolves out there."

MADDY:

It touched on that deep, deep seated area of your brain that says I'm safe. I don't have to be– right?

JIM:

Yeah. And at the time, we didn't even realize it was happening. Okay. This is for everybody listening to this.

This is not something that we analyzed at the time. We just went away and went, "Oh, that was nice. Wow."

MADDY:

Well, you're in the thick of it. You had to make a decision. If you hadn't been so, sort of, excited about the rest of the crowd, so you may not have even realized how good good was, if it was just, "This'll work."

JIM:

That was exactly what it was like.

WHAT THIS ATTORNEY DID RIGHT

So we go in there and on the phone or, sorry, when we walked in, the receptionist said, "Hey, welcome. How may I help you?"

And the way she said it, it was like she was happy to see us. It was, it was through her tone. It was all tone. I mean, you can say, "Hey, how can I help you?" or "Hey, how may I help you?"

It's all on the tongue.

MADDY:

We often say, just smile as you talk and you don't have to worry about your tone.

JOLYN:

Exactly. And she did and she was incredibly welcoming. It was really nice.

MADDY:

So that immediately brings one barrier down and your shoulders go down a half an inch. What brings your shoulders down another half an inch?

JIM:

She immediately offered us a beverage. "Would you like a bottle of water or some coffee?" Immediately. And we went, "Yeah, actually we are kind of thirsty," you know?

And then she said, you know, "I'll let your attorney know you're here." And she did the little phone thing. And then she said, "Okay, she's going to be just a few minutes. Why don't you have a seat in our waiting area? I'll bring you your drinks and, you know, make yourselves comfortable."

It was like she was inviting us into her living room. Okay.

When the attorney came out, she was friendly, but she wasn't like the first two that took us to the restaurant where there was that, you know, used car salesman grin and almost salivating over this big case that just fell into their lap.

That just, no, it was, "Hey guys."

She told us her name and said, "Why don't you come on back?"

And it wasn't anything over the top. It was just like, "Let's take care of you." Confident kindness, just, "Come on back."

And so we went back there and just–

JOLYN:

Well, I, you know, there was one thing I really wasn't probably very likable at that time. And I was just such a mess and hadn't slept in days and hadn't eaten and, you know, on and on.

And I had in my mind this kind of way of thinking of how this case should go or things I thought the attorneys should maybe try. And I had kind of pitched this idea to a few of them and some who appeased me, "Oh yeah. Okay. That's good."

Well, it was a terrible idea and it was, I mean, it was awful. I can see that now, but she said, "Um, yeah. We're not going to do that." And she explained to me what– she didn't try to appease me. Yeah.

JIM:

It's like your suggestion was, "Should I bake a cake with a file in it and sneak it into my son?"

JOLYN:

Yeah, I mean, it was at that level and it wasn't really that, but she did, she let me know, "Hey, you know," – in that kind way – "we're going to handle this, you know, use our expertise and handle this the way it needs to be handled. And here's why we're not going to do this ridiculous thing that you're thinking about."

So, anyway, it was just this kind correction that I thought, at first, I was like, "Oh," and then I went, "Oh, Yeah. Okay."

JIM:

Well, another thing that she did too, was her whole– again, these are little things– but just her body language communicated, "I'm not just listening to the words you say. I mean, I'm hearing you."

She asked– one of the first questions she asked was, "How are you guys doing?" Wow. Oh my God.

JOLYN:

Yeah. That was big.

JIM:

I don't know if anyone else asked us that. I don't remember it.

And then she asked the questions. She's paying close attention and writing down notes, like she's really engaged with hearing what we have left.

MADDY:

It's funny that you mentioned that because I find, and I'm sure many of the people here will find, and you may find even in your own businesses, if someone is taking notes, if it's my own staff or someone who I'm in a meeting with, that gives me such a sense of confidence.

And if they're not, by contrast, I can feel like sort of my blood pressure rise, right? You know, like, why is someone not taking notes? You know, I take this seriously. Do you take it seriously?

I know the story. Like if you're telling someone your story, you don't need to take notes, but the person who's going to be responsible would.

JIM:

Yeah, exactly.

JOLYN:

And she did one other thing that really sold me on her, probably you, too. And it was towards the end of our meeting.

We needed to leave and we told them, you know, we've got a few more appointments and, you know, they knew that we had been meeting attorneys already. And when we mentioned, you know, that we had more appointments yet to get through, she asked us, "Well, how many people are you meeting with?"

We told her, you know, half a dozen or so. And she said, "Well, wait a minute. If I can just offer, you know, a bit of insight here, this case, there are maybe three firms in town that have the experience and the staffing and the ability to handle this case. So I think you're meeting with too many people."

And, you know, she didn't say it in a way like, "Hey, we're the only ones, come up. Nobody else is gonna take care of you." It wasn't like that at all. She said, "You know, they were one of them that can handle it." But she said there were two others in town that I can think of that can handle this at all.

And so I just showed her my list. I said, "Can you tell me, are they on there? Are they on there?" And both of the other two were on there. And she said, you know, this one who we had met with already and another one that we were scheduled to meet with, she said, "Meet with these two." She said, "You can cancel the rest."

And she saw the one that was, like, I almost got in a shouting match with and she just went "Uh-uh." She just went like this, like signaling, *head shaking*.

MADDY:

I imagine she was exceptionally well mannered from everything you've said, but you still get the point she is giving.

JOLYN:

Yeah. And she said, "Listen, between these three, you know, choose who you connect with the most and who your son connects with the most. This is going to be a long relationship. This is not one or two hearings that we're talking about. So it really comes down to who you can develop this relationship with the most. And we really wish you the best in making that decision."

And they also– you know, and that, to me, I just thought, "Oh my, she's not like– Wow. What a change from–"

MADDY:

What a masterful sales technique, to say, "I'm going to educate you and the ball's in your court. I've given you more than you asked for."

If you really break it down, you didn't ask her to review the list. She opened the door for that review and had enough camaraderie at that point to feel like she's already established enough, trust that in this stickier situation where she's talking about her competitors.

You already have enough trust where it conveys into that situation. If you jump into that right away, if you were at dinner, having tequila and trying to fight for the last chip with the other guys, you might not feel like that would have been an appropriate conversation to have had in this situation.

JOLYN:

Nor would I have taken their suggestion anyway.

MADDY:

Right.

JOLYN:

They're drunk and suggestible.

So yeah, I mean, she was– the fact that she cared enough about us to suggests that and to, you know, yeah, it was– that was pretty amazing.

I mean, on a side note, they also gave us information on the, oh, what are they called? 

JIM:

Bail.

JOLYN:

Yeah! Bail. She gave me some help there because I don't know. And his bail was crazy.

So, anyway, she helped us with that, too, before we had ever even– you know, we're heading to another appointment right now to one of the other firms that you've said, the things you had to think about, she said, "Take in your inventory and this is what you should have as inventory if you haven't."

Yes. And it's so, I mean, that was– it was really, really wonderful.

She also offered that, she said, "By the way, during this decision process, feel free to call us with questions." That was fantastic. It was really, I mean, who's not sold on that?

MADDY:

So then how long did it take you to decide to go with– like, I think that so many attorneys who we often talk to, they they'll have a conversation that, from their end, feels like it went that well.

WHAT SEALED THE DEAL FOR JIM & JOLYN

And then, there's the waiting period. Do you follow up? How do you follow up? Who follows up? Is it you? Is it your staff? What boundaries do you want to set in the beginning? And what level of care and attentiveness you want to set there?

There's sort of a balance there. What happens to maintain the momentum of that positive experience?

JOLYN:

So, one thing that they– I think the biggest issue right at that point was our son was still in jail and we needed to get him out of jail. We needed to get them to make a decision. Yeah. And I mean, it was really– we understood even with, you know, the lack of experience that we had, we understood, we're not the client here. He's going to have to work with them.

And so we wanted him to meet with at least those top three. Right. And so we got him out of jail and scheduled for him to come in and see them. I mean, they offered to go into the jail and speak with them there.

And when we said, "Well, you know, let's see what this bail bondsman can do and get them out," they said, "Yeah, that's actually better. If he can meet us outside of that environment where the stress levels a little bit lower." So they waited for that.

We told them we're going to get him out and bring him back so you can meet with them.

And that's what we did.

And during that meeting is when we hired them and they didn't follow up with us during that time period. It was a couple of months. It was short. It was, yeah, it was certainly within 48 hours.

JIM:

We had– we were only in town for a few days. Yeah. So your son felt good about them as well.

And I will say this, the two that she recommended in terms of could have handled this case, they didn't make any, what I would call, mistakes. They didn't do some awful thing that we just weren't– they were very professional.

But the one we went with did it better.

MADDY:

And it's not an arranged marriage. You have the freedom of choice and you also have another stakeholder at the table and you know, that's another opportunity for validation, right?

And until things are signed, that opportunity for validation is really important. You know, you've had one interaction, it's like going to see a new house or even going to a restaurant and the food was good. Well, can they repeat the performance? Right?

JIM:

So he was very comfortable with that one, you know, he wasn't making really the final decision because we had figured out a way to pay for this.

And we also, being older, have more of an insight into the kind of character we're looking for, but we wanted to at least make sure that he felt good about, you know, "Tell us your top two or three, and then let's kind of figure it out from there."

So it was kind of a joint decision, but what they did more than the other two attorneys wasn't like some massive thing. It wasn't like she met us at 3:00 am on a Saturday or left her kid's birthday party or something. It wasn't.

It was small things.

And they weren't the cheapest. Price hardly came into it.

You know, we didn't know– we have no idea what law schools these people went to, what their number of degrees were, what their alphabet soup after their name– none of that, I'm telling ya. That wasn't what we were looking at.

And we still couldn't tell you those things.

SMALL THINGS ATTORNEYS CAN DO

MADDY:

So the small things, if we can enumerate some of them, it sounds like the greeting, the attentiveness, the personalization, the sort of whole-being approach to those meetings, the taking notes, and maybe, there's eye contact, there's even, you know, is your body facing forward during a meeting or are you sort of turned, right? Is there a desk between you, you know, how much space are you occupying, you know, in that room, if you're physically in a room? 

So many people are doing virtual consultations now, but there's still such a thing as eye contact, just smiling as asking someone how they're doing. That was another small thing that you mentioned.

So if you're listening to us and wondering, you know, what are these small things that you're referencing?

It's every element of the experience that's not specifically referencing the law, right? It is the environment you're being brought into, and that can be a virtual environment, you know.

If you have a remote consultation, for example, let's imagine that that was done right now in this day and age, there are a number of factors that may be different, but if you have a very noisy see home environment or a dog barking or something jarring, there's an aspect of quietness.

That's important to pay attention and make sure that there aren't things that can call away your attention, that by no fault of your own, you know, you forgot to put the teakettle off, or you forgot that the dog should go in the crate for a half an hour or whatever the case may be.

What are the things you can do to set yourself up for success, to limit the noise and interruptions and the variables that you can control? Because we know, in law, there's only so many things that you can control.

JIM:

Yeah. Well, you know, Maddy, what we did it for to prepare for this is, we– our light just came– See, talk about things that come up.

MADDY:

They were very bright for a moment. There you go.

JIM:

So, you know, equipment's great when it works. So, what we did in preparation for this is we took kind of our client experience and put it into some slides and if we could share those with you.

MADDY:

Absolutely. I think, you know, it would be helpful to know. Okay. So what was missing that you didn't get that this woman brought to you? It really feels like it was a sort of an amalgamation of many small areas of attention to detail where the other ones were really just focused on the case, whether they were nasty about it or hurried about it.

There wasn't that nuanced, "Hey, we're humans here and we have to be kind and mindful of each other and where our emotional states are."

So, yeah, go ahead and share your screen.

JIM:

You're able to see that Maddy? So what we did is, you know, in keeping with that beacons of light thing, and we'll– I'll do what you you've suggested, Maddy. I want to kind of compare and contrast, you know, what are some practical things?

So first thing I would mention is how your phones are answered.

I'm sure Maddy has talked to you about this in terms of how people are greeted.

That's the first way that people are in contact with you. That's the front line. And so many times it's easy to just say, you know, "ACME law firm, may I help you?" And that was like the standard reading we heard.

If you change your tone, smile, like Maddy said, that's great. If you smile, you automatically sound more friendly. Say ,"Hi, thank you for calling the ACME law firm, how can we help you?" Right? It's a huge difference.

It almost doesn't seem fair because you've gone to law school. You've paid your dollars. You've you've done all this work.

And are you telling me that getting a client is going to be based on how I answer the phone?

MADDY:

Absolutely, and the Clio Report says that, too, Jim. I will tell you as an anecdote that the– and sorry for interrupting– but I think it just hammers home your point completely at a large data level.

Two out of three potential clients based their decision to hire on the firm's initial responsiveness alone. So if you have a secret sauce and you're an incredible attorney, they're never going to know if you don't pick up the phone, they're never going to get the opportunity to talk to you because you're not picking up the phone.

And that goes with any open communication channel. It could be a chat, text, Facebook message. You name it these days.

JIM:

So that's a really good point, Maddy.

And you know, I think one of the things that we're, perhaps, we're able to be some help today is we just happened to be your clients. And we just happened to also be sales and marketing trainers and able to break down and perhaps express to you in a way that your clients won't– they're not going to break it down like we have, and they may not even know why?

MADDY:

They'll go write a negative review and you won't know what you did wrong and it just didn't feel right. The other thing that the Clio Report says is two things:

1. If you give me a good experience and I like you, what does that intangible? If I like you, we have a nice friendly experience. I'll stop my search. They said that, about half of the time.

2. They also said, if you don't give me the amount of information that I need, like you were talking about the attorney who you hired went above and beyond in informing proactively, even beyond the questions that you thought you needed to have answered, the ones you didn't even know, the unknown, that is a clear distinguishing factor of the most successful firms, that they will win clients based on the confidence of the initial content of the conversation alone. Right.

JIM:

You know, it's– sorry to say, it's not fair, but it's the way the world works.

The person who does the best job answering the phones and greeting clients is going to win over the person with the best law degree.

Because we didn't know anybody. It's not like somebody there had this outstanding reputation and, you know, they were like this rock star that everybody knew about and we were going to get them no matter what.

MADDY:

You weren't getting special treatment, right? These weren't warm introductions or referrals. These were cold conversations.

JIM:

Totally, yeah.

The other thing is the way they're greeted when you come in. The phones are often answered, not necessarily unprofessionally, just no warmth to it. So what can we do to answer it in a way that– think of each touch point is an opportunity to win a client.

Each touch point, there's not a lot of touch points. There's only four or five throughout the, you know, the process, right? The way you're greeted when you come in, you know, "Uh, may I help you?"

[0That's not exactly mean and unfriendly, but it's a lot different than, "How can I help you?" Yeah. Oh wow. "Come and sit by the fire coming out of the cold. You know what? Let's gets you into a hot cup of cocoa."

And then the hospitality part of it was big. Just little touches. "Hey, can we get you some bottle of water or coffee or tea?"

And then the act of listening, you know, what you said a minute ago, Maddy, is so, so true about writing things down.

We train a bit. Mostly who we work with is flooring retailers and we teach them to do what doctors do. What do doctors do? They sit down, they ask questions, and they write down the answers.

You want to be perceived as a family doctor, not as a used car salesman. And that active listening, just writing down, making eye contact, you're communicating volumes to them without saying a word, you know.

MADDY:

I'll say one other thing, Jim, as it comes to mind, if you write things down, you can also focus on being in the moment because first of all, the forces that, you know, sort of written word into memory,.That's one good thing about writing things down and that could be typing, could be writing.

But, the other thing is that it frees up your brain space because you're not trying to memorize. You're actually trying to pay attention. Right?

And you know you don't have to memorize so that opens up your brain space to absorb more of the situation.

JIM:

Totally true. Absolutely. Use your brain. Use your brain for processing, not for storage is the way I can– that means taking notes.

Now, these are what I kind of call blocking and tackling. These are the basics.

And so what I want to do now is just share some kind of more over the top things that your competitors are never going to do. And if you will really want to create differentiation, I mean, none of the attorneys did this with us, but there's some things you could do that I think would be helpful.

This is something we've been teaching business owners for a long time is the "beverage menu strategy".

When somebody walks in, you greeted them, hand them a laminated beverage menu with what you have to offer and say, "Mr. Jones will be out in just a few minutes. What can I get you to drink while you wait?"

Oh, my gosh. Yeah.

MADDY:

And where do they do that?

They only do that in places of relaxation so you probably immediately think, "Oh, well this has only happened to me in a spa before or at a very nice hotel or resort." Right? What experience does it evoke that might be referenced?

JIM:

So if they're interviewing five attorneys and you're the one that does this, it's, they're definitely gonna remember you.

Another thing is having some kind of a welcome pack.

That can be a welcome, like if you're doing it virtually, this can all be done by email. So having a welcome message, including some client testimonials.  Maybe a "what to expect". So if you have– I have different areas of practice, maybe you've got five different sort of canned messages for the person that is, you know, if it's a criminal case or if it's a probate case or whatever it is, here's what to expect.

These five– that would have really helped us because we were in the dark. And then maybe a "meet the team". So now it's kind of your website, but just take it and put it in an email form that you send out to them or in a welcome pack that they carry out with them.

MADDY:

And even, there can be a special, you know, section on your website, a client portal. That's very popular now, a secure way to exchange messages.

But we see this very often and it also– we talked about momentum earlier. It builds momentum, right? It maintains that momentum where you had a really good experience and this is a sort of a confirmation. I love it. Like, "Oh, I really am in the right place. That wasn't just one trick that I saw early on."

JIM:

Yes. Yes. It's when you go into Starbucks, they're masters at creating what allowed Starbucks to charge, you know, five times more for coffee than at Dunkin's, you know.

Back when Starbucks fully started growing, they created an immersive environment. If you want to get technical, I call it the "zero resistance selling environment".

The whole thing is just the smell, the sights, the what they hear is conducive to me going, "Okay, I'll pay five bucks for a cup of coffee."

So if, what– which goes along with that, you said, Maddy, what's this immersive experience they're having.

And you don't have to do– I don't want anybody listening to this to get overwhelmed.

Take one thing we've said and just put it in practice.

And you may, you know, I know attorneys are busy, you're working a lot of hours. You've got a lot of stresses. I totally get it.

And so when Jolyn and I were were thinking this through, it was, "Okay, what kind of things can we put into our system? Set it up once and we don't have to touch it again."

And so that's– all of these things are for that.

So anyway, this is one that kind of ties into what we do.

WHAT CLIENTS NEED

JOLYN:

Yeah. So the one thing that, that we really needed, whether we really knew it or not at the point that nobody offered, even the attorney that we hired, she came closest, by asking us how we were doing.

But I'll tell you, you know, at that point, by the time we met with a lot of these folks, I hadn't slept in almost a week, more than a couple of hours maybe. And I was a complete mess.

I was crying all the time, every appointment I think we went into, I cry, or eating– it just, and for the first six months of this experience, that went on.

And it was because, you know, attorneys are focused on the law and the legal experience and all of the time and effort that they have put in to learning what needs to happen during, you know, during this experience and how to defend clients.

And I get that. I totally get that, but we were completely isolated at that moment and terrified. And if, you know, one person would have really, really stepped forward and said, "Hey, how are you doing? What, what do you need as far as some emotional support?" there. That, "Oh, you know what, here's a resource, here's a resource."

What an experience that would have been, you know. And we didn't think about it at the time, but some of the things that we were going through, I didn't realize were as common as they are.

So in, you know, going through this experience, coming kind of out the other side, some of the research that I've done in just trying to recover from this was really super shocking to me.

One: how really common it is. So six and a half million adults in the United States right now have an immediate family member in jail, like, "Oh my gosh."

So that number was astounding to me. And I mean, you can see the stats on the screen are just horrifying, actually. And the fact that, you know, the thing that we really learned through this was there are support systems for people who are facing incarceration, there are, you know, people coming out of prison, there are tons of programs to support them and to bring them back on their feet.

There are support systems for victims, as there should be. There's, you know, there's all of them, but, a portion of society that's been kind of overlooked are people just like us, like the families of these people that are facing criminal charges who wind up interacting with attorneys as much as the defendant, or almost as much as defendant and are just kind of out here in the cold and feeling super, super isolated.

So, you know, with that in mind, and as we've come out the other side and kind of gotten back on our feet and what are the experience that we've had in our past or the training that we said?

THE FOTA PROJECT

We developed this program called the FOTA Project that specifically focuses on, you know, the wellbeing of the families, so yeah.

Yeah, what we do here is really providing one-on-one counseling. And that's really mostly my thing. I really love connecting with other family members of people who are struggling the way I struggled.

We, Jim and I together, do online trainings once a month in a group kind of setting for all of the families that we can get in front of just to help them with different topics.

If it's subjects, our website, like you were mentioning before Maddy, we have a member portal as well. Our members resource area just has tons of information and books and videos for them to watch and things like that that can help them.

And then as we grow, 'cause we're kind of a baby business here, but as we grow and we will be adding some group meetings, some group experiences in live events as well.

So that's really, you know, we saw a hole in our society, a huge need and you know, it just so happens. We have the skills and the experience to fill that need and still, one thing we want it to provide to attorneys specifically, what we've created is this mood survey that attorneys can really easily, you know, either slip into their welcome pack or have their receptionist, you know, provide just as soon as somebody comes in or at any time in the relationship.

This is what it looks like. It's a super easy 10 question survey, really assessing, you know, where a client or their family is, like, "How are you feeling? How are you doing here?"

And so for attorneys, it's super easy. You know, you have this for them at one glance. If you see most of their answers on the right hand side of this form, you know, they may need, you know, somebody who's really focused on them and helping them with their mental health.

We did include the last question. Question 10 is super important. We talked to an attorney recently who had lost a client to suicide. Oh my gosh, you know, we don't ever, ever want that to happen. That question needed to be included there and there's instruction for, you know, if your client answers that question, you know–

MADDY:

Right. What you may need to do there is they want crisis services more immediately than they need to be talking to an attorney right then. Yeah.

JOLYN:

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So we've made that really easy.

And we'd love to partner with any of the attorneys on this call and, you know, some easy ways to do that, if email's easier for you, if you want to get this free tool, this mood survey, you can email us or call us and we can shoot it your way for sure. connect@thephotoproject.org, or you can call us at (916) 415-8619.

We work with referral partnerships with, with defense attorneys and organizations like Smith.ai who support attorneys. And so we'd love to hear from ya and if we can be of service and help your clients, yeah, happy to do so.

CONCLUSION

MADDY:

Well, thank you both so much for being here. It was inspiring to hear your story.

It was an insider look, and you guys really shared a lot of insights today. So thank you so much for your time.

Thank you everyone for joining us. There will be a recording that is shared, and we will also post this on YouTube, on our channel.

You can find us, Smith.ai, on YouTube, but I really encourage that you do get in touch with Jim and Jolyn and, like, it is critical that you look into your community, not just as immediate referral partners.

Obviously, there are the chiropractors and the personal injury attorneys. There are many, sort of, very important relationships that already exist that bring in clients.

But one of the things indirectly that brings in clients is giving clients an amazing experience. Working with already natural referral partners, other professional services provider. Many of you are in a business networking groups, maybe BNI, and you see those every day.

But in delivering an exceptional experience and creating, to use the book title, Raving Fans, a raving fan will refer so much more heavily and readily than someone who just came through, you know, casual, normal standard standard referral.

So yeah, I highly encourage that you get that mood survey.

That is just incredible. It is above and beyond, but with very little extra effort and no cost to you, I don't know why anyone wouldn't do this.

So thank you so much for being here. It was really a pleasure having you and thank you all for your time. And I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day.

JIM:

Thanks, Maddy. Thank you!

MADDY:

Take care everyone. Bye bye.

Questions? Contact Us.

Have any questions about Smith.ai's virtual receptionists services or anything else mentioned in this webinar? Call us at (650) 727-6484 or email us at support@smith.ai.

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Elizabeth Lockwood

Elizabeth Lockwood is the content marketing associate at Smith.ai. She focuses specifically on writing and editing engaging articles, blog posts, and other forms of publication.

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