Attracting, capturing, and converting clients is what keeps a law firm up and running. You can't rely on marketing alone to get qualified leads through the door. The real key to converting and retaining quality leads is a reliable intake system. From properly screening all interested prospects to scheduling consultations immediately with qualified leads, having a rock solid process can ensure your law firm has the right clients consistently flowing in. With a proper intake system, your law firms' time, revenue, and clients will always well protected, giving you the reassurance that you're getting the most out of your marketing.
In a webinar recorded on May 13th, 2020, Maddy Martin of Smith.ai hosted a webinar with Regina Edwards, award-winning family law attorney and owner of Edwards Family Law, to talk about the importance of having a strong intake system in place and how law firms can improve their intake to achieve a reliable process and more high-quality conversions, even amidst COVID-19.
To learn how you can improve your firm's intake, feel free to read the full transcript of the video below, edited for readability. You can also 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!
Head of Growth and
Education at Smith.ai
Family Law Attorney at
Well, I am super excited to be presenting Regina Edwards, who is an award-winning family law attorney in Atlanta, to you today.
Smith.ai is a virtual receptionist services have the pleasure of working with Regina for years now. I think, and you're hearing me, Maddy Martin, I'm the head of growth and education here.
And we like to present experts to our audience, from various industries and walks of life, domains and expertise levels to help fellow business owners, operators, people who are on the ground, trying to run a business efficiently and sustainably and in a way that scales actually now.
Given what we're going through with COVID, how do we adjust to the new norm normal with still a lot of the basic principles in place?
So, yes, we're focused on the law firm and improving intake today.
I will also highlight that many of the principles that Regina is going to share apply to other businesses. And this isn't the first time we have done a sort of legal-specific, but all industry in the presentation.
So, a lot of the examples will be from a lawyer's perspective as Regina is.
Still, if you open your mind and you see, how can I implement this process or system or solution in my own business, if it's not a law firm, that can be very helpful.
So we'll talk for about an hour today. And as questions come through, I will ask Regina. There are pockets of opportunity, and then we can also address the questions at the end and happy to have people at the end, or sort of Regina wraps up her presentation, or for talk, bring other people on to voice your questions or beyond video.
I have no problem at all with that.
So, make sure that you're writing down your questions and don't be shy. That's why we have this format and really excited to be presenting Regina to you today.
And if we can be a solution to you, as a receptionist service or chat, Regina can share her special promo code with you so that we give thanks to her and credit her for the referral because we know that she has brought many of you here today and just ready to give the floor to Regina.
It's a pleasure for me to be here.
So I'm actually going to go off the view or what you put in the initial advertisement.
There are four things, and I think we can just talk, sort of, broad overview, and then drill down to each of those four things, though, with intake. I think Maddy hit it on the head where first of all, you have to identify what your goals are, offer intake.
Then you need to pick the right intake software. I've, kind of, added to it. You also have to pick the right person answering your phone or your answering service. Then build your intake system to meet your business targets and then obligate, automate, and delegate work for predictable success.
So the first one seems easy, but it's not necessarily, for example, to identify your intended goals.
So that really just depends on where you are in your practice, where you are in your firm.
For me, I'll tell you what my goals are. My goals are; I am trying to essentially figure out if it's the client that I want to work with, I wanted to figure out if they have an issue I can fix. I wanted to find out if they have an issue I want to fix. I’m trying to figure out if they can afford my services and whether or not it's a client that, personality-wise, I want to work with.
Obviously that's a lot to, sort of, try to get through the intake process. So there's a little, this there are few layers to it, of how I get to my ideal client through the process that I have.
So I'm trying to identify these clients. I probably get anywhere between 7-15 new potential client calls per day, which support family law firm is probably on the high side.
So I'm really trying to screen these people to make sure they have a problem that I can solve. They have a problem.
Like I said, that I want to solve and that there's some achievable outcome that I can get for them. As a law firm, not everybody that calls has an issue that we can help with, or it may not be within our domain of expertise.
We may want to refer it elsewhere. Sometimes the client, it's obvious, is going to have a personality conflict with you. They're very demanding. They're rude to your staff and then nice to you. Those kinds of people, I don't tolerate either.
So there's a lot of screens that go on in the initial call.
And then, of course, I wanted to feel out whether or not they can afford my services before I even go through the process of consultation. So drilling down into that a little bit, how do I do that?
So the first step is I haven't hit spring service, obviously, which is Smith.ai. I wouldn't call myself trying to sell them because I have a paralegal, but I don't have an associate or someone continually working on it for me.
So I'm the only lawyer really working in my first. I have one fair legal, and I have an intake specialist. So when clients call, they really want to talk to someone right away, and it's really is going to be specific to the type of business that you have.
Everybody knows for PI attorneys; you have to have someone answer the call.
People that are in an accident are not going to listen to a voicemail and wait politely 24 hours for a call. It's just never going to happen.
You have to have someone answering the call live.
For family law attorneys, I think it's less important. However, I sort of used that initial call as a little bit of a screening process. I just got a message from Smith.ai. And I think maybe about 30 minutes ago where they explained the intake process to the client.
And my process is this; they will gather some information in a form, they will submit the form as if they are the client. It immediately goes into my system. They, my intake coordinator, will call the person back.
I usually say that there's a one hour slot each day. And if you've missed this hours’ slot for today, then you'll get a call back tomorrow. That's generally not the case, but the point is, I'm preparing them to expect they may not get a call today.
So there's plenty of people that say that's not acceptable.
I'm calling somebody else, great coastal videos, it's really not a problem for me because someone that is that anxious. Once that sort of responsiveness from a working attorney right away, it's just not something that's going to fit into my business plan. It’s just not going to work for us.
So I get messages all the time; it says that people don't want to fill out my intake form. They don't want to give me an email address, and that's fine. That's a loss leader for me.
And I don't really consider that a loss because if they're not conforming to how you want your relationship to work in the beginning, it's just going to get worse later on. So Smith takes the information, I can show you the form.
I think with the share screen, we’ll see how this works.
And actually, it's funny Regina, while you're getting that.
One thing that I'll mention— Maddy Martin here, again from Smith.ai— is that what actually prompted these webinars that Regina would drop into so many of our talks, and so generously share this form that I'm sure has had many iterations.
And I finally just said to her Regina, like, let's get you on and talk about intake because you’re generously dropping into so many of other webinars. I think it's time to give you one of your own.
Yeah, sure. So this is the form that I use.
And I use a service called, I know a lot of you, especially if you’re attorneys, you have an intake, or you're using either Clio or MyCase or PracticePanther or Lawmatics.
They all pretty much do the same thing, except in different ways. I like Dubsado because it's very inexpensive. I paid $600, and I have a foot plan, so I don't have to pay monthly; it’s forever. So unless they go out of business, I'm keeping them forever, and the great thing about these forms is when I consider it sort of a magic button.
So the important thing about intake is you want the clients to feel that they are your client from the minute that they call your office.
So having an answering service is not just a service to just, “Oh, we'll get the information. The attorney will give you a callback.” You're missing so many opportunities if that's what you're doing. So I'll explain how this form works.
So obviously, it's pretty simple. We just enter our information. A lot of my stuff is going to be pre-filled. So we'll just do that. Yeah. So if the answering services are taking the call, they're going to put in the client's information.
And these are some basic questions that I've created that they’re baseline questions, just for me to determine whether or not it's a case I could help with. And whether or not I actually have a conflict.
So for those non-attorneys, obviously, I can't have a consultation with someone and take their case if I've had a consultation with someone on the other side.
So that is an important step to gather the name of the opposing party, to make sure that I have not met with them before. So this form has that information.
So I gathered their name, the other party's name, which is in this case the spots. Is there a case in progress? Yes or no? It's if there is a case in progress, what county is it in?
I only practice in a few counties in Georgia, so I see something like Taliaferro County. I tell her county things, how you pronounce it. There's like three people that live there. I'm not going to go there to county.
So I can immediately just respond to the answering service email and say, “Tell the client that I don't service this County,” and give them a number to call in order to find an attorney in that area.
Does the person have told them with the other party, then I liked Smith.ai, I to get a brief overview of what's going on with the case, I'm just going to type that? For example, I've been married for 24 years; we’ve got two kids together. My husband has said that he wants to file for divorce, so I'm not sure what to do.
So they fill out this form, and they hit, send. So once they hit that, it's automatically going to come to me.
The key for your practice or your firm is, what is that “send” button going to do for you? And the answer is pretty much anything you want it to.
So, how do I stop the sharing area? So that form has come directly to me. I review it very quickly. And like I said, if it's the case that I know I have no interest in because of the County, or something else, I immediately have Smith.ai decline the call for me.
If it's something I'm interested in, the form goes directly to my in-state coordinator, who will call back and give it to get additional information.
At that point, I'll review those notes and either offer a consultation, or I'll decline, or maybe I'll ask some follow up questions; some clients call and know they're going to hire me and skip the whole consultation process. So sometimes it's just a matter of we're sending them the fee agreement.
But this is all happening behind the scenes without my involvement. And that's really; the key is you're trying to remove yourself from the log jam of the intake process. So when they hit that “send” button, this is what happens from my end. So with a tuxedo, it starts a workflow, and it's a workflow that I've created.
So in my particular case, they get an email. And the email says, “Thank you so much for contacting our firm.” It's that it shows a link to my video. I've got a really nice Crisp video, which shows me walking through Piedmont Park and six-inch heels, which definitely helps describe how I looked. I practice law, but it's a great video, and clients love it.
And it's a vanity video, but you know, clients love it. So if you've got a video, either one of those highly produced vanity videos, or specific videos tailored to what the client is calling about, you can have a workflow automatically set up to send them that video in response to the calling.
So that's what happens when Smith.ai takes the message and hits that “send” button. The client is automatically going to get an email with this particular video, also, in data.
And if you guys are using Lawmatics or any of the other ones, it's the same thing. You can set up whatever workflow you want. It's the same process.
So you can set it up to send your videos. You can direct them to different websites. If you've written a book or a pamphlet, anything has that automatically sent; you want the client to feel that from the beginning, they are invested in you because it's just a note.
If you're using an answering service as a note-taking service, it's really sort of a waste of time.
So the workflow release helps the client feel that they've invested with you already because they're getting an email right away saying, “Hey, thanks so much for calling. Here's what to expect next. In the meantime, do A, B and C.”
I like to give people homework, especially in family law cases. A lot of times, it's cases where something has happened before.
So if it's a divorce, there's really not going to be anything that's happened before. Still, we do a lot of custody modifications, child support modifications, where there have been prior court orders.
So my email actually says if there has been a prior court order, or if you are trying to modify, go ahead and upload your documents. So immediately they're given homework, they're not just given an email that says, “Hey, we're going to call you when we get around,” to it's, “Hey, here's thanks for calling. Here's a video. Here's more about my practice. There's more about me, or here's what I need you to do for us to move forward.”
So a lot of times, the clients immediately upload their documents, and that sort of helps me determine well, which client is really serious about hiring me versus someone that's not. So a lot of clients upload the documents right away.
And that does a couple of things; it gives me the information I need to help determine whether or not I want to take the case, and it also helps me feel like they're invested in my firm.
They can see how well my systems work and how everything else seamless everything is. And it makes them feel more comfortable about working with us, which is obviously the goal, is a comfort level, especially when you're hiring a service professional such as an attorney.
So at that point, my intake coordinator will call the client back in; she’ll take very detailed notes that those detailed notes will probably take about 20 minutes to talk to the client. I will review those notes in probably less than 30 seconds.
And I make a decision as to whether or not I wouldn't take the case or whether or not I want to pursue moving forward.
So the system that I have with Smith.ai allows me to immediately make notes to her about what I wanted to do next, task it to her, and it moves along the next step in the pipeline.
Every single component of your intake process really can be automated.
So we've probably had 25 different canned emails in the devastated system. And again, I'm just using devastation. It was a euphemism for Lawmatics or whatever Clio intake that you're using for your automatic responses.
So if you're declining a case, one button is declining for referring it to someone else. One button refers. If you need additional information, that can be a email.
But the more communication and contact you have with that client from the beginning, the less likely they are to, sort of, hang up and call somebody else, which obviously what you're trying to prevent.
So Regina, can I interrupt you for a moment? Because those are a few questions that are coming through, and I want to make sure that we take them to the end.
So the first question, I actually came a little bit, before I used those, I'll get to that one. What email system are you using to send out that automation? Is that through Dubsado? Is it another system? It's all decided.
Yes. Okay. So I will share my screen again, maybe.
And while you're doing that, can you answer if the intake quarter coordinator is a full-time employee or actually an employee at all, or contract?
She's a contractor. I've actually never met her. She lives in South Georgia. She has an awesome Southern accent.
I think I found there on Upwork. I was actually looking for something a little bit different, and she really didn't, kind of, seem to meet my needs for that. But I saw that she had worked as a personal injury full-time intake coordinator. I'm like, "Great. If she's done PI intake, she can handle family law intake."
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. That's a special skill.
And also, I think the PI intake specialists are really keen on how to be sensitive, but also sell and work towards a goal of conversion. Right?
So that's an area where we see a lot of expertise, and it requires a lot of empathy as well because with family law, sometimes people are in traumatic situations and are looking for someone to not only say, "Yes, we can help. This is what we do," but "We care," because in most law areas, but especially in family law, the client listened to that, you care for beginning, and that you're just not taking your money, I'll solve your problem, or maybe not.
They went into that “You care.” So that's an important component intake as well.
So this is what the form that I just filled outcomes across it looks like.
There's something in the note section because I haven't added anything, but when it comes across, it will be in the note section.
So if I want my paralegals, the intake coordinator, to review something, I would just say "review and call".
Now that tasks it to her by using this drop-down menu. This is completely customizable; probably, any system that you have is going to have some sort of funnel to put it in. These are all the different funnels that I've created, and you can see there's a lot. So our age, our view is obviously me.
The second, the one that gets used, the second most is Lisa call the client back. I usually only follow up with people once.
I know people tell you with the intake you're supposed to follow up repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly, probably with PI criminal. You may want to do that with family law.
Quite frankly, I'm not doing it. I'm going to call you once, leave a message. I may call you twice. That's it leaving it alone. I have a hot lead category. It's the one that has been scheduled for a consultation. There's a category for that.
So there are just all these different funnels. If I refer the cases out to other attorneys, actually have funnels for that.
My single law firm is part of different partnerships that actually had intake forms for them as well. So it's all these different funnels where you can just instantly glance at what the status of the intake is at that point.
So what she will do is; if she talks to the client, then she'll obviously put the notes here, and I'll review it, and she'll task it back to me.
So this is the section where I review the notes and then tell her what the next step is.
So Dubsado does a lot of things and again, most of your intake, so they're going to do the same thing. You can send invoices. Yeah. It can create appointments. I personally do not have a system where clients can schedule their own appointments.
That's just a personal preference. I like to control the people that show up on my calendar, and when they jump on my calendar, but you can automate that as well. And that's something that any intake service and Smith.ai can help with.
So you want them to schedule your appointments. They will schedule your appointments for you.
And there's no one size fits all. I personally liked review all the notes, have several people talk to the potential client before I even accept the consultation. I am sure that is not everybody's preference.
So if you would just prefer to know if it's a case that I can handle in an area that I can handle it, yes. I will accept the consultation. I want it scheduled. That is something that the intake service can do for you as well.
So they can take a few basic notes, and based on whatever script you give Smith.ai, they can say, “Yes, this fits within the attorney's parameters. We can go ahead and schedule you for an appointment.”
If you're charging for appointments for non PI attorneys and professionals, they can collect the payment. They can send the link to the payment to the client. They can set the appointment, put on the calendar, and they can do all of those things for you.
I personally just don't do it that way. I like to have my intake coordinator schedule the appointment.
That's just a personal preference, but there is a way to remove yourself completely from the intake. And that just depends on how much you want to be involved in it.
You can send emails from this portal.
This is where all the canned emails are. This is the initial email, and hopefully, everybody can see this. This is the initial email that you get at any time. Somebody's sorry. The guys that we sent it to me, I didn't. Okay. So here it is.
This is the initial email that all clients get when they call, and they get the answering service, tried to blow it up a little bit. So all of these links are active. I like to take this opportunity to give them the link to my upload systems. They can upload documents.
This is the link to my website that has several videos about my firm. This is another video here. I use third party legal financing. There's a link there.
So obviously, this is completely customizable. So, if you just think about it and create a list of all of the things that you would want your clients to know about you from the moment they call your office, just put it here because once Smith.ai takes the call and once they hit the “send” button, this can be automated where the client gets this information.
If you want to send them a book, if you want to send them a scheduling link, all of that can be in this initial email. I've got tons of different canned emails. If we set an appointment, for example, that is here. This is the automatic email.
All we have to do is put in the day and the time, the address I require, prepayments for my consultation.
So for clients to schedule with me, they have to pay the $400. And if they don't pay at least 24 hours for constipation as scheduled, that is all explained in this email; there’s a link to my base site here. If they have any questions, they can consult this page.
Again, there's a link to my family, my financing, and then my fancy video link is always here as well.
So I think the emails are important for a number of reasons.
It helps you keep track of obviously the communication that you have with these potential clients and it gives them an opportunity to see the wide variety of your services, how responsive you are, and how working with you is going to be from the very beginning.
So Regina, so many questions have come through as you were talking. And I think there's a lot around, how does Dubsado compare to maybe Filevine or Lawmatics?
What are the security components that make you feel comfortable with respect to multi-factor authentication or two-factor authentication?
And then there's also a question about texting ability, potentially within Dubsado or that perhaps integrates with it.
So, how I would describe this data’s really, it was meant for creatives. I don't know that it was, sort of, meant for attorneys, but we, sort of, have hijacked it. And there's kind of like, this core group of us that have used it for intake for attorneys.
So with the text question, the answer to that is, do they have a specific text, text messaging portal?
No, it, you can fix that. So they have emails. So, all you have to do is put it in a particular format.
So if you just Google how to convert email to text, you can send a text from an email. So if you have their phone number, and this is simple, I think it's like 555, whatever the phone number is @verizon.net.
I exactly don’t know what it is, but it's something like that. But you include that in the email as well.
And you can simultaneously send an email and texts the client. I personally, don't like to Beta; I think that's helpful for, I think maybe criminal attorneys, via attorneys as a family law attorney. I like to keep a level of separation between business and personal.
And I think texting sort of blurs the lines. So I personally don't text, so I know people have a variety of reasons. They want to do it. If you want to do it, that's fine. It is possible to do it.
Somebody asked why did I choose Dubsado over Lawmatics? I demo Lawmatics. I've demoed all of them.
And the simple answer is Lawmatics was too much for what I wanted to do. What I wanted was a simple, streamlined workflow where I'm getting the information, I'm reviewing the information that I'm sending out a few emails, and I can also send contracts.
Now, of course, Lawmatics does that, and it does a million more things that I do not need and also pretty cheap. I don't want to spend what LA automatically charges people monthly.
So Dubsado offered the free forever plan. I jumped on it. That was, I think at least a year ago. So it's more than paid for itself.
Another question is it similar to Filevine? And the answer is no, I have used Filevine. The Filevine is a practice management system, not intake only. I'm also a little different in that I like to separate all of my systems.
So even when I was using a standard practice management system, I really did not like having my intake buried in there. And that's because I get a lot of false.
So if you're getting 15 new client calls per day, your contacts in your PM system are just going to be bolding with all these people that you've just may never hear from again.
So I like to keep all of my intakes separate. It makes it a lot easier to run a conflict check, and I just, for me, just the sort of the separation of the systems. Kind of what works for me.
And Robin asked, at what point do you actually speak to the clients?
It's a great question. Sometimes never until I'm retaining. So with uncontested cases, it's usually never, I send a fee agreement. They pay me, I work on the case. I get them divorced we’re done.
With the more complicated cases, if they want a consultation and they're willing to bid a $400 consultation fee, that's when I talk to them because after they pay the $400 consultation fee and we set up a Zoom meeting, that's the first time I personally am going to be speaking to the client.
There may be a few exceptions, for example, if I get a referral from a friend and it's just a well-known referral source and they really want me to personally handle it from the beginning. I may get the client, an introductory call at that point, but for 98% of the intake, I don't talk to the client until after they hire me or until after they paid for a consultation.
What are the new messages? How does Smith.ai gain access to your intake form?
I give it to them. It's just the link. So it's a web link that is, it’s accessible from anywhere. So they’re assuming it's in their portal that's assigned to me. So the person just clicks on the link and fills out the form and fits them.
And that's it.
So there was another question about Dubsado using a two-factor multi-factor authentication, strong password policies.
So how are you securing what's uploaded and making sure that you're protecting that client confidentiality and information?
Actually don't have – I'm not having people actually upload anything to Dubsado. So I've researched enough to me, the security secure enough that I'm comfortable with it, but it's similar to any intake system that you use.
There's always, probably going to be flaws, but I don't have anyone upload documents to that site. I use my own system, which is not my own, but it ignites, which is N Y T E— that's my cloud document service.
And I send them a link and that's where my clients send documents securely. And that is definitely top of the line, 100% secure.
So when they're sending me the documents, they're actually sending it outside of Dubsado, or they're just clicking on a link from the email, but it's actually taking them to a completely different system.
So someone asks, have I had pushback from a client for producing documents prior to being retained? The answer is no. For some reason, they're just really anxious to show me all of their stuff, which I think is helpful.
If a lot of times I can review the documents and I can just tell from the document, it's just not a client that I want to have a consultation with. It's not a client that I'm going to have a meeting with.
I had somebody, when I said, “Hey, please send me information related to their case.” They uploaded 1,458 files. That was a sign that this was not going to be an ideal client for me. So most clients really don't have an issue with it.
I don't know whether or not they should, maybe they should, but they have no problem just uploading their documents. And I guess it's because they feel secure because they're sending it to an attorney, but most of them are more than happy that someone answered the call, that they immediately got an email and they immediately got something to do.
So I actually think they like the invitations “send documents”.
How did you come up with a price? The unions, initial consultation? That's my hourly rate. I am flat fee, so I normally don't bill by the hour, but when I was billing by the hour is $400 an hour. So that's my consultation fee.
So another question is once they hit “send”, does the information go to meet intake coordinators anytime? And the answer is yes. So that is a cloud-based system and they both can see it.
However, I take the first pass at it. So I haven't coded. So as soon as they hit “send”, it drops into the funnel that says “RA to review” and I have it set up. So the initial email to the client goes out 15 minutes later and that's were the reason it gives me time to look at it.
I can decline the case. I can refer it out before I can actually stop the workflow in its tracks if I know I'm not going to go any further.
Regina, how do you handle questions to Smith.ai? What are some of the directions that you give the receptionists around asking for pricing?
Or can you tell me how much it's going to cost, or even how long it's going to take or what's involved or what's the likelihood that I'm going to win, so to speak, how do you handle those stickier questions where you want to be helpful, but you don't want to guarantee anything or commit?
That's really a great benefit of having an answering service because they, by definition don't know any of that stuff, which is why I feel like it's better to have an offsite answering service versus a paralegal who actually might know the answer.
It'd be tempted to give legal advice, which is a terrible, terrible idea.
So by being the answering service, they just say, “Hey, look, we can't answer these questions, but what we're going to do is this, we're going to send your information to the intake coordinator and Regina will look over it and we'll give you a call back and those questions will be answered.”
If a client is demanding an answer to a question on the first call, that's not my client. That's not the kind of client that I'm going to work with because the clients that I work with are pretty reasonable people and they know that that's not going to happen.
They know they're going to have a consultation there. They know that I have to hear their entire story, review documents before I can give them advice because any attorney that's giving advice unless it's a general statute of limitations based on a 30 second phone call is not what you should be doing.
And I think most reasonable clients understand that. So, I really don't get a lot of pushback about that.
So, Regina, do you find that your clients are more prepared or more well-educated about legal services than the average bear? Because we know that there are a lot of law firms who have clients coming to them that are not as well educated and don't necessarily understand what constitutes legal advice.
How have you sorted of educated your community, maybe your referral partners, any of, sort of the advertising channels? Was that part of your Crisp video and content on your website?
Like how do you train those potential clients and partners in the community to bring those potential clients into the fold who already have more closely aligned expectations?
Well, the reality is I do get some people that have completely unreasonable expectations about what to expect when to call a lawyer.
And I obviously don't have the time to call everybody back and educate them and say, “Hey, probably the best way to get an answer to your question is not to call the answering service and say, I want to talk to an effing lawyer right now about the problem.” I just let them weed themselves out.
And I think Smith.ai has pretty good intuitive receptionists that can tell when it's time to just sort of end an engagement with a client if they just have completely unrealistic expectations.
But I think the fact that they are told that they're going to get a call right back and they're going to get an email with further information. That is satisfactory to 98% of the people that call my office for some people that's completely unacceptable.
I get lots of emails from Smith.ai that said, “They said they wanted to talk to an attorney right now and they didn't want to wait for a call back and they hung up.”
But for most people that are reasonable, they're okay with getting an email. They're okay with getting a call back from an intake person.
Part of her job is to educate them as well about what the process is, what information she can give them. Her role is to gather information for me so I can assess their case to see if we would work well together.
So that's something that I charged to her and I've trained her to sort of work with the client in a way to sort of, so they can sort of work well together, and make the client feel like their concerns are being heard. And they're not wasting their time, even if it's a case that I'm not trying and that I can help them with.
So I do also have emails for resources. If I can't make their case, I'm referring you out.
Here's the Atlanta bar association. There's just a lot of things that I do in addition to, just answering the calls and you're thinking about that client experience, right?
So I think that's the things that you've probably heard me talk about. You talk about a lot when you're on the phone with, or when a representative of your firm, is on the phone with a potential client.
You can get a positive or negative review on Google based on that experience alone, really friendly, and helped me and put me in touch with another firm or they really just shoot me off the phone. That can be the difference between a five-star and a one-star review.
Like how many times have you gone to a restaurant and had a bad experience, even though the food was great that's going to influence your review the same way that it doesn't have to be actually a legal engagement, where you have a review being generated for your firm, so easily avoid that.
And maybe even, easily build a positive reputation, right?
There are a couple of questions that are coming around the intake coordinator though, Regina.
So, the intake coordinator is paid per hour and they also are reviewing with you alongside you independently and then presenting sort of their recommendation to you to move forward with a client, how much sorts of control and independence do they have to make a decision whether or not to keep someone in the pipeline?
Well, she has a lot. So if it's going to be an uncontested case, quite frankly, I'll take anybody as long as they are clear about the parameters of what uncontested divorces.
And I usually go a step further than some attorneys where I say, “Look, these are all the categories that you do agree on,” because if you don't have an agreement and you pay us and them, it turns out you don't have the agreement, you've wasted your money.
So for those people, I'm not that particular about, but in terms of, if it's someone I'm going to be working with for a long time, she knows the personalities and people that I want to work with.
So if someone is unreasonable, if somebody is rude, if there's just a lot of things that she knows where she'll tell me, I don't think you want to work with this person, or I think this person might have unreasonable expectations or conversely, I really liked this guy. He had spoken highly of you. He has reasonable expectations. You seem to really excited about the consultation.
She, kind of, give me feedback about the clients to help me make a decision of whether I want to meet with people.
So someone's asking, do you think it's unreasonable to skip an intake specialist and answer my own phones? I will never advocate anybody to answer it on felony, especially as a lawyer; it's just, it takes up way too much of your time. You're going to get a whole bunch of tire kickers. You're going to get sucked into these people's sad stories and want to help them.
And you'll just find yourself giving away the farm.
And I'm able to avoid all of that because I just, I'm not on the phone and we're human and a lot of us as attorneys we became attorneys because we wanted to help people.
And that's just our nature, but we cannot spend all of our time on the phone with potential clients, because it's just taking away from the actual work and that's mentioned peace of mind and all that.
So I do not argue with anyone answering your own phone.
Regina, one thing then I'll add on there that often is overlooked.
So, Maria, you mentioned this question to Regina and I'll also say that if you are solo. And if you have the time, whether or not you're solo to answer your own phones, there is an opportunity cost of that free time already. It's not just, could you be working on a matter, on a case, right?
With a client it's also, could you be networking? Could you be working on your business, building email templates and forms, and better integration with your software?
Could you be writing and being an authority on subject matters in your community or for others teaching CLE’s, like how, what are all the other things besides practicing law that only you can do, that you can't outsource or automate or delegate?
Because if you're not thinking around the opportunity cost and the fact that sure you can get a loan for money, but you can't get a loan for 25 hours in a day instead of 24, that is your most limited resource.
So yeah. There is a cost of answering the call and spending time doing that, even if you're not so busy that it's time, that's the constraint-based on pressure.
That's coming to you think about the other benefits and additions to your business that you can bring to accelerate growth by not answering the phone and instead choosing to do something that only you can do, that you can outsource.
So Olivia asked a great question, which is for a contested divorce and the coordinators send up the agreements. No.
So I actually sort of skipped a step, so glad you asked that question. I only like to meet with people that fit their criteria, that I kind of talked about earlier, and I'll go back over it.
Do they have any issues I can fix? Is it an issue that I want to fix? Can they afford my services? That is key. So I put it out there.
My fees are on my website, so my flat fees. And they're not keeping they're on there. So it actually weeds out a lot of people and it's actually in my intake form. And before I forget, I'll refer you all to my Facebook page, which is a lawyer on the beach.
Because all my forms are— there are tons of forms. I actually have 45 minutes of Dubsado video and actually I have posted my intake form for Smith.ai, which is like two pages long. So you can download all that stuff in the hijacking, plagiarize it, do whatever you want. But the form, but submit actually in their intake.
It can answer that question. They're empowered to ask how much is a modification of custody going to cost? And the answer is the initial flat fee is usually between $7,500 to $20,000. Well, a lot of people hung up hands at that point, which quite frankly is fine with me.
So in order for them to have a consultation with me, the intake person, my intake person, Lisa, after I review the notes.
And if it's a modification or something that ever be the documents, look who the opposing counsel is, look who the attorney is, whatever information I need to set see. I'll just tell her to tell them, you know, you can come in for a consultation. We just want to let you know that the initial fee is probably going to be in the range of $10,000.
It's are you okay with that? And they say, yes. Then I go through with the consultation because there's nothing worse than charging someone $400 for a consultation. You tell them that these $10,000 and you might as well upset 10 million.
I know that there's plenty of people out there preaching that you do not discuss the price before they have the consultation.
You know, do what you want to do personally, for me, this has worked. I think, it also has to do with whether or not you have a lot of calls.
If you're getting one potential client call a week, don't discuss prices on the phone, because you want that client in your office. If you're getting a lot like me, you don't need every client to come into your office and you want the people to hire you to be able to comfortably afford you because otherwise, it's a pretty weird dynamic when they emptied out their entire savings account.
So, I just prefer to sort of prescreening on the issue of whether or not they can afford me.
So one of the other questions that are coming through Regina is, around the format. So it might be helpful to just take a step back.
Maybe there were people who came in a little bit late just to share again, that intake form is hosted online.
It doesn't require having access to a certain version of Adobe Acrobat for filling out a PDF. It's really just an online form. Like you would have on any website, where you're checking out a card on Amazon.
So I, and I have about 20 different forms. The form that I give to Smith.ai is specific to them. So I know when the form came through it's because Smith.ai answered the call.
I have forms for my Google My Business page for all three of my locations. I had these account forms for referrals. How do I get up to 20, but I have 20, I have 20 different forms. So I know exactly where the form is coming from.
So, and I've actually posted the link to the Facebook group, which actually has a link in the about section to all of my forms. So the other thing I wanted to say is in terms of, I know it's difficult for two souls, not to want to answer the phone.
I like to think of myself as Oprah sometimes. I am not Oprah. I get it. But yeah, I think of myself as very, sometimes if you called the production company over it, do you really expect Oprah Winfrey to answer the call? Do you really expect that when you call, if somebody asks the phone, you say “Hi,” and you can speak to Oprah Winfrey right now?
And he said, “Sure, hold on. She's coming to the phone.”
So, and I know it sounds a little conceited or whatever, but you have to think of yourself in the position of I'm working attorney. I'm hard at work. Clients should not expect me to be sitting by the phone and answering the call.
And I think reasonable people expect that just as if they were calling someone like her, would they expect to be used to the phone or would they expect that there be some sort of process in order to have a conversation with her. And that's how I thought about it.
And that's why I started to feel less guilty because I used to answer my own phone, but that's how I got over it. He said, “No, Oprah doesn't answer her phone.” I'm not using my phone either
Regina, there's also sort of the point of view scaling.
So if you have growth objectives for the next three years, we know that 86% of attorneys say that they want to grow their firm in three years. How do you train clients also to have reasonable expectations for your responsiveness?
And I think there's an untethering that needs to happen between what is the responsive expectation you have for your customer support companies, they talk about your SLA. What is your service level that you're committed to Regina?
You're committed to a very high degree of responsiveness, but responsiveness for your firm doesn't mean you are tethered to your phone. And when you're taking a shower, you have your ringer all the way up.
Right. Because what does that mean? It means that that client from the very beginning to the very end to every referral that they may, they're going to say to their friends and family, “Oh, Regina is so responsive. Just call her; here's her cell phone number “God help you.” So, and that's not rare actually.
So what ends up being a more successful sustainable, and scalable approach that doesn't breed resentment in you, as the attorney, who's running the firm?
I like the time I get to spend with my clients, I'm able to be responsive, but it doesn't have to be me who's always the responsive one, because most people just want validation and being heard and being listened to and being taken care of, that doesn't have to be a burden on you.
So I think that the point of, sort of, having these sort of filters, is it sets expectations from the beginning.
No one is going to call and get me on the phone immediately. And a lot of you that have already in my group that I, kind of, have what I considered to be sort of a controversial policy. If I don't accept phone calls, period. You can not follow my office and ever get me on the phone line.
I don't care if you're a judge. I don't care if you're opposing counsel, you're not going to get me on the phone live. That's just my policy. That's why I have an answering service. The answering service will answer the call live.
They will not transfer it to me. They'll send me a message. I'll review it. And if it's important, for example, if the judge trying to schedule something, I will call them back.
And I put that in my fee agreement so that the potential client knows from the beginning that that's the expectation. But I don't know where I mean, I do know it was the cell phone era, but we, sort of, have gotten to this expectation that we have to be accessible to everybody all the time.
And I don't think that's accurate. And if you start off that way and then taper off throughout the representation, that's what the client's going to remember.
So I start with how it's going to end with, which is there's going to be a filter before you can get me on the phone, but you are still getting the valuable information that you need from the people that work for me.
And then I screened to give you the information that I need. It doesn't have to come from me. And I think if you set that expectation at the beginning and you follow through with it, it leads to a better client experience overall.
So are paralegals allowed to join your Facebook group, and maybe other people who are not paralegals, or attorneys? How do you?
And I have it set to attorneys only.
I just, kind of, did at the beginning, because I was trying to filter out people that were trying to sell stuff to people, but it's not about that. It's my group is just really a community of people that work virtually and obviously flat fees and doing intake like this is part of it.
So it really was geared directly towards attorneys.
So, what are some of the ways that you would say, client expectations are changing now based on COVID, Regina? Are you seeing any, sort of, shifts you then?
It's for the better, it is definitely for the better because their expectations are lower quite frankly as opposed to before it's people call and say, “Hey, I've been married for 50 years. I want to be divorced tomorrow.” No, things take time.
And now with COVID, everybody just, sort of, assumed that everything is going to take time. So I really didn't, sort of, I wasn't really proactive in telling clients, “Hey, things aren't really going to slow down." I just let them assume what they thought and they're genuinely happy with.
"Oh my goodness. I didn't know that you could get my divorce completed with COVID and I didn't know, your firm was still working." So I have felt that, especially with potential clients, that they are much more tolerant and patient than they were before.
All of this, it was just get it done, get it done, get it done, and get it done. And now people are okay with waiting for a callback. They're okay with my intake process. They're okay with assuming consultations, which I would do them before, but a lot of people wanted to come in and didn't really bother me.
I've got an office. I live five minutes from, at all. I'll come in and meet you, then got to put on pants at some point.
But now, that during COVID, everyone knows that everything has to be virtual. It was just an immediate shift. Then there's no pushback. Now that people are forced to do it, it's not a problem. So I'm sort of hoping that after this, sort of, died down and we're going back to the chorus, that clients will still realize that this is a perfectly legitimate way to meet your attorney or to conference with your attorney.
And it helps save costs, or if they're doing hearings virtually, which is saving them time and not having to take an entire day off of work.
Christie sent me an email. Can a virtual paralegal— Christie, join the group, I will accept you. That's fine. Yes. I'm making an exception. Christie's just logged into the group and then invite you. You can be on the webinar, right?
Someone asked about an intro video. That's actually a great question because I'm in the middle of doing that now. So I have about 20 different, two-minute videos that I need to deploy. And I've got some that are geared towards the intake process.
What to expect from your attorney? You can create that and build that into your workflow at any point.
So I wouldn't recommend doing it on the first go-round, but if it's someone that after you have pre-screened that, especially for conflict checks, for goodness sake, please do your conflict checks after you get the initial intake form.
So maybe on the second email, once you pass the conflict check, it's something that you're interested in, then maybe send them some of these videos that talk about your process; how to work with you? What it's going to be like working with you?
And also specific to their particular case, because I practice about nine different areas of family law.
So I could just shoot off a video that specifically is tailored to what that particular person is calling about. I'm also doing a Canva and Canva is, sort of, an intro booklet that is going to be sent out, I believe after the first email after I'd done the conflict check to give a more sort of overview of what it's going to be like to work with us.
I want the clients to be able to visualize the experience of working with us and to know what the expectations are from the very beginning.
So Regina, what are you using for these videos? How do you produce them?
Are you uploading them to YouTube or are you, sort of, widely circulating them? Where do they live? Are they searchable on your website?
Oh, they're all over the place. It's completely scattershot because I don't really do a ton of marketing.
So, who did the videos? It's a guy I cannot remember his name, but the name of the site is I think it's called ReelLawyers. I believe he created Super Lawyers and then sold it to rooters and then started his own thing, which is basically a database of attorneys.
And they have a whole bunch of videos. I'm going to check to make sure that that's correct.
And in the meantime, so Canva for people who heard Regina mentioned that that's actually a really good site for presentations, for social media cards, and graphics and things like that.
You can use it for free, and then there's also paid options. There's also ReelLawyers.
Then I'm trying to find my page on it, but every attorney gets its own page. I think he did 20 videos and about. It was only about an hour of shooting time. It was pretty well done. So, and I just haven't deployed them yet, so, and it actually doesn't even have to be fancy.
I've seen plenty of video people that upload videos, and it's just the iPhone in a car talking. We were talking about a recent win, quite frankly, and especially with criminals clients and PI clients, those attorneys are burning out videos on a pretty consistent basis.
So it really doesn't have to be fancy.
But yes, the little video is great.
Also, I do use Lim for demonstration videos as well. So that, again, all of this can be deployed automatically in your intake system, as soon as someone calls and talks to you, the next thing, maybe a video directly relates to the problem that they called about.
I mean, that's just great advertising for your firm and it should confirm in their mind that you are at a firm to work with.
It's also great that you're the one explaining, and it's not giving something to read, but easily forwarded. If someone has been in touch with you, they're talking and they're a friend or peer group, they can forward that video that they can easily search for maybe in their email.
There are a couple of questions around, sort of, wraparound services, Regina.
So what other support stuff do you use? Obviously there's accounting, tax professionals, finance professionals; what else? Beyond the virtual receptionist and intake specialist, in terms of your support staff, do you rely on them?
I only have one. I have one pair of full-time paralegal meds.
So occasionally I will contract out it, have a contract attorney, because I've been, kind of, virtual for a while. I'm actually in Arizona now. And I have been for six weeks, even though my firm is in Georgia. So sometimes I use contract attorneys to go to court or do mediation.
But other than that, I have one paralegal and that's it. I used to have a much larger firm. No, not against anyone that has a larger firm. It simply was not right for me. And I decided to scale down and it was just going to be me and a paralegal.
And it's been that way for three years. And it's great. I work 18 hours a week. And I make more than I did when I was working a lot more than that. So that's just, kind of, the business structure that I've set up for myself that I like.
So, Maddy, I'll put, if you want to get contracted attorneys, there are some services that you can use.
Angel asks, what part of your intake process means the most lucrative clients? I can, kind of, tell based on the initial notes, whether or not it's going to be decent. I am actually finding a niche down even further.
So I'm an only family law and I'm in the Atlanta Metro area, but I want to take a specific County, which is Wynette County, which is a fairly large County in Georgia.
And I only want to do the course, but so that's as specific as it gets. I want to do one type of law in one County and that's it. And there's plenty of divorces to be happy. So whenever I see something that comes across, that's divorced, that's a priority, I get it over to her right away.
And she also knows that there's this specific thing to talk to them about that I used to be president of the Gwinnett family law bar association, that I have an office right across from the courthouse.
So she knows how to highlight things that the client would care about, and that is relevant to their particular issues. And that's an important thing that the intake coordinator really needs to be trained on. So, it's not about me. I mean, by the time they call me— I'm all over the internet, I'm super Googleable.
People know who I am. They know I'm capable of doing what I'm doing. I've been doing it for 20 years, but that is less important than how can I actually help them. How am I going to make them feel? How am I going to get them from point A to point B? Because right now they're miserable.
It's a dad calling, who's not legitimated. He's got no rights to his kids. He's paying child support for a kid that he can't even see. How can we help him see the light at the end of the tunnel? Which is at the end of this case, you are going to have a parenting plan. You are going to have parenting time with your child.
That's the light at the end of the tunnel that they have to be shown at the beginning, we just, kind of, have to connect the dots, and they just have to trust that we are the people that have to get from point A to point B. And that's what intake is about.
Regina, I think that you just expressed, just by your facial expression, but also what you said, a really key component in this process of intake and you were so encouraging right there and so motivating and positive.
How does that play into, maybe your training with the intake specialist, your first consultation, does that sort of momentum and positivity that you just brought to us right here play into how you interact with clients? Do you feel like that's a really important component to make sure you're in the right mindset and smiling and that's coming through in your tone?
How does that relate to that sales process and really going from intake to retain her and winning the client?
I mean, I hope so because I mean, your employees, it's a trickle-down effect. If you're rude, if you're dismissive of people that might call that, don't have the ability to afford your services and you treat them with disdain or you laugh with them with your employees.
That is kind of an infection that's going to infect your whole business.
And that's just not what we're about. Obviously, there are going to be people that I can't service.
Thankfully there are attorneys all across the spectrum. There are attorneys that aren't going to get out of bed for less than a $50,000 retainer. That's fine.
There are other attorneys that will work with you on a sliding scale, and that will accept your case for a lot less money. So, I can refer some clients there. So just be to the client isn't right for you, doesn't mean they're not right for somebody.
And I think it's important to just sort of, permeate your firm with the attitude that you want them to have.
So both of my employees know that I love what I do. A lot of family law attorneys don't like it. I do, I love what I do. I love helping people. I love being able to get them from, kind of, the dark days over to the light. And that's what we're all about.
And it starts from the very first person that they talk to. And my AD person was just really great in terms of her personality. And she knows when people call and they say something a particular fact, it's horrible, not just they're going through a divorce, but, that I had cancer surgery last week.
She knows to be empathetic and to say, “I know this is a hard time. I'm not going to pretend to understand what you're going through and we're going to help you get you through the next stage of your life is being as smooth as possible.”
That's our job. That's our mission. Another thing that we highlight is we don't take a lot of cases.
My max caseload is 40. So that means that I'm not going to be swamped, that I'm going to have time to actually dedicate to each person's case. Because I'm not overloaded.
Someone asks if there are any tools that I use to train my intakes specialist. Not a tool, actually the person. So I used to have a paralegal who actually is a consultant and I going to try to find her information and drop it. Hold on.
So she actually, I think she does it full time now. So she consults with different family law attorneys about their practice, but she used to do my intake. So she helped train my new intake person and we just, kind of, tweaked it along the way.
But there are probably lots of people that can train you on intake.
I know Billy Teresa, modern law. I cannot pronounce her last name. I'm so sorry. Okay.
So she, I'll just try to find her a law firm in Lincoln, but she actually did an intake seminar or webinar. Well, it was like such a steal for 26 courses or something. It was a lot, and I actually signed up and I haven't gotten through the whole thing because even though I feel like I had the intake process down, I love to take certain ideas and she does family law and she does it in Arizona.
But I, kind of, liked to see what other people are doing and because I absolutely will take ideas from somebody else I wasn't using Dubsado until a year and a half ago, and somebody mentioned it and I've been off and running ever since.
So I like to, kind of, see what other people are doing and see if there's a way that I can integrate it into my practice.
Well, everyone, thank you so much for joining us today. We're at the top of the hour. It's four o'clock Eastern now.
And Regina, just thank you so much for your time. Everyone here has been raving the entire time about how valuable this was.
How do they get in touch with you through Facebook in your group? Is that the ideal way?
Yeah, that's the ideal way. So if you joined the group, people message me all the time.
People put posts and then just to let everybody know that I tried to get the group super focused. It's on virtual lawyering tools for the virtual lawyering intake process, just about that.
So I know that there are groups about marketing and about substantive areas of law. My group is just focused on how to deliver services to your client in this virtual era.
And I started the group in July 2019, and obviously when COVID started, it became really popular because we were, kind of, doing the virtual thing already, but we just, kind of, try to keep it tailored to how do we deliver services to our client and how do we use technology to help us do that?
And to help free our time, our headspace. So we're not working like dogs that we have plenty of time to enjoy our lives and enjoy our kids, our families, things outside of our professional life.
Because that's the goal, is to have a life instead of just to have a career.
Well, Regina, thank you so much.
Anyone, if you are inspired and would like to, sort of, take a load off, and reclaim some of that balance.
So the thing is here for you, we do have this special that I mentioned. I'll reiterate it once more, which is to use code, SmithCOVID19. That's Smith COVID one nine.
Tell us that Regina sent you, but we're doing an extra special offer right now through May for 20 calls and 20 chats free with your first month of service.
We have plans as low as $140 a month and even can customize down lower than that if you need assistance. And just one very, very small plan, let us know.
We will also do a free white glove setup of our AI chatbot, and we know more people are on their screens and need discretion for quiet conversation in close quarters at home with children and yeah, multiple generations so we want to be able to provide that answer for you on calls on the website chat, on text messages, and through Facebook now as well.
We're also adding services like conflict checks, and we are official, I just saw on Slack that I'm allowed to tell you this 24/7.
So that is to me, one of the biggest achievements for Smith.ai, and we are better equipped than ever to serve you. So please give us a try and just let us carry some of your load.
It's really important that with all of these processes, you just get in the habit of handing things off and the stress will fall off as quickly as you're able to document processes, get some forms in place, and make that hand-off.
So I hope you all have a wonderful day and thank you for joining us. We will do more of these soon and we'll keep you informed.
Take care, everyone. Thanks. Bye, everybody.
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