Master Class: How to Reduce Interruptions For a More Productive Law Firm

Elizabeth Lockwood

We've all been there. We have a long list of chores, whether it's responding to any voicemails left from the weekend or sending out a stack of invoices, that need to get done before we can have the time we need to sit down and accomplish real work. But what do you do when you find yourself wasting a majority of your workday on administrative tasks, allowing your legal work to fall by the wayside?

In a webinar recorded March 10th, 2019, Maddy Martin, head of growth and education at Smith.ai, sat down with Lisa Pansini, creative manager at Rocket Matter, to tackle this very issue. From outsourcing call handling, appointment scheduling, and other administrative tasks to an answering service to automating billing, intake, and other time-consuming duties, Maddy and Lisa provide their best tips and tricks for getting rid of your most annoying distraction and regaining control over your day-to-day workflow.

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 s 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

Speaker

Lisa Pansini

Creative Manager at

Rocket Matter

INTRODUCTION:

LISA PASINI, CREATIVE MANAGER AT ROCKET MATTER:

Good afternoon, everybody. And welcome to another Florida Bar CLE presented by or produced by Rocket Matter. My name is Lisa Pasini and I'm the creative manager here, and we have a super informative CLE lined up for you guys today.

It's hosted by Maddie Martin of Smith.ai. And I'm going to let her talk about who she is and what she does in just a minute.

But before we do that, let's talk about the topic of today's CLE. Are you lawyering or are you laboring? Seven steps to reduce interruptions in chores and run a highly productive law firm.

So before we get started, if you look on your screen, you should have a go-to webinar control panel and there should be a section that says questions.

Now, what I'd like any of you to do is type in a question I'm going to ask you. Can you hear me? And can you see the screen? So if any of you can type in and say, "Hey, yeah, I can see you. I can hear you." That would be great.

So this way we know that you guys are able to hear us and see us. Okay. Perfect, you can see me.

Very good. Awesome. Thank you.

All right. So I'm going to have a series of questions, three basic questions when it comes to reducing interruptions in chores and running a productive law firm. And I want you guys to answer, honestly, because these three things are in something, you know, that's introspective that deals with running a productive law firm.

PRODUCTIVITY POLL

So on your screen, you are going to see a poll.

1. Question number one: do you currently have any client intake processes in place at your firm?

So this is, you know, do you have a chat functionality? Do you have a way to capture leads through forms? So, you know, this is the first step in running a productive from is client intake. So do you have it? Do you not?

If you don't, maybe you will, or you're going to think about having it after today's CLE. So I'm going to leave this up and just leave it up for a few more seconds.

See? Collecting responses. It looks like we've evened out. Perfect.

Let's take a look at that. Okay. So 64% of you guys do have client intake in place at your firm. That's great.

And for those of you who are in the no category, you're definitely going to see why that's going to be really important with staying productive. All right. Awesome question.

2. Question number two (and I promise that this is not a long pop quiz): are you currently using any kind of practice management solution at your firm?

So this doesn't necessarily mean, are you using Post-It notes? This means are you using some, all around practice management solution? Whether it be Rocket Matter, Clio, MyCase, Abacus, Smokeball, any of those guys.

'Cause again, practice management means less admin time, which means more productivity.

We got answers coming in.

Oh, wow. You guys, thank you for your participation. This is really going to help us gauge how we direct this class. All right.

Let's see. Try and even out. All right. What was in the poll?

Let's see what you guys said. 42% are using practice management and 50% are not. All right.

Last question guys. I promise. This is something that you don't necessarily think of when you think about productivity.

3. Question number 3: does your firm currently accept credit card or each check payments?

Something that you won't necessarily think of about productivity, but you'll find out why, especially when it comes to not having to run to the bank, to cash checks and print out your invoices and things like that.

All right. Let's see what we got going on here.

Let's close the poll show the results. Wow. 50/50 credit cards in each X.

Okay, Maddy, I hope that this gives you a little bit of stuff to work with.

Without further ado, I would like to present to you guys, Maddy Martin. So Maddy, take it away.

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

Thank you so much for joining me. I'm really happy to be here, Lisa.

Thanks so much for the introduction. Can everyone hear me? Okay. Lisa is coming through. Yep. Okay. Perfect.

Well, so thank you all for joining us and thanks for answering those questions. That really does help inform the direction of today's session. And, you know, that's absolutely what we expect in sessions like this.

So you're not alone if you're not using one of these services and hopefully if you are using online payments and client intake, processes and CRM or a practice management solution, you'll find ways today to get more out of them as well. So this will absolutely still apply to you.

So the topic for today is: are you lawyering or laboring? Seven steps to reduce interruptions in chores and run a highly productive law firm.

Now one brief housekeeping note, there is a deck link at the bottom of this first slide, and that will give you access to these slides at any time. It will be open to you forever, let's say, and you'll be able to click on some of the links that I've got in here and peruse the content at your own pace.

Because we do have a lot of content to get through, and I may not be able to touch on every single thing in here, but you'll be able to follow up with me and review the slides on your own time, as well.

So. Who am I? Well, I am Maddy Martin. I'm the head of growth and education for Smith.ai. We're a virtual receptionist and intake service for live calls and web chat.

We've handled over 600,000 calls and chats. So, mostly for solo and small firm attorneys, we do work with other small businesses, but I say this only to let you know, we have a lot of experience in this realm and we have seen what works and what doesn't very clearly with all of the different custom instructions that we handle for solo and small firm attorneys.

Now, let's just talk about the goals and objectives for today so that we can lay out our game plan. So you're going to learn how to identify distractions and time consuming tasks, how to better understand the communication systems and help you manage the business side of running a law firm or solo practice, including phone systems, call handling and receptionists, email, text messages, and web chat.

And that also includes, let's say Facebook Messenger and things like that.

We'll also go through the basics of how to start using these systems as well as advanced techniques for maximizing their impact at your firm. And then we'll talk through the game plan and the next steps for implementing them in your specific practice to reduce distractions and time-consuming tasks.

So here are the things that we're going to really focus on: we're going to help you manage inbound communications with smartphone systems, meaning not your personal cell phone and web chat, how to automate lead capture and qualification, hand off new client intake, streamline appointments, scheduling, and reminders, consistently collect payments and more of your earned revenue, systematically refer bad leads.

And then integrate these communications into your existing systems, such as your CRM, your marketing automation, your website, calendar billing, all of these tools that you're using the software so that your software and your systems and your processes are in sync.

So who cares?

Well, you should, according to the 2017 and 2018 Clio legal trends reports. And if you're not familiar with these reports, I highly recommend that you take some time, maybe this weekend or in the near future, to read them.

ARE YOU LAWYERING OR LABORING?

Some of the data that I find most relevant to this topic, I'm presenting here and, really what this gets down to is that attorneys are spread thin and solo and small practices.

Lawyers are spending more time on admin tasks than on billable work
Time is consumed with a lot of laboring tasks and not as much lawyering tasks.

So 1.9 hours on average is the time in attorney spends on billable work. Every working day, compare that to 2.9 hours spent on administrative tasks, the most common of which our office administration invoicing and configuring technology.

Now, we know that two hours out of the day that are not spent on billable work go towards business development. So we know that it's really important to continue generating new clients.

Lawyers are being interrupted often and struggle to collect their earned revenue

Now, at the same time, these new clients expect a really prompt if not instantaneous response and two out of three, say that their decision to hire is most influenced by an attorney's responsiveness to their first call or email.

Now the problem is these interruptions, these calls and emails and Facebook messages, web chats, even text messages, they not only interrupt you, but there's also kind of a refractory time, a recovery time that results in a two hour loss per day.

If you're like most attorneys getting interrupted by these calls, let's say approximately six times a day now, if you're getting these calls, they're not always potentially good clients to fit your firm or your practice area, your goals, and objectives.

And 59% on average are not hiring an attorney even after an initial consultation. So the intake and screening process is extremely important as we think about ways to save you time.

Now, 86% is the average amount of time that an attorney earns, based on what they could completely collect. So there's 14% of the earnings that are available to you, that you deserve to earn are left on the table.

And oftentimes what we find is that a big factor there is whether or not you're accepting credit cards and payments.

So we'll talk about a little bit how to improve that process.

Now, what is the state of Maine?

COMMON DILEMMAS LEGAL PROFESSIONALS FACE

Dilemma 1: Loss of Productivity Due to Interruptions

It means that you. Want to be really responsive to potential clients and maximize your responsiveness, but interruptions kill productivity, and you want to minimize those interruptions. So that's one of the dilemmas.

Dilemma 2: Time-Consuming Billing Tasks

The other is that invoicing and chasing down late payments is a huge time suck. And you want to minimize those time-consuming billing tasks, but you don't want to have to, you know, spend a lot of time or money with a collections agency or tracking down all of this. So you want to maximize revenue.

You need and deserve to get paid.

Dilemma 3: Difficult to Implement Technology

Now, the other dilemma has to do with technology because in a solo or small practice, technology can give you such an edge, but it can be very time consuming to put into place. And also, even the research around which technology to use, which is right for your firm and your practice area in your current state of sustainability or growth.

So really we're looking at simple and intelligent tools that are fairly easy to put in place without a lot of legwork. Now, one of the things that I find when I talk to a lot of folks who are running solo and small firms, is that they chose this. Just start their own firm and join a small firm because they want more control over their working life.

Dilemma 4: No Work-Life Balance

The problem is, is when you're in one of these firms, oftentimes you're spread really thin and you end up working a lot more than you ever expected to, and having a lot less control over your work-life balance and you're expected to.

So our goal here is to help you manage and better balance work and life so that you have, and you can regain, control over a sustainable and growing practice that fits your goals.

SOLUTIONS TO THESE DILEMMAS

So what we're going to talk about today are cost-effective and efficient solutions, not only for routing and tracking the inbound and outbound calls and web visitors, but also effective means for filtering and qualifying potential clients and referring out those who are not a good fit a system for intake.

And then, a system for scheduling and scheduling call backs and appointments.

Now, when we're evaluating systems, these are some of the factors that I really encourage folks to consider. So, obviously, they need to be affordable.

I encourage you to consider programs that do not require a huge commitment and that allow you to make a decision later on.

If you decide that the software solution is not the right fit for you. They should be customizable at the start and ongoing, easy to use and monitor as a solo practitioner and a small firm, and hopefully they're comprehensive.

The more that you can integrate your CRM and your intake with your billing and your marketing automation, the better.

DIY TOOLS

Now, there are certain tools like Zapier that allow you to kind of DIY make these things more comprehensive and talk to each other. So that can be one solution if you do have several different solutions that you want to integrate.

Now, if we're talking about systems that are more outsourcing rather than automation and software driven, I really encourage you to allow them as much discretion as you can stomach because in the end, this will come over time.

But the more you're able to hand-off that are non-lawyering tasks, the more you're able to focus on the lawyering, work yourself and run a more productive and efficient operation.

So let's talk about the communication channels and how potential clients can reach you.

COMMUNICATION CHANNELS

So typically this encompasses phone, email, text, and web chat.

Now with phones, your phone system may be a landline. It may be a voice phone.

Landlines may be result in little to no dropped calls, but they lack mobility, have limited carriers, and often require contracts and hardware

Landline Pros & Cons:

The benefits with the landline are that it can be bundled with the internet. You're not going to get very many dropped calls.

The problem is that it really has limited mobility. There are fewer carriers. Carriers and the hardware and the setup requirements are more hefty. There's often contracts. And it really doesn't allow you to be responsive when you're out of the office.

VoIP phone systems and softphone may be a better route than landlines, but come with their own setbacks, such as internet quality and cost

Voice Phone Pros & Cons:

Now the nice thing with a voice phone is that it's internet based and you can take it with you everywhere. Yes, it does depend a little bit on the internet or wifi quality, but the state of the, you know, network these days is very stable. So we're not finding that there are as many dropped calls.

I'll get into a couple of precautions in just a moment. But typically what we find is that because there are more providers, it reduces costs. And just because there's more competition, it's unbundled so you can, you know, have the services that you need and not the ones that you don't.

And then also, the texting. So it allows you to have texting on your phone with an app, typically, and not disclose your personal cell phone to new and existing clients.

Softphone Pros & Cons:

Now a soft phone, if you haven't heard of this technology, the really nice thing is that you can make. Calls and receive them to a device.

That's not typically a phone, so it can be your computer. And this is done through an app like Bria, for example, that's B-R-I-A, that's one provider. And, you know, you can use whatever provider you like. Um, they do have a free solution called X-Lite. And this allows you to have a phone number assigned to your computer. If you like making phone calls from your desk hands-free you can set it up with a Bluetooth phone.

CALL ROUTING AND HANDLING

So when we think about phone services, you know, there are different ways to route and track calls with priority so that you can be more efficient in handling them.

And when we think about these services, we think about them both in the automation side and also in the outsourcing side.

Call routing and handling include robots, semi-robots, humans, and optimized humans

So what are some forms of call routing and handling?

IVR:

The very first and most basic is your phone tree, your interactive voice response, which is basically called IVR.

And this allows you to set up certain prompts and greetings that are automated. It can make your business sound more professional, and it also can help you route calls to you and maybe members of your staff that are out of office staff that you're using.

Now the call routing, for example, could be "press one for new clients, two for existing clients, three for billing matters", perhaps, and that can route the calls as you need them to with priority.

Now when you have people who aren't answering your calls, aside from just you, you can add an answering services and these come in many forms.

Answering Services:

So it could be that. And I kind of jokingly call them "semi-robots".

You have an answering service that's in a call center, that is very scripted, right? So the scripted services will be able to have a prompt response, but they're not going to handle a lot of discretionary conversations. So lead qualification and, "Oh, let me find this LawPay invoice for you" and scheduling and things like that, that's going to be more on the receptionist side.

Receptionist Services:

Now, when you're considering that receptionist side, um, there are a couple of different options.

So humans versus what I like to say, you know, optimized human. So are you using a service that is abroad or it's domestic? Dedicated or distributed?

So what I mean here is, are they US-based receptionist or are they in an English-speaking place in other places in the world for example, the Philippines?

Now, English fluency is not the only thing that you're going to need to approximate having an in-house receptionist with some of these outputs out of a house services.

So what we find is that a US-based receptionist is able to have more of a natural call flow, following American norms and business practices that your clients are accustomed to.

It's very important to establish trust during that first phone call or with existing clients, not give them means of being cautious about, or wondering, who is this person who I'm talking to. But I was talking to a small or still okay. From why does it sound like this receptionist is not in their office?

So it can be a much better experience to have a US-based receptionist who are familiar with those American norms and business practices and the way of conversing with an American or US-based client, I should say, doesn't necessarily mean an American.

Now. with dedicated and distributed teams, what's important to recognize is that with the dedicated receptionist team, you have, let's say, a few different receptionists who are assigned to your account.

They are trained on your account. The problem is just like an in-house receptionist. It's possible that they could be sick or out of the office and then, limited call answering ability.

Also, if you have a marketing campaign that's ramping up, you will need to work with them to make sure that they're scaled up and prepared for handling a higher volume of calls.

Whereas with the distributed service, there's the ability to handle any volume of calls because any receptionist is able to use the receptionist software that they're on to. See the directions for your firms specifically and follow them so that no matter the call volume. It can be handled by any member of that receptionist team.

Now, if you have an in-house receptionist or if you're considering one, a couple of the considerations between in-house and out how out of house are cost, of course.

Are you responsible for the livelihood of this person? Do you have enough work for them to be doing? And is this the work that you want to be paying for on an ongoing basis as a salary with benefits or do you want to more use that in-house person as a paralegal and have the call answering and those basic tasks that our receptionists can handle out of house?

So that, again, that volume can be handled no matter what that in-house person is doing. That person may have tasks that take them away from their desk, they may have other, more important matters to attend to.

And also, when they're on the phone, they are not able to pick up a call at the same time. So it doesn't allow you for the responsiveness that maybe your clients are expecting.

And if they reach voicemail, the problem is they may be hanging off, as we often find, and then go in and call the next firm that is recommended to them or that they found on Google, either through organic or paid search or online reviews.

So just be aware of that, even if they are referrals, what we often find is that attorney or potential clients are receiving multiple referrals for firms and not just one. So you may think that they're going to patiently wait for your reply, but that's not always the case.

PHONE SYSTEM PRECAUTIONS

So a couple of precautions here with your phone system.

Common complaints for phone systems, routing and tracking services, and receptionists

RING DELAYS

One of the things that I talk to people about is that they don't know if there are ring delays in their phones. So what I really encourage you to do, if you've never done this, is audit kind of secret shock your phone system.

So what we find—what I mean by rings delays is that you may hear the phone ring once and pick up on the first ring, but what the person is hearing on the other line, the person who's calling you, is actually hearing multiple rings before they hear you pick up.

So what happens is they may even hang up before you pick up, even though you think you picked up on the first ring, they may have heard up to, and I'm not kidding. We see this with our existing clients, with some of the phone systems that they're using up to eight rings before it actually rings on your end.

So, if you do nothing else, I really encourage you to just have the peace of mind and audit your phone system and have someone else call or you call from your personal cell phone number and check to make sure that one ring on your end is one ring on the receiving end.

NO TRACKING OR ANALYTICS

Another thing to keep in mind is that you want to have tracking and analytics in place so that if you have marketing campaigns, you know, who's calling from those and who's converting from that.

So if you're paying for your phone to ring, for example, and you have landing pages on your website, put a different phone number on those landing pages.

If you have paid search ads or different pages where you have people directing traffic from different marketing channels online, or even in print, put a different phone number on those so that you can track the number of calls that are coming through, and you can track that person who called with this source.

Did they convert? Was that a good marketing channel for you? Were the leads high quality? Did they end up hiring you?

RECEPTIONIST SERVICES FAILURES

Now, the receptionist services can have limited impact if you're only using them for answering and transferring and messages. So more and more, I really encourage that you're looking at services that can do the lead qualification that can do the basic intake and information capture and schedule those appointments, or even a call back so that you are more informed and also not faced with a bunch of decisions at the end of the day, as you review these messages.

That those decisions, you're letting them be outsourced as well for "Here's my criteria for screening new potential clients".

You're running a family law practice and someone is contacting you about a DUI. Well, that may not be an area that you actually help with. So referring out that person instead of scheduling an appointment or instead of just taking a message and having to have you follow up with them will save you time.

Now, obviously you also want a service to be consistently adhering to your directions and then, extremely professional. So you're looking for that in-house feel, especially with a solo or small practice.

DRIVE EFFICIENCY WITH: EMAIL SYSTEMS

Now we're all pretty familiar with email systems.

Email systems with advanced features can drive efficiency
One of the things that I really recommend is that you have your emails logged in your CRM or connected to your practice or case management so that they are securely within there and logged in real time.

You can also use time tracking apps to help you determine how much time you're spending crafting emails. That is really one way to capture the most potential revenue. And making sure that, you know, your associates and other partners in the firm have those in place so it's consistently happening and not just on a one-by-one basis based on your preference.

Another thing that you can do is you can automate some of your emails so marketing campaigns and lead nurturing drips are extremely effective at converting those new potential clients.

Because not everyone who has a phone call with you will necessarily be ready to sign on the dotted line and to engage with you.

So let's say that someone is looking to get a divorce. They may be shopping, someone who is looking for an attorney for IP or trademark, they may be evaluating different firms. You want to stay top of mind and build trust and demonstrate expertise.

And what you can do after a call or an email or a consultation is to follow up with them on an automated basis to have these communications come through without your individual input.

Every single time, you don't want to be re-crafting this email or triggering it to go through.

So if you have a conversation and they don't send an engagement letter after certain period of time, you can actually have these nurturing drip set up, whether it's with MailChimp or your marketing automation or HubSpot, and have these go through so that you can say, "Here are testimonials from people who have hired me, or here's my expertise and my background."

This is how you can trust me to represent you in your case.

If you choose to engage, one of the other things you can do with email is to have individual emails that need to be sent out on a bulk basis.

For example, maybe you're taking a trip for spring break, maybe you're taking some time off or your practices changing and you need to send a one-time alert.

It's really helpful to be able to send that, not to every individual client onesy-twosy, but to use a tool like Mailshake or yet another mail merge in Gmail where you basically have a spreadsheet of people who need to receive this message and then just send it out to them in bulk sitting on top of your existing email program.

DRIVE EFFICIENCY WITH: TEXT MESSAGING

Text messaging through a VoIP phone, an app, or a software can improve responsiveness

Now, text messaging, I really encourage you to have this enabled for your practice. This is not something that can be ignored anymore.

People are used to texting their business services providers, they text their accountant, they text their plumber, and they're going to be texting you.

So I just had a conversation recently with a client who said, until I switched my phone system, I didn't even realize that people were texting me.

And I thought that I wasn't receiving any texts and my clients didn't want to text. And then I switched and now I have a phone system that enabled me to receive business text messages, as well. And there were text messages that were coming through.

So people thought that, you know, she wasn't necessarily being responsive, but in fact, she wasn't even receiving those messages.

So this allows you to be more responsive to, you know, capture more of the millennial and even beyond like, you know, older clients. Not just millennials are using this because it is convenient.

Same thing with web chat. It allows you to respond to people on the channels that they prefer.

So meeting them where they are now, this is something that you're familiar with already. You know, you meet your clients where they are emotionally or perhaps financially, but meeting them where they are in the communication channel that they prefer is increasingly important. And it will help you capture more business.

So that you show them that you're going to be using the channels to communicate that they're on, that they want to use.

Now don't use your personal cell phone number to text. It's very, very hard to get someone to take that phone number out of their phone. So train them well in the beginning, set expectations, and you can even use tools like Zipwhip to communicate and automate text messages.

They can send documents to you and you can log them in your case management software.

You can also use a tool like Time Miner and other solutions to log the time that you spend texting so that you can bill for that time, because if clients are communicating with you via text message, that is time spent working with the client and you should absolutely be billing for that time.

DRIVE EFFICIENCY WITH: WEB CHAT

Now, with web chat — and I'm including Facebook messaging and things like that on here, not just chats that are on your specific website — there are a few different methods. It can be an AI chat bot or it could be a human who is staffing it, and that could be you, or it could be a receptionist service.

So the chat bots are going to be a bit on the cheaper side and same thing with the self-staff chat. That self-service DIY is going to be cheaper than having a receptionist handle it.

The nice thing about the AI chatbots is that you can program in answers to frequently asked questions and you can stem some of those inbound phone calls and emails with those routine questions that are coming through. So hopefully, reducing those interruptions.

What you can also do is you can add links to an online calendar so that people can book appointments with you directly or through a receptionist who's staffing that chat.

So that you are getting appointments booked and again, reducing the phone and email volume for the routine communications.

Now, typically with the chat bot, you're paying for access, you're paying for the ability to program the chat, whereas with, you know, human based service where you're staffing it or someone is staffing it on your behalf, you're paying per contact per chat, per new lead. It really is based on the different services that are available.

It may even be based on the seat, meaning how many users are there that have the ability to chat.

So one of the things that I really caution you is that, if there is a self-staff chat that you're using, make sure that you have an AI chatbot backing it up because if people see chat on your website and then it's unattended – and I know, you know what I'm talking about: when you go on a website and there's chat there and it says "We're not available right now, we'll get back to you," — it's really nice to actually have some answers pre-programmed so that you can still provide a level of service or responsiveness, even in the later hours.

For example, when the kids are asleep and that woman or man is evaluating, you know, whether or not to get a divorce, for example, or it's after hours. And they've spent all day at their day job, and now they're launching a new business and they need help with the trademark.

These are the conversations that are happening after hours, and it's very important to be able to respond to those basic questions or allow them to write in a message and not just drop their name or email. So improving that.

And then what you can do is you can forward those messages to you or even to a receptionist service, and you can have them call back in the morning of the next business day and that allows for really great potential client experience.

Web chat can be proactive, provide page-specific help, act as a gatekeeper, and help with lead qualification and referrals

Now as we dive a little bit deeper into website chat, one of the things that we definitely want to make sure that we do in law firms is to add a disclaimer that does not constitute a client attorney relationship.

It does not constitute legal advice that this is just staffed chat to help get answers and direct you to the person who can help you with the legal matter, but it is not free legal advice and it does not constitute an attorney client relationship.

So I would encourage you that, whatever chat you're using, if you're already using chat that you do have a disclaimer before the chat starts.

And maybe even throughout the chat, it's something that you, you share or remind or that you close out the chat with now.

One of the things that you can do with chat is also have it show up only on specific pages to reduce the cost, if you are paying per chat, so only those really high converting pages of your website or the pages where someone is completing a basic intake form or answering questions to give them the support that they need if they stumble or are not sure what sort of answer you're looking for.

You can also use it to get information to them that maybe you have elsewhere on your website that they're having trouble finding.

The last thing that I would say is that you can also have an online calendar link. Sometimes what we hear is that putting that on your website ends up without, like, a payment or a gatekeeper, resulting in a lot of appointments that are scheduled and result in cancellations or no-shows or people who didn't really read what you do.

And it's a waste of time or they're just, you know, tire-kickers, for example.

So what you can do is have a gatekeeper with your web chat, where if they start chatting and they answer, certain basic questions with an AI chat or real life person, and that bot or person determines if this is a good potential client.

They can then share that online calendar link based on a prompt and then, the consultation or the callback can be scheduled.

So that gatekeeping can be a good way to make sure that the appointments that are on your calendar are hopefully with the best potential clients for you.

Now, as I mentioned, you can have kind of more deep dive information on your website.

Web chat can also help with self-filtering, chat-to-calls, and FAQ building

This may be a way to, again, reduce the phone and email volume by having answers to, you know, if you run a virtual law practice, for example, as Kim Bennett, does. She runs a practice, it's KBennettLaw.com. She actually even has a knowledge base add-on our website for frequently asked questions, which helps reduce those, even those chats, but also phone and email inquiries.

And she actually uses a knowledge-base add on to her website, which you can see here. Or you can go to KBennettLaw.com and she explains how a virtual law practice works. You could explain how your practice works, how your fee structure works, for example, what types of cases you work on and what you don't and what.

Respect the engagement or client process.

So we've talked a little bit about the different software and services that are available and now we're going to talk about putting it together.

RESPONSIVENESS: FORM & FUNCTION

Responsiveness can be found using combined human and machine intelligence

So responsiveness, as I mentioned, comes down to form and function, and really, this is a combination of human and machine intelligence.

So what goes into those lead nurturing drips? What goes into the breeding?

We're talking about the content itself. That is the human intelligence. That is your contribution. You're setting the process for the lead qualifying questions, the intake form composition, whereas the machine intelligence is what you're using for your software, how the information is logged, what automatic workflow happens after a contact form is completed on your website.

For example, have you set up automatic email forwarding to go to your staff member or a receptionist service for an immediate call back to follow up with that person and be responsive because they indicated on there, on your website, that they want to hire an attorney and they're a good potential client?

Getting back to them very quickly now, using the human and machine intelligence elements, you can combine them to effectively and accurately respond to potential clients and then, also deliver a better experience for existing clients.

So let's take a look now and just take a pause at the lead conversion flow.

LEAD CONVERSION FLOW

Lead conversion flow chat, showing the steps from lead generation to conversion

So we've talked a little bit about the contact methods, but let's take a look at the lead sources.

Where are these people? And take a moment here to consider where are people coming from?

We know the referrals are a big source for most attorneys, online reviews, as well as organic and paid search social media.

Maybe you're writing articles or delivering CLS. You may also be doing some technical SEO to increase the viewing of your website and search as well as link building.

And the different response methods, it could be an AI chatbot, in anything between. It could be an in house person, or it could be a receptionist service that's out of house.

What happens next is the qualification staff. Where we determine if it's a good new potential client? And then if so, proceed with intake, proceed with a follow-up if they don't convert immediately. And then there's the fall intake, the new client agreement and the payment, if that's required before getting started.

Now, if it's not a good potential client, are you making referrals systematically because that can engender goodwill, you can inform people about what you do so that they know better in the future, if they need an attorney who practices in your areas, they will think of you.

Or they may even be in contact with other folks who are friends or coworkers or family who, you know, may need your services and they can then refer them more effectively to you.

So they're sending you good potential clients and not people who are going to be wasting your time.

So let's talk about the seven steps.

THE SEVEN STEPS 

STEP ONE: PROFESSIONALLY MANAGING CALLS

Professionally and intelligently manage calls

So professionally and intelligently managing calls, setting this up so that you are not using your personal cell phone number, because the problem is first, you don't know any new number.

If they are a spam caller, if they're someone who is calling you on a personal matter or they're a new potential client, it doesn't allow you to screen.

So the best thing that you can do is set up a phone system that is automatically blocking your spam calls, because we know those are up 30% year over year, and they are such a nuisance and they may be part of the reason why you're letting calls go to voicemail.

So I really encourage you to set up a business phone system that blocks them automatically and then routing calls to you or to you, and then with a backup service. So maybe calls you still say, "I'm going to answer my own phone call, but I know that it's better to have someone else answer whether it's in-house or remote".

If you're not available, it's better than voicemail. So you can have overflow call handling in place where if you don't pick up on the first ring or you're busy or you're indisposed or you're in court, then someone else can pick up and prevent that voicemail from happening.

I also really encourage you to set expectations and that can be as simple as having just an after-hours voicemail.

So, your daytime voicemail, if you have to have one set up, which, you know, obviously you do just in case, have it be different than your after-hours voicemail. Ask for the information that you need, but then also state clearly when they're going to hear back from you, because that will buy you the time.

The problem is with text messages, they get unanswered and voicemail that's left, is that it's just a black hole. No one knows when am I going to hear back from this attorney?

So I really encourage you to say, "Okay, I'm going to set up an after-hours voicemail or an automatic response with business tax through a software like Zipwhip." That allows you to set up auto responders where it says, "Thank you for your message," or "Thank you for reaching out to me, I will get back to you within this period of time."

And you can even set these up with email.

So more and more attorneys who are out of the office a lot, or who are in court or in a lot of meetings, they will set up an email autoresponder. That's not an out of office message. It's just an expectation setter.

So you can have that say "Thank you so much for, you know, your email, I have received it, your confirming receipt. And I only check email twice a day so if this is urgent, please contact, you know, this person, or please contact me at this emergency phone number. And then I will get back to you — you can expect a prompt response."

STEP TWO: AUTOMATE LEAD QUALIFICATION

Automate lead capture and qualification

So step two is really automating lead capture and qualification.

And the very first step here that's super important is to have your criteria identified.

So first think about who are the potential clients that you really want, and then maybe who are the clients you've worked with recently, and you don't want to be working with more like them.

And maybe even who are the clients you missed, that you wish you had captured sooner or better or better conveyed what you did because you think maybe you didn't do as good enough a job communicating with them about how you can help.

And then use that thought process to identify the criteria and systematically put in place with a form or a process, which you can then use yourself, or you can outsource to screen potential new clients and say, "This is who I'm looking for."

Now, I think of this like a tree trunk. You have this screening process and then, it's going to result in good potential clients. And then people who you don't necessarily feel are a good fit for your firm, for whatever reason.

The ones who are good potential clients determine your policy on a callback or a consult.

And then what format that consult takes? Is it a phone call? Is it an in-person meeting? Increasingly, it's more convenient for people to meet over the phone for the first time or a video chat.

Now, if you're going to do that, consider comfort level: not everyone is comfortable with a video chat, even though it may result in a more personalized experience, a stronger emotional tether, so that they feel like you're a real person and they can see the expressions on your face.

Now, not everyone is comfortable with video chat.

Also, consider the format.

So Skype requires someone to download that software to their computer or their phone whereas if you use a program like a Google Hangout, it just requires you to open a new browser tab and no new software to download.

If you're so having in-person meetings, you don't have to worry about parking or delays that traffic can incur so this can result in better adherence to your schedule and also, greater productivity because you don't have drive time and neither does the potential client. So these are some of the things to consider.

Also, if you have your online calendar on your website, consider charging for the consultations, if you're able to do so based on your practice area, because that will result in fewer no-shows and cancellations, and it will result in people taking another few moments to determine, are they really likely to become a new client, you know, are they likely to hire you?

And then outsource this process as much as possible? So not only inbound, but also outbound so, as I mentioned, if you have people who are completing a contact form on your website, you can automatically forward those to a staff member or receptionist service, and you can have that call back happen immediately and then follow the criteria for the screening and the then scheduling of the consult or the call back and taking payment if required.

And if you take online payment with a credit card, an e-check, then you can automatically have that in place so that, you know, the person is that much more serious about talking to you and hopefully hiring you.

The inbound calls can also trigger that same workflow. And then, you know, inbound web chat as well.

So if you have web chat staffed on your website, that same criteria, that same back and forth, the question and answering, asking and answering, can happen.

And the nice thing about web chat is that someone who's a potential client, who may be at work can actually do that without leaving their desk, without it being lunchtime, without having to take time off, without missing the hours because their working hours overlap with your working hours, that can improve the responsiveness you capture as well.

STEP THREE: HAND-OFF NEW CLIENT INTAKE

Hand-off new client intake

So I talked a little bit about handing this off.

I would also recommend when you're considering your criteria to ask, how did the potential client hear about you?

Because phone calls are, you know, a very good way of handling it, as I mentioned, can be different phone numbers for different sources and channels for marketing, but it's really important to know what words did they type into Google? Who specifically referred them?

You know, if they say they were a referral, you're not going to give every one of your friends different phone numbers. So how do you capture who is the actual person who referred them?

Always ask and you don't have to be the one that asks. It can actually be, you know, a receptionist service or your staff who is asking for that source.

And the sooner you ask the better. So don't wait for that consultation, but actually have that happen during the very first communication.

Whether it's a web chat or it's a contact form on your website, or it's a phone call, make sure that you're asking not only how did you hear about us, but if they indicate that they typed into Google, some search words, they're going to remember that much better.

If you ask them early on, if you talk to them a couple of days later, even later that day, they may not know exactly what phrase they typed into Google, but that can be very informative for you as you shape your marketing strategy.

So, well, examples here, Emily Cooper in Minnesota has a law practice and she really only focuses on family law and social security disability.

Example of a basic intake form from Cooper Law

So here's an example of a contact form where she's building in right. The barrier to submitting this form. You could even, if you look at the second number two here and you see that question, what is your legal issue? She's asking family law and then she's asking social security disability.

She also has other here. I would recommend that if you don't do other, you don't even have it in here so the form can't be submitted if it doesn't match your practice area and you can see that little star right there, that star means that it's mandatory to answer that question in order to submit the form.

Note also that she's asking, is there a court hearing scheduled in your case? So this helps her determine what is the priority? What is the deadline? How urgent is the need of this person who is contacting me?

And she's also asking, how did you hear about Cooper Law? How did you hear?

You can have that also be a button for the most common answers and then, a right in fields for certain ones of them. So if someone says, "I heard about you because I typed you into Google," you could say, "You know, what did you type into Google?"

I mean, why not ask that? That doesn't have to be a mandatory question, but you could ask them and if you get that data, then that is fantastic.

Now, after the form is completed, then a potential client is given the option to book a free 15 minute consultation. You can see that there is no link immediately here.

After you submit the form, then you can complete the scheduling requests for the consultation and they'll get it via email and it will be automatically added to your calendar as well.

And you can have this be completed with someone who is on web chat or on the phone with them as well so they don't have to find this form themselves.

Now in terms of capturing information and sending those lead nurturing drips, another thing that I really advise doing or exploring doing is to have kind of like an intake form that is lead gen, but may not necessarily indicate the person knows that they need an attorney.

Here's a really great example from Chi City Legal in Chicago.

Example of a basic intake form from Chi City Legal

There's an eviction notice and they've automated this form that then maps to the form in Chicago for submitting a tenant eviction notice for a landlord. And they indicate what is the notice type? Is it five days? Is it 21 days? And then, they complete this information.

As you can imagine and as an attorney, you get a lot of information on a new potential client who may need help. So then, the landlord receives the completed eviction notice via email with the instructions to submit themselves.

And then the law firm is notified and Chi City Legal can follow up, let's say in four days or in 20 days before the notice is due and say, "How is everything going? Do you need help with this? Do you need an attorney?"

It [automating intake forms] can be an excellent way to provide service first and then to follow up with people who, you know, based on this information are good potential clients.

STEP FOUR: STREAMLINE SCHEDULING

Streamline appointment scheduling, reminders, and check-ins

So I talked a little bit about streamlining appointment scheduling and being a gatekeeper.

I would encourage you if you don't already have online scheduling tools in place.

Calendly is a free tool, right? Some CRMs and practice management case management systems allow you to have calendar links and calendaring built into those systems and the entire workflow can happen within there and people can schedule with you online.

If you want to have it be with the staff member or receptionist service, just give them the link and they will be able to schedule on your behalf, not requiring a login to your system, which is extremely beneficial because you need to take precautions that people have with the information on cases and matters and, you know, new potential clients.

So you don't necessarily want people who you're outsourcing to, I would precaution you, don't give them your login information, right? You want to use online calendaring systems that just allow them to add an appointment and not to edit or see into, or rewrite, existing appointments.

Now, this can also be very helpful. If you have a set of appointments that are coming up, you can outsource the followup and the check-in to make sure that that person has the information that they need to be at the appointment at the right time to be at court at the right times so that they're not late and make sure that people are adhering to your directions so that you can do a better job for them.

Now, some of the online scheduling also has payment built in, which is very helpful. For example, Justine Nicole in Colorado has Nicoloffices.com and she has Acuity Scheduling set up and what this allows you to do is display multiple appointments sites on our website.

And she is very clear. What is a new consultation for new potential clients? What is an existing meeting for existing clients? And then, do you need to complete a form in order to have this phone consultation?

So you can see in the first example here, she says, "You must first complete this form," so that she can do the conflict check so that she can be informed for the new potential client.

Same thing with the last one. There was a form to complete an incident survey that is required before having that PSG, hearing preparation.

Now, after this, she says the 30 minutes are free. And then, for example, for the new phone consultation, any additional time is billed at a rate of $300 per hour so she can take payment, in anticipation of that, if she does need to charge for that additional time.

STEP FIVE: COLLECTING PAYMENTS

Consistently collect payments through outsourcing

Now let's talk again about consistently collecting payments and then, we will get to the game plan very shortly so we can wrap up and I won't take more of your time than you've allocated for this.

Make sure that you accept credit card and an online payments.

Because what we know from the Clio report is that you get paid 39% faster if you accept online payments.

And people prefer the credit cards to checks, people are not carrying checks with them. It will delay payments. And it also means that you get paid regardless of the money that's physically in their bank account, which is very important.

Sometimes, now, it's not just about making it more accessible, but it's also about increasing accuracy and getting paid for the time that you have built and that you have earned. So using Zipwhip and Time Miner to log the time spent texting or on calls and that are being communicated with you via your cell phone.

You want to make sure with your business phone, with your business texting, that you're logging the time spent texting with clients because that is chargeable time.

Now, you can outsource payment collection. You don't have to use a collections agency necessarily, who take 30 to 50% of the take to follow up on people who, you know, either are always late on their payments and proactively reach out to them if they have an invoice due or past due payments to call and have that conversation so that they can have the payment taken by phone with a credit card or with that ACH or e-check.

And the nice thing about this is that you don't need to have those comfortable financial conversations with their clients. They're not going to pull on the heartstrings of an outsource person because they don't have the personal relationship with them.

So it can be very beneficial in that way, as well.

STEP SIX: SYSTEMIZE REFERRALS

Now, if you have referrals or you have recommended firms that you have in a list, or you want to put together the list, you can also outsource the referrals. Now it depends on your state bar's rules if you can monetize the referrals so getting a referral reward so be careful with that and check your state bar's rules. I am not advocating that you do that. You need to be careful what that puts you on the hook for, if you accept money in exchange for making that referral.

What you can do though, and I recommend doing anyway, it's just for goodwill and to help that potential client who may be a source of a new client or referral in the future so inform them about what your firm does and then if you have firms that you can recommend that can help them if you're not able to, make that recommendation and take that extra moment or inform your receptionist to do so, based on the list you provide and the criteria so that you can have that goodwill in the community and have those potential clients in the future.

STEP SEVEN: INTEGRATE INTO YOUR SYSTEMS

Integrate your communications into your existing systems with record keeping and project/document management

Now, as much as possible, have these communications integrated with your existing systems. So after every call and text, after every web chat, those should be low logged within your system under that contact or a new contact created so that you don't have to do that grunt work yourself and so that all the communications are in one place and you're not missing anything from a call, text, email, et cetera.

This will also allow you to better track your marketing growth, your operations, and it will allow you to better spend your marketing dollars based on where there's the greatest ROI.

So just wrapping up, let's talk about the game plan for what to do next.

WHERE TO GO FROM HERE

Prioritize fixes, implement new forms and processes, and re-evaluate every once in awhile

So identify the preliminary questions that you have for your lead qualification so that you can have that process.

And build shareable intake form for that basic information. You need to have a well-informed console.

I would also encourage you to look at the time that you're spending every week and identify it as billable or non-billable time. And then think about how you're going to streamline, automate, or outsource or continue doing it yourself as in so far as, you know, really lawyering time or something you're not willing to hand off, which is totally reasonable.

And it's a process that will come over time based on your comfort level, but determine not only the qualification and intake steps that you will handle, but also other things, billing matters, things that paralegals can handle, things that virtual bookkeepers can handle, that you don't have to do yourself because you are spread thin and then prioritize these.

This is based on the greatest time consumption and then using the Eisenhower decision matrix.

And you can click on this link when you access this deck on your own. The importance and the urgency of what it is, it's really helpful for prioritizing what you need to get done every day. It's not always a matter of the urgency or the deadline, but also how important it is.

Is it for you personally to be handling the work itself? Is it lawyering or is it laboring and can you hand it off?

Now, my tips are that qualification and payments are most often the most time consuming and most easily outsourced.

Whereas data entry, lead up, like those email nurturing, drips, that form automation, those are most easily automated with software. Implement something within the next 30 to 60, 90 days, whether it's a new form or a new process.

And then just one or two things just do, just that and then see how it impacts your work-life balance, your revenue, the percent of earnings that you're actually capturing. And see how that feels, not just quantifiably, but also in a qualified sense, the quality of your life, your sleep quality, your stress, et cetera.

It's not just about money, obviously.

And then wait a couple months to re-stabilize and then reevaluate this process every year. What are the things that have the biggest impact? What are things that you assumed would have a big impact and worked? Maybe you're not going to focus so much on those. Maybe you could tweak your approach slightly. Maybe you determined you need to start charging for consultations.

For example, do you want to staff your own web chat or have someone else step before you, and then regularly evaluate this process so that you are taking an active interest in the business and the practice management of your firm and not just letting it control you more than you're controlling it?

Because these are tools that are available to you. They are very affordable, thankfully for small businesses and law practices. Way more accessible than they've ever been so don't get intimidated, just, you know, don't get that analysis paralysis.

There are a lot of great resources online for software reviews and service reviews and talking to your peers about what they're using, especially in the same practice area so that you don't have to do all that research yourself.

But then, once you determine what you're going to use, just go ahead and dive in. It's not going to be perfect right away, but it will help you, no matter what.

So I hope this has been helpful for you. The CLE course number is here.

Lisa, if you want to say anything else, feel free.

LISA:

Yeah, so Maddy, thank you so much. It was extremely informative and I hope everybody out there thought the same.

So again, the Florida Bar  CLE course number is three, two, eight, eight (2388). I'm just going to point out that this course has been approved for one hour of general, CLE credit, including one hour of technology CLE credit also for those of you that have been asking.

The slide deck and the audio slash video recording of today's CLE will be emailed to all of you tomorrow afternoon so you'll be able to rewatch some of the portion that you might've come in late or you kind of blinked and missed a couple of slides. You'll be able to revisit that tomorrow.

But if you have, I know that we don't have any, you know, much more time. We went a few minutes over, so I thank you all for your patience.

Maddy, thank you again so much. We really appreciated it.

MADDY:

My pleasure. Thanks so much for having me, Lisa.

All right. Thank you everybody. Have a great day.


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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To watch more webinars like this one, check out our YouTube channel or access articles, guest blog posts, and other resources on the Smith.ai blog.

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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