There might not be anything wrong with your firm's current systems. You may love your legal assistant, you may be attached to your current scheduling software, and you may be comfortable with your existing technology. But when running a law firm, you should always be on the lookout for anything that might improve your operations, increase your productivity, and expand your client outreach. Demoing a different calendar software or trying out a new virtual receptionist service may be just what your law firm needs to gauge effectiveness and make the adjustments you need to make in order to grow your firm as much as possible.
In a webinar recorded on July 29th, 2020, Maddy Martin, head of growth and education at Smith.ai, spoke with award-winning attorney Regina Edwards from Edwards Family Law to uncover how discovering, testing, and inevitably implementing the right technology, tools, and talent can help you build a more productive and efficient law firm. Whether you hope to improve your communication processes or build better boundaries with your clients, you can achieve a more efficient law firm if you hire workers, outsource to services, and incorporate technologies that align with your goals and work towards pushing your law firm in the right direction.
If you want to learn some helpful tips and tricks for how you can take your law firm to the next level, 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
Thank you for joining us for this tech, tools, and talent webinar with Regina Edwards, who is a family law attorney, and I'm Maddy Martin.
I'm the head of growth and education for Smith.ai. We are a virtual receptionist and webchat service, offering 24/7 live agents that, combined with AI, to deliver exceptional service, to help you accept new clients and to capture leads, to screen and schedule appointments, do intake and follow up on any inbound inquiries that come in to help you grow your firm and accelerate your growth while delivering exceptional service.
So thank you so much for joining us.
This is our second webinar with Regina, who we love to host, and who is an expert in all things legal tech, as well as many other subjects.
I'm really excited about this subject, particularly for the tech, tools, and talent, because Regina always finds those sorts of hidden gems that are less commonly mentioned and I think that she provides a ton of value in that respect, and really cuts through the noise and trying and testing so much herself.
So, I'll let her introduce herself, and then I'll go through a little bit of the agenda for today, and we'll get started. Welcome.
My name is Regina Edwards. I practice family law, and my office is in Georgia, but I am never in my office if I can help it.
I'm currently in Arizona. I have a vacation place out there, and I've been here for about eight weeks total during COVID.
So, I'm really about virtual lawyering, and obviously, I mean, answering service is a big part of that.
I'm really kind of a nerd in terms of tech, too. I love tech tools. Anytime anyone mentions one, I'm like, “Ooh, I’m a squirrel. I have to go and demo it.”
Even if I'm happy with what I've got, I love to see what's out there. I love to see what innovative tools we can use to help our practice moving forward.
And I'm also a flat fee. So, time is not money for me. It's the opposite. I need to make sure that I am doing at least as little hands-on work as possible. That includes intake, to make sure that my firm is running smoothly without me having to put a whole bunch of hours into my firm.
So, that's just how I like to operate. I want to have a life outside of the office. So, hopefully, I say something here that'll resonate with you and help you with your intake in your answering services in general, running at your firm.
Awesome. All right. Thank you so much.
And everyone, if you want to put questions in the chat, feels free. We can save time for them later, or I'll address them as they come up with certain subjects that arise.
So the first question, Regina, is really around in remote practice. There are certain things that need to be handled, not just case management, but routine things like mail and correspondence.
Let's start with the real basics. How do you handle basic correspondence? How do you handle mail and letters and things that may be slower lagged industries have not caught up with you on?
Well, thankfully in Georgia, we have mandatory e-filings, that really has cut down on the mail. That being said, I usually go into the office once a week and check the mail. I'll be in Arizona for three weeks straight.
So, I actually have a personal assistant who will just go to the office once a week, scan the mail. I use a tool – I probably did not put it in the materials, but I will. If you've not heard of Email It In, definitely look it up.
So, go to emailitin.com, and what it is, it's this service where you send an email to this particular address. Mine is firstname.lastname@example.org, and it automatically sends it to whatever folder you want. I use ignite as my cloud server, so that's where everything goes.
So if anyone sends anything to that address, or if I'm scanning, it goes directly to that email address.
It automatically pops up in the folder that I want to, and I know it works with Onebox. It works with a Box; it works with Dropbox; I’m sure there's, I think Google Drive as well. So, you can tell it where to go, but it's a nice thing to have all of your staff send everything to one receptacle virtual inbox.
So, you know that nothing is slipping through the cracks. I know that other people have used services like Earth Class Mail, where you actually, all your mail goes directly to them and scans it. I'm not really inclined to do that just because, I guess, I'm kind of a control freak.
I really don't want other people looking at mail and know that they signed confidentiality agreements, but I'm definitely concerned about that.
Yesterday I just did a prenuptial agreement for a well-known individual. And I just can't imagine someone in the mailroom, someone else reading it, seeing the names and thinking they can make some money on TMZ.
So, I like to do my mail in-house, and I either go in and scan it, or I have an assistant go in and scan it once a week. But the key is, where is it going?
And I think I like the idea that it goes to one specific folder and it stays there until it's either delegated out or it has some sort of action that's tied to it. But that's going to be the holding sort of pen for everything.
Okay. Regina, I think you bring up a really good point.
You mentioned a virtual assistant, you mentioned your comfort level in delegating and having people have access to your information.
There's an additional disclosure that we require them to sign, but when it's a dedicated resource instead of a distributed resource, like our a hundred plus receptionist.
How do you handle it? And this came up recently in other groups.
How do you handle the non-disclosure agreement and sort of establishing trust either through references and a trial period? Understanding that they will have access to sensitive things, and they need to not be of a gossip, sort of orientation?
Right. Well, I mean, that's just kind of the culture that you have to have from the top down.
So, whenever I hire people, I do a working interview as opposed to just come in and start in. You have the job. I just have them come in, throw some tasks on them, and see how it goes.
And if that goes well, then obviously bring them on board. I do have nondisclosure agreements. And at that point, once they sign the agreement, you just have to hope that you trust them.
And I love my paralegal, and I do trust her. I know that my client's prenup isn't going to end up on TMZ because of her or anything.
So, I prefer to keep a small firm, and I used to have a much larger firm, but it's just more people to trust, more opportunity for leaks. And that's just not what I wanted in my practice.
So, that's why I do have a small practice, but at some point, you do have to let go and trust that people are going to follow the nondisclosure agreements.
Obviously, in family law, there's the opportunity for gossip. Obviously, there are funny fact patterns and all of that. But really, my staff knows that what we're about is helps clients make it through a difficult time to hopefully a better time after the divorce, after the separation, etc.
And that's the overall goal. As long as we keep that as the overall goal, yes, there will be funny moments that we can talk about amongst ourselves.
But it is important that we keep their privacy and allow our clients to keep their dignity throughout the entire case.
That's one reason our clients come to us, because they know they're not going to see me doing an interview on TV about them, no matter who the client is. We're just not going to do it.
Yeah. There was a ton of trust embedded in there, and I'm sure that's a big source of referrals for you, too.
One of the questions that come alongside correspondence, Regina, is this notion that you have clients who have certain preferences in terms of covering mail. But one of the things that often comes up is the question that I'm not going to the office. We’re recording this during a COVID crisis.
Now that I'm not going to the office, I've transitioned to phone calls or Zoom meetings. My clients are, or are not, comfortable with those.
What do you say to people who need to or see a need to adapt video conferencing phone calls instead of in-person meetings? How do you adopt those? Maybe get comfortable with yourself? How are you positioning them either as the only option or one of the options to increase adoption?
Because one of the main things we're hearing is that some people, and not everyone, are struggling with lower conversion rates to book that appointment.
Oh, there's a long answer to that.
I think my conversion rate is high for a number of reasons, and I think it starts with marketing.
By the time people come to me, it's usually because they already know they're going to hire me. Quite frankly, I don't make it easy.
When you call the answering service, first of all, I don't ever answer the phone. They get you guys, the answering service, and we don't, you guys don't pass them live through to us. You tell them the process, which is, “we're going to fill out this intake form for you.”
And then, the intake coordinator will review it and give you a call back at some point within the next 24 hours. And it's usually the same day.
I just don't like to promise that. And there's plenty of messages I get where someone says, “I don't want to do that.” And they hang up. That's fine.
I need the expectations from the beginning to be realistic. And what's realistic is not; I’m not sitting by my phone waiting for you to call.
So, I kind of use it as a pre-screening tool to ensure that people are patient enough to realize that this is the business. I'm a business person, which means I'm going to be busy at some point. And there's a process in order to become a client. And this is what has to happen in order to become a client.
So, the people that get frustrated and hang up are sort of self-weeding themselves out, which is fine with me.
So, the intake person takes the information. They put it into my CRM, which I happen to use Dubsado. I know some users use Lawmatics or Clio Grow, whatever it is, to integrate with them and put the information there.
It immediately goes to me. I can review it very, very quickly. And then, with one click, I can task it to my intake coordinator to review, and then they'll call back. That's the process for intake, which is a little onerous.
Again, I kind of need it to base someone that calls and says, “I want to talk to an attorney right now, and I can't wait five minutes.”
He’s not going to be my ideal client because that's not how our relationship will be throughout. So, I try to set expectations in the beginning, in terms of what our communication is going to be, how they'll contact me.
And, at some point, you just have to rip off the band-aid. I'm not going to meet you in person.
My office is closed at least until 2021. We are going to use Zoom to meet. And if that doesn't conform with your expectations, then that's fine.
There's plenty of other great family law attorneys that may be willing to meet with you in person. I don't know, but I'm just not going to. That's just not an option.
I don't make it an option. I don't allow people to talk me into doing something that I really don't want to do. I just say, these are my policies, these are my procedures.
And this is how well, this is what we have to do for us to work together. And then, quite frankly, they either take it or not.
And that's a great starting point to set the expectations properly upfront and set those boundaries upfront so that you don't start off the relationship with you at their beck and call.
We see that mistakes happen very often and are overly responsive and overly bending backward means that this sets the expectation that you're going to do that moving forward.
But as Sandra points out in the chat, “Well, is this the way that you started or how did you sort of come to this workflow? Was it all virtual from the beginning? So to speak, or was it a very long time, and how did you transition into that process?”
Anything that you would advise people to say, like skip this or don't do this? As I did, you can sort of cut that path in half.
Well, it's definitely, this whole process has been a trial and error.
Before COVID, I was not doing a bunch of zoom consultations. I would do a lot of phone consultations because I did have clients in other states or other countries. And those people are not going to fly in to meet you. So that's understandable for people that were in town, though. They wanted to come in to meet me, and I had an office.
It wasn't a problem, that's just what we did.
Now I just – it's just not an option. Especially when the shutdown first happened, you can't even go to McDonald's right now. So no, you can't come to my office and cough on me.
So this is just going to be the process, and people will have to deal with it.
And you asked me a specific question, and I forgot about it already.
Oh, in terms of the transition. Was there any sort of pushback on that? Or were there any sort of fumbles, maybe?
I don’t know if you make any fumbles, Regina, but it was already fumbled where you would say, “I would avoid doing it this way. I tried it, and it didn't work.”
Well, it was very little pushback to get to Zoom consultations when COVID hit because that's what everybody was doing. There was a lot of pushback before, so I was trying to do it before, and nobody wanted to do it, and now everyone's being forced to do it. So it's not that much of an issue.
I think the problem is going to be then eventually if we ever get COVID under control, I still want to do virtual consultations. And I don't know if it'll be that easy to convince people that this is the way that we do things.
But I think trial and error doesn't hurt. It’s based on my 20 years of blog experience and, well, when I think of running my own firm.
I've done all kinds of things. I've done free consultations. I've done $50 consultations. I do $400 consultations that I do now. I've done discovery calls, I've done all kinds of things, and it's okay just to experiment with it and see what works for you. I'm in family law.
Again, I don't need to answer the phone right away; their problem isn't going anywhere.
And if they're too impatient, they're not my ideal client with the PI that is never going to work.
You have to answer the call. You have to make it very easy for them to contact you. Get that contract out before they sign on with somebody else. It's hyper important for a personal injury.
So, it definitely varies based on your practice. And it varies based on your marketing.
My marketing positions me as an expert in family law because of the length of time I'm doing it; I've been doing it because of my leadership positions in the past. People know all of that stuff before they come to me.
It's really not so much of me convincing that I'm the attorney that they should hire because they've kind of decided that already; it’s just sort of a shift in. Where are we going from here? And how can I help you with your problem?
I'm past all the sales staff because it happened on the back end with my website. I'm focused on how we can help you move forward?
And how has, I mean, so obviously, marketing is something that is a strong suit. We've talked about video, and we'll touch on that.
You have a very strong brand positioning that is consistent across all the channels, where you have a presence online and in your community itself.
I have a question from Beth; how does Regina do her marketing? But also just to tack on to that, if you're running a remote firm because we're talking about this modern movable practice, does that change your marketing strategy?
Does it open up your audience to serve people who live in a sort of wide range of zip codes? Has that affected you at all?
A little bit, yes.
I live in Fulton County, Georgia, which is Atlanta, and I mainly practice in Portland. And when it is also a suburb, I don't like to drive. So, I would just flat out turn out cases outside of those counties.
But now, I will take cases that are either uncontested or even possibly contested because I know I don't have to go to court. I don't have to physically go to court. So, it definitely had opened some things up to where I've taken a case in a county I had never heard of before the client called me, but he had a lot of money and a really, really great case.
And normally, I just would've said no. But now that all the hearings are virtual and I can assist him with Zoom consultations and meetings, it just makes it really easy for me to deliver services to people all over Georgia, instead of just in my little area, because people would always ask, where's your office? Where's your office?
Because they're worried about the drive and traffic and all that. And that's just sort of been eliminated because they just don't ever have to drive in. So, it does allow me to serve people in other areas where I wasn't before.
So then I'm going to PM you about marketing. Ella Rita knows this. Ella is the reason I do the same marketing, and it works really, really well.
And I share a lot of information, but one thing I don't do is tell people that work in the same area as me, the same geographical area, exactly what I'm doing to get all these calls.
But I will tell you because you don't do what I do, and you don't do it in the area that I do, I'll email you and tell you, but it's working really, really well for us. And we just kind of keep it as is, secret.
All right. That's awesome. Thank you, Regina.
So, let's talk a little bit about it, okay, we spoke of the consults, but what about also virtual meetings? What about court time? Any trials that you have?
Let's talk a little bit about your virtual presence. I think there is a level of professionalism that you exude, Regina, that other people emulate and look to or strive to emulate.
How do you make yourself, not like me with the shadow behind me, look presentable and professional and evoke the presence you would have in-person online if you're working remotely?
Well, there's a couple of things that I've learned, and I've done a lot of Zoom trials and hearings and just seeing what other people are doing, what works and what doesn't.
It's better to have, it depends on, if you're outside or inside, you always have to pay attention to the light source. I'm in a pretty well-lit room. And I have the light next to me, which is more for decoration than actual light.
If you don't have that, I have used the bond lights that you can actually flip on encircling your camera or use a Ring light; that helps.
I also use an external microphone. The difference between using – and it's like this Loch Ness monster – the difference between using an external microphone and your internal microphone is night and day.
So if you guys are members of my Facebook group, which is Lawyer on the Beach, I talk about tech tools all the time, and I did a post about this.
Suppose you can hear a sample of me talking without it. And it's just much more crisp and clear.
When dealing with Zoom trials and consultations, being heard will be very important; just as appearances matter.
So I know that it's difficult. A lot of us are working from home.
I don't have any children, so it's super quiet. You're not going to hear anything, but obviously, people have children and pets and things going on, as much as you can if you're able to isolate yourself and by now, how to do virtual backgrounds. So it just sorts of wipes out whatever's going on in the background.
And so that people see whatever mess and clutter you might have, but anything that takes away from the distraction and the presentation is going to be helpful and get your message across so, the clients are paying attention to you and not what else is going on in the background.
That's a really good point.
One of the other things as we talk about, sort of, your virtual presence is obviously the video experience that you have working with firms like Crisp and other video platforms that allow you to be featured as a brand, or to host your own videos, instructional videos, and things like that.
That can be a way to expand and put your billboard out there when no one is driving by your office or not driving on the roads as often now with COVID.
So, they're not going to be exposed to maybe more traditional advertising. What role does that play, do you think, in the modern practice?
Anytime that someone is familiar with you, it helps.
And I've never done things like billboards or television interviews or anything like that, but my name is out there, and I don't know why, but it just is.
So it's very rare that someone calls me and just has never heard of me. So that might be because they've seen me on LinkedIn or they've seen a blog post, or someone's referring to them.
There's just some level of familiarity. That's why I'm a sucker for all these Facebook ads because I click on something about shoes, and then for the next 20 days, I get stalked about shoe ads.
It's just the more you see things, the more you feel comfortable with them, and you feel like you somehow know them. And it's complete garbage.
But there's a lot of marketing research on that. Absolutely.
The more you see someone's face and become familiar with it; the more comfortable you are with them.
And quite frankly, I can be a serial killer in my second life, and it doesn't really come across that way, and nobody ever knows, but the marketing is really great.
So I think there are a number of different programs.
And the question I think for many is do you go cheap or do you go expensive? How do you know if someone's going to fulfill what they promise you?
I think with a lot of creative design firms, and even in our own experience at Smith.ai, we're in the same boat as a business, looking for outside help sometimes.
How do you determine whether you're going to do a trial? Do you sort of talk to references? How do you pick one service provider?
Because they can be a significant investment at least to learn the platform, if not, actually to pay for the services to be done themselves.
So you're referring to marketing specifically?
Or any sort of videos, like even some of the video programs that you mentioned.
But how do you sort of like, and this goes into the general tech conversation, you're going to start recording your own videos. What are you looking for? Are you looking for at least a free trial, or are you looking for certain features? What do you think attorneys need to be aware of when choosing this particular software, or even a service that does the video for you?
Well, first, you have to identify what your goals are.
I've seen plenty of people be very successful with just iPhone videos. They walk out of the courthouse, they take a video talking about their success that day, they put that sucker up on YouTube, and they have tons and tons of videos.
I think that really works for PI lawyers, for criminal attorneys.
I personally don't do it that way. When I have several different videos, I have a Crisp video. Every one of those Crisp videos is pretty expensive, and it's what's called a "vanity video". I
t's part of the marketing that ties you into familiarity. It's everywhere. It's on my email signature, it's on my website, that a video is everywhere. I look amazing. My hair is blowing in the breeze as I'm walking in slow motion through Piedmont Park, which has nothing to do with my abilities as a lawyer, but it's a really slick, low produced video.
A client came in, it was actually a real client, came in and did a testimonial during the video. It's just a really nice marketing piece for people to get to hear your voice.
And that's really what it's about, them becoming familiar with you, hearing your voice, hearing how you help the client because that's all they really care about in the end.
They don't care that I went to Tulane. They don't care that I graduated Summa Cum Laude a million years ago from college because they don't care. They care about, “Can you help me with the problem that I have today?”
And they just want to make sure that you're the right person to do that.
So I've done a Crisp video. I've also done videos with Reel Lawyers, which I really like. He actually invented Super Lawyers, then sold it for a bunch of money to Thomson Reuters. And now, he has a site called Reel Lawyers, and Maddy just dropped it in the link. And I think it's $200 a month, but you don't have to pay the upfront costs.
The way he did it was really cool because he lives in Minnesota. He sends a video crew to your office, and you are pretty much FaceTiming with him as he's feeding you questions. And we banged out 24 videos in two hours.
Wow, that’s a lot.
And they're really good. If you go to Reel Lawyers and search for me, you'll find them, but they're on very specific topics. "What's a temporary hearing?" "What can I expect in a deposition?" Things like that, that your clients are going to want to know.
I actually haven't deployed any of them yet, but you could so if you don't want to use a production company like that to do it, you can do it yourself in terms of just using a phone and a camera or using a Loom.
The Loom is something where you can speak and give direction, but it also can capture your screen at the same time so I think that's better for tutorials, if you have to walk your client through specific things.
I am going to be launching a product where people can just click and get uncontested divorce paperwork, as well as videos of how actually to fill it out. And Loom will help because I'll be able to talk to them about how to fill out the paperwork while simultaneously showing them how to fill up paperwork.
I think that might be helpful in terms of marketing purposes. Obviously, unless you're selling the video.
I wouldn't give it all away in the video, but just, a taste of “this is what it is like to work with my firm” type things. There are many options on all ranges of the budget. So, people with Crisp videos are very successful, but that's not the only way if you don't have Crisp money right now.
And who does? Just try it with your own or with a smaller production company.
But the key is just getting content out there that people are interested in looking at, and it's going to bring some traction.
Thanks. Yeah, that makes a ton of sense.
I think one of the other important things that you touched on with this new offering that you've got, that I just wanted to highlight, is it's really especially important when you're running a remote practice to have an asynchronous conversation.
And what I mean by that is, it's not always possible that you're going to have time for that one-on-one, whether it's a lot of demand and you have to explain, and you're sort of training and discussing one too many.
So, recording a video makes sense, but also your schedules aren't always going to sync up.
So, you're in a different time zone now than back home in Atlanta. That means that there's going to be scheduling differences, and that's something to factor in as well. You're working with clients who are operating under certain hours or timeframes that don't work with you.
You can continue to move the ball forward with those videos recorded as a resource for you or even recording them in the moment for someone to look at it specific just to them.
So, you can use Loom. And we do this here at Smith.ai to record reusable common videos, and record videos just for one individual or just for one party or even departments here. If I need to share something with the sales or on-boarding team, I can record a video and do just that.
So, I think it's nice to have tools that are flexible and affordable.
Sandra has a really great question, and she asks, “Do you engage in regular tech audits for your practice to ensure that you don't have too much debt or otherwise spending too much for tech where it can be streamlined?” A great question, Sandra.
Regular is an understatement.
I am a tech nerd. I am constantly investigating new tech tools for my firm because I actually like it. I think it's kind of cool.
So, in terms of, do I have too much tech? Probably, I don't believe in practice management systems.
I can go on this huge rant about it, but I do not like traditional practice management systems, like my case. Clio, Rocket Matter – I just don't like them. I think it's primarily busy work and I also think that they are good at some things, but not everything.
I like to have different tools that are the best at that specific thing that I need to be done.
So, I have their Dubsado because I think it's best at CRM and electronic fee agreements and the email drip campaigns. I use monday.com because I think it's best for task management and keeping up with my KPIs.
It's kind of, like, this wheel, where I have all these different pieces, and if something fails, I can just switch out one of the pieces.
For example, I'm using LawYaw, which I like, but I think it could be better. So now, I'm interviewing different tech tools for document automation.
And one of the new ones on the block is called Doclink. So, if I switched to that, that's just one piece of my practice that will switch without messing up the whole thing.
So if you bought into these tools like Clio, no one wants to leave. Because all your data's in there, it's extremely difficult to extract it all. They don't make it easy, and that's purposeful.
All your documents are trapped there. There's no really easy way to switch if you just put all your eggs in one basket.
So, that's just not something that I recommend. I definitely use different tech tools for different aspects, and I'm constantly improving each of those aspects.
Do I have a list I actually have? Yes, it's on my Facebook page.
Also, I have a list of, and if you go to my page and go to the about section, it says RIE’s current tools. It has a list of every single thing that I'm using.
So, Sandra brings up a really good point that I was going to ask, thank you for mentioning this.
Having you bring everything together, are you constantly switching gears? Is it overwhelming? There are tools like Zapier. There are tools like Intaker. How do you avoid the switching costs of moving between all these things, or does a lot of your team help you do that?
Well, I only have a full-time paralegal. I have an intake coordinator, so I was not a huge team, and I have a part-time legal assistant, but it's not overwhelming to me.
And that's mostly because I'm sort of a techie person and I kind of like it. But I'm not constantly playing with these tools all of the time. It's probably about three or four that I use on a daily basis, but I don't see any different than having Clio open all the time and doing everything inside Clio.
I'm doing the same amount of work. It's just indifferent—other things.
And I've switched practice management systems so many times that it just doesn't make sense because I just can't ever be satisfied. There's just always going to be something better that comes out.
So, I want the best tool for that specific task. So I think eventually I'll hit Nirvana, but not yet.
So, how are you discovering these tools? Are you looking on certain websites, is everyone approaching you to say, "Regina, try our new thing."
They do because they know I'm like a squirrel. So, if something comes out, there's – they put it on my Lawyer on the Beach page, and I just go nuts.
So, even if I have something that I'm happy with. I do like to demo other things just in case I find something that just blows me away, or sometimes it just confirms that what I'm using is the best tool.
Sometimes I've found out from other lawyers in a group that I'm in Cloud Boss Lady. I think it was DeCor Davis who mentioned that Dubsado, two years ago, I had never heard of it for CRM. At that point, I was considering Lawmatic, but I really felt it was folky for what I needed.
They went into charging me with a big set of fees, a big monthly fee. I didn't want any of that.
So I signed up with Dubsado. I'm on their forever plan, which means I paid $600, and I'll never have to pay again.
And it does exactly what I need it to, without me spending a whole bunch of money. Sometimes people bring things to my attention, I'll investigate them, but I am constantly searching for these tools. And it's something that I enjoy.
If you don't enjoy doing it, I don't blame you, but that's why I have the group. So I can have demos so you can see whether or not it's right for you.
And I've kind of done the work for you in researching some of these tech tools.
And then, a lot of times, they will post, “Hey, I'm thinking about using X prop X program, what are your experiences with it?” And people will chime in about their pros and cons stuff like that.
So, I like to talk tech to the people in the group, like the top tech. It's kind of fun for me.
So let's tackle another tech question, then we'll move on to talent because there's, I think, a lot of assistant and receptionist, freelance attorney work that we want to get into.
Calendaring and scheduling tools: talk about a diamond doesn't, I mean, there are so many of them, and many of them are great.
So, how do you choose? Is that a big decision, or do you feel more neutral about the calendaring tool?
I think, at this point, they all pretty much do what you need them to do.
At some point, I did use calendaring. I don't anymore, but about six or seven years ago, First, kind of, came out; I did experiment with all of those. I've used Acuity. I've used Calendly. I've used Setmore. But they all pretty much do the same thing.
They're all going to have the basic functionality of somebody who can jump on your calendar, which is why I don't use it. I don't like people jumping on it now.
I like to vet everybody, but if that's okay with you, that's fine. Most of them will accept payment if you want to charge a consultation beforehand, it helps automate that process.
You can even, with most of them, have a questionnaire that sort of screens them, and you have to accept the appointment for accepting it.
So, I think almost all of them do that. They just do it in different ways.
And Book like a Boss is another one. So, if you want to have people schedule their own appointments, you can or if you're using an answering service like Smith.ai, they will do it for you. So, the client calls and says, “I'd like to book an appointment,” they are empowered to book an appointment as long as it's within your parameters.
I personally don't do it that way because, honestly, I just don't want to. I really like to vet my clients and know that it's something that, not only do they have a problem that I can help with. It's a problem I want to help with.
So, the guy that has 12 DUIs and wants custody of his kid. Yeah. No.
I think it's important to understand their criteria.
And one thing that we often see that's really important there, just as an aside, is exit interviews. When you're done working with a client, whether you ask them for the net promoter score or would you recommend us to a friend or family member or one out of 10, or just saying your own internal evaluation with yourself or your teams.
How was it working with that client? Would we accept that client again? If we have the choice, that can also help you go back to those first screening questions and say, “Are we asking the right things?”
You can take advantage of Calendly, which is completely free and includes three questions before an appointment is booked. Or you can look at tools like Schedule Once, for example, where they have a booking with approval, which you mentioned.
And that basically allows you to get three potential times and then approve of just one. And then the appointment is booked. So, as far as your comfort level goes, go to the tools.
And that's really, I think to Regina’s point if you can choose to be handing off that scheduling, some people can do that for you.
If you want more of the vetting if you have conflict checks and things like that. That needs to happen before even the first conversation happens, make sure that that is part of your workflow.
And that is actually something now that we're doing at Smith.ai are the conflict check service, which we can check against a spreadsheet or Clio or a number of different tools.
So, I think that's a really good transition now getting into who we are working with and how freelance attorneys, virtual assistants.
This is a huge area where we see a lot of marketplaces and networks. Before we started Regina, you mentioned that not only some of the known networks for freelance attorneys like Law Clerk and Lawyer Exchange. But you also mentioned Indeed. I'm really curious to know how that's worked for you.
I'm surprised more people haven't heard of it, but that's exclusively where I went last time to look for a paralegal and legal assistant.
And they really do have good candidates. So you can set your budget, and you can either search for people's resumes or you can just put your job posting, and people will contact you.
You can decline. They've got canned emails of why you're declining people. I found a pretty good crop with the last batch that I did.
So I think Indeed it is a good resource. I happened to find my current paralegal on Craigslist. I haven't had great success with Craigslist. You just kind of a diamond in the rough, and I don't know that to be your go-to but Indeed is definitely a good place.
And I know not to remember the name of it.
Sandy Van, who's in Las Vegas, she's super easily searchable on Facebook. She has a virtual assistant company. And I cannot remember the name of it, but there are tons of them, but virtual assistants are not charging as much money as in-house assistance.
They will be subject to the same confidentiality agreements as in-house, and there are ways to measure productivity to make sure that they're getting done what you need them to get done.
So I'm a huge fan of virtual. Both of my employees are virtual employees, when I just hired, as I never stepped foot in my office and probably never will.
How do you manage those sorts of remote teams? Whether it's project-based or like more permanent staff, like the contractors or freelancers, freelancers they are mentioning. Are you having video meetings with them as well? How do you check-in? Have you monitored their work?
I use Monday to project management everything. I assign tasks, and they just get done, or if there are questions, they put everything on.
There is a demo on my page about how I use Monday.com for task allocations. And the reason why I like it versus a regular practice management system is it's super customizable.
For a certain task, I think there are 13 different categories that I can slide into. Like "Regina does this now", or "Regina will get around to it when she feels like it". That's literally what I call it.
So it's super customizable in terms of everything: who you're assigning to, what the stage is, the updates. It's just more user-friendly.
And you can make it very specific for your firm in terms of tasks going in and out. So that's what I use on Monday.com for demands for everybody. I don't do a ton of meetings. Honestly, I can't remember the last time I didn't want to, which reminds me, I probably need one.
But it's probably only going to be once every two months. And it really takes that long for me to feel that. “Okay, we need to kind of get together and sort of close any loops,” but we just don't run in a way where we're running from behind.
We're always running ahead. So we currently, I think I've got a trial in three weeks. I'm prepping that today. I'm getting my exhibits together today. I'm looking at the case law today. We're not waiting until the day before and running around doing a bunch of stuff.
Having these tools have allowed us to be super, super proactive, where we're basically doing everything in it well in advance of when we actually need it so we don't really have this need for these crunch time meetings because if something needs to be done, it doesn't need to be done right away because we're kind of ahead.
Okay, that makes sense.
I have used Slack before, I'm not using it now.
What I'm currently using is Frontapp.com, and it's great. I have mentioned it in my group, and I also did a video on it. The great thing about it is it's pretty much just an email service. But it does other things like it has canned emails, and it also has a chat feature.
And I also use it for email delegation, so my paralegal can see all of the emails coming in for me so I don't have to worry about when I'm in court for eight hours is something falling through the cracks because she'll just read through it.
Anything important that needs to be dealt with, she'll deal with it or you can put underneath the email, you pretty much can just tag the person. It sends them an instant message.
So, instead of me having to read the emails, she can say, “I've read this. We either need to do A or B pick one.” So, there's just a really quick way for me to respond to things on the fly, using a chat without emails flying back and forth, because I hate emails.
Yeah, no, I think it's a great collaborative tool and also great for assignments. There are always conversations that need to happen about certain emails. You don't want to expose that conversation to the recipient, but you need to have the conversation.
And often, what would happen before is that you would get on the phone, you would screen share. You would pass it back and forth. You would have some conversation in Slack about an email, and now you can have it in the context of the conversation.
And as the email progresses, as more come through, you can continue the conversation.
And I think that's very beneficial. You can also link to past emails. That's something that's always been really hard.
My staff knows, do not send me a task unless it has a link. So they're sending me something to review. I just click on a link, and I can review the document, and I'm done—the same thing with emails. So there's a particular email that she needs me to see.
Is everything clickable in Frontapp.com? It's really awesome for that purpose. And then it just saves everything.
So, there's an email, and she and I are having a conversation back and forth underneath it. It stays with that email. So if I'm searching for a Smith.ai settlement, then I can.
It not only is going to show me all the emails but all the conversations that she and I had about tasks that relate to that particular email without having to search Slack.
And that's why we stopped using Slack.
Yeah, no, I think it's a fantastic tool, and it integrates well with other things, too, and has a really good API so it can connect to your other systems, especially when you're using different solutions and pulling them together with the way you are.
I think one of the things that also came up often in your group.
I know it is the sort of fee model that you have.
So can you speak on how you came to the fee model and how that is supported by your virtual practice, your remote workability? And maybe, the transparency and the agreements that clients come into when working with you?
I have been a flat fee for 12 years, which people say is impossible in family law and litigation, but it’s not impossible.
And as I said, I’ve been doing it for 12 years. Obviously, there’s been tons of changes and reiterations since I started doing this.
And in the beginning, I used to say to clients because it was true: “If I charged you hourly, it would be more.” Because I like flat fees because what you're paying for is predictable, it's predictability. It's not necessarily cheap, but at least you know what it's going to be.
And I charged for Sage, etc., etc., 12 years ago, it probably was true that if I built my time hourly.
The flat fee probably would be less, but there's a certain benefit to me knowing, A.) I get my money upfront and B.) I don't want to send you a bill in these cases. C.) I have zero collections because there's nothing to collect.
After all, you've already paid me before I finished the case. So that in and of itself was the priceless aspect of it.
Now as things have become online and remote with online filing, the systems that I have, the converse is actually true.
And I actually started keeping KPIs on this in the last six months and the last six months, March, which was upside down because the COVID is the only one where if I billed hourly. I made more. So for flat fees on average, I'm earning 40% more on a flat fee than what I would if I billed my time hourly, and my paralegal billed her time hourly. It's 40% more on a flat fee.
So someone asked if I get the entire flat fee upfront, and the answer is usually not. It just depends on what kind of case.
If it's a divorce, the answer is always no, don't ever do that. You're crazy. You have to have an escape hatch. I tried to screen so I don't have clients that sort of turn crazy, but you have to have a hatch to get out just in case there's an issue. So I usually charge by stage. So, there's the initial fee.
And then the discovery, I usually do a carve-out for temporary. I also have my figurments on my page. I don't keep anything secret.
And I have a trial, what I call a trial preparation fee, and the reason I call it that is because sometimes people will come to their senses and settle on the courthouse steps.
That's fine, but you're not getting your money back because I have already prepared for the trial and ready to go for the trial. I've printed out all your exhibits, and quite frankly, the easiest thing I do is walk into court and argue the case. I've already done the work.
So, I call it a trial preparation fee, but it's definitely paid in advance.
Some people do what's called a subscription fee, in which a client pays a flat fee per month. That's something I'm toying with. I haven't really decided one way or the other, but the only time I take an entire flat fee upfront is for what I call one-off cases.
If there is a domestic violence hearing if there's a contempt hearing where there's just one hearing and you're done. Then I'll do the entire flat fee upfront. But otherwise, I do it in stages.
And in that way, if a client, this has happened recently the client went nuts. I just make sure to complete the stage, send him a confirmation that this is what we were hired to do for this stage. I drafted the complaint, I drafted the discovery, I received the discovery from the other side. I've sent all the discovery you have sent me to the other side, and now I need to leave for the sake of my own sanity.
And what do you do? Okay. So, it goes totally sideways.
Cheryl's asking how do you accommodate for something going sideways, or actual work is needed? And you're like, "Shoot, this is going to be so much more time. It's out of the scope of the original agreement. I need to charge extra."
There are two answers to that.
One is, if it's out of the scope of the original agreement, you either have to A.) suck it up, or B.) learn for the next time, draft your agreement differently. So the agreement has carve-outs for different things, so depositions are extra, but they're also flat fee.
I would charge, for example, $2,500 to defend a deposition or $2,500 to take a deposition. So that's not included. Your agreement should specify what's included.
In my case, in divorces, it's mostly filing the case, asking me for discovery, getting the discovery, responding to their discovery requests. I will put caveats in there that if the client is late, I can charge a late fee.
I've never done it, but it's in there just in case I needed to or if there's extra motions. A motion to compel, that kind of thing that has a flat fee associated with it.
I, quite frankly, don't really have those issues a lot. The way that I work the case just doesn't lend itself to having all these extra hearings and requests and things outside of the ordinary.
I just get the information, go to mediation, and usually get it done.
And so, how do you sort of set those expectations upfront that you're going to take care of it? Don't ask me for a million updates, as I'm sure certain practice areas are especially susceptible to getting constant pings from clients. How do you make sure that they keep the noise down?
Well, that's where it goes. I go back to the intake, which is I play hard to get from the beginning, and I kind of compare it to dating in terms of on a first date. Do I really want to show up looking my absolute best?
Because trust me, it's going to be downhill from here. Let's go. I just want to show it, so it looks pretty good, but not knock out. Because guess what?
Knockout is not what you're going to be dealing with. My hair, done. My makeup is done all the time in perfect clothes. Perfect outfit. All my best behavior, cooking you a meal like that is, like, that's next level Regina.
And I can't start with that because it's only going to seem downhill from there. So, it just doesn't make sense to me. So, in an intake, I just play it the way it's going to be throughout the case, which is you're not going to get instant access.
And there's a process that you have to go to to work with my firm and for some people that doesn't work. And I totally understand that. That's fine. It's just not going to work in my business model as a client.
There has to be some sort of patience built-in. Otherwise, we're going to have a contentious relationship.
And I think what you’re saying is also that you’re proactive about that, right? You’re not just waiting for them to ask you how is it going to go?
You say I'm a professional. I've been doing this for 20 years. And I know that these are common questions. "Just a heads up, I work this way, and you can expect that you're going to hear from me at these stages. And this is like the boundary that I set."
They don't know what questions to ask. And it's in the fee agreement in terms of my communication policy, I don't accept unscheduled phone calls. I don't even have a phone in my office, so good luck with that.
Everything goes to the answering service. They send me a message. So I tell people to skip the middleman, stop calling.
Because I'm – you're never going to get me on the phone. I don't care if a judge calls. People find that very odd that if a judge calls, I'm not answering the phone. I don't know why that's odd. I don't know what judge would be offended that I'm not sitting by the phone waiting for them to call.
And as a practical letter, it makes more sense because I get the message, they'll say, “Hey, I'm calling to schedule the Smith.ai matter.” Well, I don't know my calendar off the top of my head. Instead of me fumbling, trying to talk to them, look on my phone and find out my client's availability. I didn't see the message.
See when they want to set it. I can call my client and make sure they're available. And then get them back with a succinct message of, “Yes, my client and I are available on April 3rd.” So, I don't answer the phone.
Those expectations are set from the beginning in terms of my communication policy.
I had people post messages to my portal, which is an easier way to get in contact with me. Because I know the clients, especially at family law. I had his Twitter feed going on in their head, and they want me to know at all times what's happening.
And at some point, I will care, but I cannot care all the time. I just can't.
So the point of the portal is they can get it off their mind onto my plate when it's time for me to review the case or prep for me or whatever. I just have to go to the portal and look at all the messages, messages in the timeline.
And then, I become familiar with the issues, but I'm not constantly getting pinged for information or requests for a response all the time.
That's a great point. Their sense of urgency is not necessarily your go-to list.
A question from Cheryl, just in follow up to how your fees work. So, if you get a credit card upfront, are you charging based on that agreement as a service is needed? As you decide that, or is there always sort of a new upfront invoice?
Before I start this work, are you aware that it will cost, that's a minimum, never automatically charge anything? I just don't.
Even if they're on a payment plan that says you're going to pay $3,000 on this day and $3000 on this day, I don't ever automatically charge anything.
I usually just send them a reminder, an email with the link saying, “Hey, you have to pay, or I'll send an invoice veal.”
I just see that it works better than only charging them. They weren't expecting it, even if they had the money and they were prepared to pay it.
I think it's just better from a customer service perspective if they have some warning that it's coming. And I think that that's something maybe now that we even overlook because we're still familiar with law pay and other online payment systems.
Still, there's no way to exist without an online payment solution.
I can't imagine how many attorneys are getting by these days, especially with the remote form like that. But also the protection that they provide, if you need the IOLTA compliance and things like that, but the ease of use.
So I know for us, as AI, we often have invoice links that we get, that we can use my phone and taking the credit card payment. Or even on chat or on the text on Facebook to say, “Here's the link, go into your credit card information and provide the transaction ID back to us.”
So, then there's that verification, but we're not actually asking anyone to put the credit card information into a web chat or a text message. Right. So I think those are our red flags that if you experienced that, or if you see that happening.
That's not a best practice, but the link itself allows for the security and the speed of getting the information.
Right. And I'm at the point where I don't accept payments have there been laws. Because they accept credit cards and each text as well, and those are the only two. It's a payment that I'm going to accept because I just don't have time.
She's down in different methods and where's this wire coming from and, or personal check. It's just so much easier to accept everything. Be a lot base with the best. That's the only way I let people pay me. Right.
And what we see often, I mean, the Clio report says this every year, 85% are collected payments on an attorney's work that's been done. Even, not including the other 15%, that's lost based on what you don't collect. This is the average attorney.
So, if you are paying a 1 - 3% fee, then that's way less than the 15% that you would be losing, not invoicing, not posting that payment through credit card. So thanks to anyone concerned about losing money with credit card fees.
The data shows that you lose a lot more if you don't use it. I'm part of groups where, every once in a while, people will say, “Oh, I'm tired of these credit card fees. Can I charge them to the client?”
And usually, the answer is yes. A no. And B, even if you could charge the client, why does it just look like your nickel and diming them just to raise your fees.
It's not that hard.
So if you're worried about getting $300 taken out of your $1,500 fee, don't charge $1,500. Charge $1,800, and then you'll get your $1,500. So, clients would prefer that than paying the 1500 and saying, “Oh, you owe me 3% because honestly, taking credit cards is the cost of doing business."
So, you need to build in that charge to whatever fee that you're doing, even if you're doing that on an hourly basis.
We do an allied cause. Raise your rate. If you're doing a flat fee, raise your flat fee so you're not concerned about the credit cards. I could care less what my credit card fees are because I've built that in, and whatever I'm getting paid, the net amount is what I'm happy with.
Yeah, I agree with you, and the data is there, the backup, everything that is saying.
I was interested that Clio’s legal trends report is not only an amazing resource but actually, they're publishing new reports right now, amidst COVID. To sort of give a state of the industry really often, which I think is so cool that they've sort of jumped on that.
We only have six minutes left. I thought we would wrap this up, just to talk a little bit around it, and any remaining questions, feel free.
Regina, you've been with Medallia for a long time now. One of the hopeful core aspects of your practices handing off the frontline to us.
You do have a special code, which is Beach Lawyer for anyone who's here, who can get a hundred dollars off their first month of service. This includes calls and chats as well as text messages and Facebook messenger answering now, too. We can answer calls. We can make callbacks.
We can also handle any screening or scheduling or payment acceptance that you may need and transfer calls to whether you or to an intake specialist. Or just taking a message for their review or yours later.
We can really handle many different workflows integral to your practice or even that you're exploring. So, very flexible.
Regina knows we will work with whatever your systems are.
And I think you'll find that we are the most, by far, tech-capable integrated service on the receptionist and chat site that you'll see. While also being really mindful of the sentiment needed to work with clients who are sometimes under significant stress.
And we take that very seriously.
So, Regina, I was just going to ask you if you could share a little bit about your experience with other receptionist services. I know just like the tech tool team tested a lot and what's led you to sort of settle with Smith.ai.
We're not settled, but stick with Smith.ai. I've used a lot, I probably used about 10, and my next favorite was Ruby, which a lot of people use, and I think their quality was good at the time. It was easy.
And the problem is they were charging per minute and Smith.ai charges per call. And if you block a call, it doesn't count against your calls.
And to me, that was more important because with Ruby, I'd look at my calls, and I would say, “Did it really take you 13 minutes to tell someone that I do not take murder cases?” I mean, it just kind of felt a little bit – I really didn't like the permit, because they kind of have this philosophy, and they are customer friendly.
So they're not going to say she doesn't do that and hang up on you. I get that part, but there's always this sort of tension between Stu. This call really has taken that long.
And then you really don't have to worry about it with Smith.ai because they're just charging for calls. So if the call lasts a lot longer, as it takes a while to get the person off the phone because they seem high strung, whatever, you realize it does not cost you any money because it's per call and not per minute, which is great.
Yeah. And that also allows us to block spam for free. Yeah.
And, sorry, go ahead, Regina. I got the clear report in the notes. And then the Beach Lawyer 100 is this awesome. And I will share that in the notes when I post this on YouTube, which you will see, or in the email follow up.
If there are any remaining questions, I would be happy to answer them, or Regina obviously can answer them. You're also welcome to contact us afterward.
Regina’s Facebook page, a Lawyer on the Beach, and is a really wonderful group that fosters innovation and community with the tech and talent that support law firms.
And in the evolution, as we migrate towards what we see, as Cynthia is definitely a trend that may be here to stay with virtual practices.
They are more lightweight, less cumbersome, less costly, to run more scalable and hopefully offer you not only all these benefits and working with clients better and realizing greater profit margins, but also the very important work-life balance that I think Regina appreciates and espouses, and many members of that group also feel strongly about having as part of their lives.
So finding that balance and no matter what that means to you is something that we take seriously. It's that they – I think it's a connection point that Regina has felt, with her comfort, with her company and with ours and a lot of like-minds here.
So if you have questions, here, or you can email me directly at Maddy@smith.ai or asking Regina is a group, know that you're part of a community that's here to support you. And to help you get the right amount of work done, that feels good to you for the success in your law practice. But also doesn't feel so overwhelming, and talking tools can help with that.
Sandra asked a question: if you're already using Smith.ai, but when it adds on to the surface, can they use the code? I don't know.
So, actually, yes. So you can use any new plan code for any new brand, a new service. So you can use a hundred dollars off your first month for the chat service.
And actually, we will offer a 5% bundle discount if you have both receptionists and chat. So there's a whole bunch of good goodies in store for you there. And, there is a nice comment from ADA.
Thank you for joining us today and everyone.
That's the end of our time. I will upload this recording and share it with everyone. Feel free to get in touch if you have any further questions, but thank you so much. And thank you to Regina.
Bye. Take care.
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