Lawyers have a patchy history with the telephone.
When the phone was invented, businesses were quick to jump on board. They saw right away that this new method of communication meant undreamt of efficiency and productivity. But their legal colleagues did not join them.
Attorneys at the time worried whether phone conversations were confidential. Is some switchboard operator listening in? And even if no one was listening, would clients ever actually feel comfortable talking to an attorney on the phone?
Some estimate that 15 years after business professionals had adopted the telephone en mass, most attorneys still avoided installing the contraptions in their office.
Fast forward to today, and attorneys — like the rest of the world — can’t go two minutes without looking at their phones. 96% of attorneys report conducting important legal work through their smartphone. And more attorneys are turning to cloud-based case management software to make sure their phone can connect them with all of their files, instantly.
But even with all this time they’ve had together, attorneys still haven’t ‘mastered’ the telephone.
Phones are a source of disastrously invasive interruptions. These interruptions are directly linked to stress, anxiety, and poorer performance — not to mention wasted time. Attorneys also struggle to stay on top of incoming calls — recent research shows miserable answering and call-back rates for current and potential clients who call a firm.
That’s why we’ve gathered these 4 Best Practices to turn your phone from annoyance to ally:
4 Best Practices for Attorney Phone Use
1. Text clients every time you touch their case
Most unsolicited client phone calls are requests for updates. Cases and legal matters can move slowly, but when clients don’t hear from you they feel increasingly stressed and distrustful.
One prominent Filevine power-user says his team’s response is to text their clients every time they touch a case. They report this has significantly reduced the number of incoming phone calls, as their clients are more secure about their current standing.
They also run regular reports to catch stagnant cases, ensuring that those clients are also contacted and their cases moved forward whenever possible.
Considering that one of the largest complaints about attorneys is a lack of communication, this practice also brings greater client satisfaction and confidence.
But does this mean perpetually carrying on text conversations on your personal cell phone? No. Which brings us to #2:
2. Text through case management software
Most clients love to send and receive texts. They’re digestible, quick, and can more easily adjust to their own time schedule. It’s also the easiest way to send photos from their phone.
However, most law offices use a landline for their general number. And many attorneys are reluctant to give out their personal cell number to each client. They have a good reason for this — the stream of texts and calls coming into their phone can create a nightmare of interruptions. Not to mention: texting on a tiny phone screen can be slow and tiresome.
That’s why it’s best to use case management software that allows you to send and receive text messages directly through the case file. Your client gets a dedicated number for sending and receiving texts, any member of the legal team can take action, and attorneys get to protect the privacy of their personal firm. Added benefits include automatically documenting the communication directly in the case file to ensure it doesn’t get lost.
3. Make sure every call is answered — but not by you
Recent ABA Benchmark research shows that attorneys are letting a huge number of calls go unanswered. The numbers are dire: 50% of all calls and web inquiries remain unanswered for at least 2 days. Many never receive a response.
In terms of lead generation, this is a tragedy. Attorneys are investing higher and higher sums of money in marketing — and then ignoring the potential clients who reach out to them.
And it’s also a tremendously frustrating situation for current clients, who feel that their attorneys are impossible to reach.
The easiest solution is connecting with a virtual receptionist service. They can answer calls at any time of the day and begin the intake process. And they can create a smooth hand-off process to ensure a seamless client experience.
This is also the case for firms that have staff members dedicated to answering phones. The virtual receptionists can fill in when there is an overflow of calls, after hours, or when your in-house receptionists are taking a break.
With services like Smith.ai, virtual receptionists can connect with Filevine’s case management software. That means they can add important case information, assign follow-up tasks, and schedule appointments — all according to your firm’s preferences.
4. Schedule phone calls
When receptionists take incoming calls, the best way to avoid interrupting you is to schedule a prompt return call.
This practice is popular with several top Filevine users — and is also recommended by the founder of Lawyerist.com, Sam Glover. They all describe improved efficiency through scheduled phone calls. Rather than allowing the phone to interrupt them, they have time set aside to reach out to callers.
Of course, this improves their workflow. But it does more. Unscheduled calls may require the client to hold while you figure out the status of their case. But with scheduled calls, you have time to prepare yourself to discuss the matter at hand. Unscheduled calls often catch you when your mind is elsewhere, making you sound irritated and rushed while you talk with your client. With scheduled calls, you can place yourself in the right frame of mind.
Each of these four steps alone can give you some reprieve from phone interruptions. But taken together, they ensure both improved workflow and better service to your clients.
Clients hear from you every step of the way. They receive constant updates — in a manner that preserves your privacy and shields you from interruptions. All incoming calls are answered. But instead of disrupting your workflow, they’re returned when you’re prepped and ready.
When lawyers first rejected the newfangled invention of the telephone, they couldn’t have imagined the role this device would one day play in the practice of law. Now with the right tools and smart procedures, you can truly make the telephone an ally in your work.