The 2017 Clio Legal Trends Report contained many shocking statistics about the daily habits and operations of practicing attorneys, but perhaps most jaw-dropping were the statistics on the tasks consuming the majority of attorneys’ precious time, and just as importantly, those tasks not receiving nearly enough of their attention:
- The average attorney spends only 1.9 hours per day on billable work.
- Attorneys are interrupted on average 6 times per day, resulting in nearly 2 hours of lost time.
- Only 86% of revenue from billed time is ever collected.
Take a look at the state of the industry in this infographic, which draws from data in the Clio report:
What wasn’t surprising in the report were these facts:
- 2 out of 3 potential clients say their “decision” to hire is based on the firm’s initial responsiveness to their first call or email
- Law firms get paid 39% faster when they accept online payments.
Individuals and businesses looking for legal help aren’t inclined to wait, nor are they inclined to hunt down and dust off their checkbooks. If your law firm isn’t responsive to the ways people prefer to do business, you’re destined to lose business. It’s really that simple.
Clients expect you to answer calls and emails, offer online scheduling, accept credit card payments, and increasingly, make yourself or your firm available via text message and web chat.
As a solo attorney, how can you possibly allocate time to all of these channels? You can’t. That’s why virtual receptionists are indispensable to the modern small firm.
If you’re not yet using a virtual receptionist service, it’s critical you consider the impact that working 100% solo is having on the growth and sustainability of your law practice.
If you are using a virtual receptionist service, it’s time to consider whether you’ve chosen the best one, because (just like all other services in any industry) they’re not all created equally.
These days, a great virtual receptionist should be able to carry out the following business-critical tasks:
- Qualify potential clients based on your custom criteria
- Block spam, unsolicited sales calls, and wrong numbers
- Make outbound calls
- Integrate with your CRM, intake, practice management, and marketing automation software
- Schedule appointments directly on your calendar
- Collect payments through your billing software, like LawPay and Headnote
All of these capabilities directly contribute to the growth of your solo or small law firm. Here are just 5 ways of the myriad ways virtual receptionists can have a major, meaningful impact on your revenue, your time, and your work/life balance — because business growth often isn’t worth pursuing unless it’s also sustainable for you over time.
1. Quickly capture leads
Whether your leads come from referrals, lawyer listing sites, organic search traffic, or PPC ads, you and your marketing agency can only generate them; conversion is on you. Wait to respond, and they’ve already reached another attorney.
The problem is, your day is booked up with court dates, meetings, billing tasks, and admin chores. You’re lawyering and you’re laboring. There’s no time for call-backs or unnecessary interruptions. If you’re like most attorneys who spend 1.9 hours on billable work each day, you certainly can’t afford to cut that even shorter.
The way to make time is to get capable people to not only answer your phones, but also respond to leads coming through your web form.
A team of virtual receptionists can answer one or multiple incoming calls at once. You can even auto-forward notification emails when website visitors complete your “contact us” form, and your receptionists can call the leads, capturing them at the time of intent, not later in the day or tomorrow when you’re able to carve out time.
2. Efficiently qualify leads
What do you do once you have a live lead on the phone? We recommend you empower your receptionists to qualify the lead based on your custom criteria. They can ask things like:
- Are they willing to pay your fees?
- Are they in the right county where you practice?
- Do they need work within your practice area?
- Does their timing align with your work schedule and current commitments?
These are all questions virtual receptionists are capable of handling. They’ll record the answers and, based on your instructions, either flag them as a good potential client or as a “bad” lead. You can even provide different criteria for you and each of your law firm partners if you have multiple attorneys at your firm.
3. Intake new clients
The “good” leads then get processed.
That should be initiated through an intake form built within your CRM or other case/practice management software, or through your calendaring software, since many online scheduling programs now include optional form fields that you can require to be completed before an appointment is booked. Instruct your receptionist service to complete the fields in the form. When you have the form hosted in your CRM or practice management software, each time it is completed, a new client record is created. This way, when the first appointment happens, you already have a new record for that client, and all you need to do is add to it.
Note that at any point after a lead is “qualified” by one of your receptionists, a live transfer to you (or a partner or associate at your firm) is possible. If an attempt is made and fails, the fallback solution is to let the receptionist continue with intake or schedule a call-back appointment on your (or your colleague’s) calendar.
Now, you may be thinking, “What about the leads who aren’t qualified?” We recommend you monetize them by referring them to a firm or attorney you recommend who will be better suited to serve their needs. Based on your directions and custom referral list, virtual receptionists can provide contact information to lawyers you recommend. Attorneys who make referrals can earn up to 40% of the referred firm’s client fees. But the benefit here is not only to generate a passive revenue stream, as a great recommendation is also a major gift to that client who called you. You saved them time and energy, preventing them from having to undertake further research, and that good will often comes back to you in the form of future referrals.
4. Schedule call-backs, consultations, and appointments
Whether it’s a call-back, a new client consultation, or an in-person meeting, virtual receptionists can schedule the appointment directly on your calendar, so all your systems are in sync.
Fully featured and affordable online scheduling tools abound, If you use Google Calendar, Office 365, Outlook, or iCloud, one option worth considering is Calendly, a free program that allows you to display your availability to your receptionists (and anyone else who has your calendar link) and book appointments. You can opt to put the link on your website so anyone can schedule a consultation with you, or only make your calendar link available to your receptionist service.
If you do embed your calendar on your website, consider charging for consultations to reduce the chance of no-shows and cancellations. You can also enlist the help of your receptionists here: Request that they call your upcoming appointments 24 to 48 hours in advance. This is also an opportunity to inform potential and existing clients of any preparation required of them prior to your call or meeting.
5. Collect payments for consultations, one-time payments, and recurring payments
No business captures 100% of the revenue due to them, but the goal is always to collect as much as possible. Virtual receptionists can take payment by phone under a number of inbound- and outbound-call scenarios, such as:
- A new client calls in and books a consultation, for which you charge a fee. The receptionist answers the phone, books the appointment, collects the new client’s credit card information, and processes the payment right on the spot.
- An existing client calls to make a payment on an invoice. Save yourself an interruption. When receptionists answer your calls, and an existing client dials in to make a payment, the receptionist can take payment by phone and note the invoice number so you don’t have to spend time tracking it down.
- An existing client emails in with questions about an invoice. Sometimes clients want to discuss line items on invoices before making a payment. Let’s say an email comes through from a client who has a question about their recent invoice. Simply forward that email to the receptionist service with the answer(s) to the client’s question(s) and a receptionist will call them to relay the answer and take payment by phone.
- Existing clients have payments that are due this week or past due. Provide your receptionist service with the contact information and invoice amount (or unique invoice link) for a client or a list of clients from whom payments are due or past due, and save yourself the chase. Your receptionists will make outbound calls to these clients so you’re not waiting and wondering if they’re going to submit payment on time (or ever!).
Online credit card payment solutions built for lawyers, like LawPay, TrialPay, and Headnote, allow you to add a payment collection page to your website, have a publicly accessible URL available to your payment page, and generate unique invoice links for specific clients. So, whether a client unexpectedly calls in and wants to make a payment, or your receptionist is making calls to specific clients to request payment on past-due invoices, you can remain hands-off and focus your time and energy on chargeable work.
Choosing the right virtual receptionist service
As we alluded to earlier, not every virtual receptionist service offers lead qualification, new client intake, appointment booking, payment collection, and referral services. Make sure you ask about these features when shopping around.
What’s special about Smith.ai?
Smith.ai virtual receptionists offers all of these services. Professional, U.S.-based receptionists answer, transfer, and return calls during business hours, freeing you up to practice law, network, write articles, and do everything else that no one but you can do.
What’s with the “AI” in the name? That stands for “artificial intelligence,” and it powers the following features:
- Automatic spam blocking of 20 million numbers
- Live call transfer requests via SMS and Slack
- Easy status changes via SMS (e.g., text “Do Not Disturb” when you arrive at court)
- Instant call notes via email, SMS, or Slack
Unlike most virtual receptionist services, billing is per-call, not per-minute. Leads who need to explain their case in detail? Clients who need to track down their credit card to book a consultation? These calls can take 3 to 5 minutes. Be wary of answering services that suggest the average call is 1 to 2 minutes. How much are those agents really doing?
Moreover, per-call pricing makes it much easier to calculate the cost of acquiring a new client. From your marketing campaigns, you can determine the cost to make your phone ring with a new lead. When a potential client converts from a phone call into a consultation, you know how much that call cost you, too. At the end of each month, simply look at how much you paid your receptionists, and then at how many calls resulted in new clients. (Keep in mind, this doesn’t account for the added benefits of time and energy savings and efficiency gains.)
Here’s the general scope of Smith.ai’s virtual receptionist services:
- Inbound & outbound calls
- Lead capture & qualification
- Appointment scheduling & reminders, with calendar integration with Appointy, Acuity, Calendly, ScheduleOnce, and more
- CRM and practice management software integration with Clio, Lexicata, Rocket Matter, PracticePanther, Capsule CRM, Infusionsoft, HubSpot and more
- Payment processing through LawyPay, Headnote, and more
- Coverage Monday to Friday, 6AM to 6PM PST / 9AM to 9PM EST
- U.S.-based professionals familiar with law firm operations
- Spanish-speaking receptionists available at no additional cost
- Call screening, prioritization, and VIP lists
- Instant call summaries and end-of-day reports
- Voicemails transcribed and sent to email or SMS
With plans starting at $60/month, law firms get the experience and quality of an in-house receptionist at a small fraction of the price.
Reject the age-old trade-offs between running your business and practicing law — with our receptionists, you’re able to get your work done, collect more of what you’ve earned, and scale-up a more profitable law firm.
Get started with a 10-call free trial of Smith.ai virtual receptionists
If you’d like to sign up for Smith.ai, you may do so online at https://smith.ai, by phone at (650) 727-6484, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Solo Practice University readers get $50 off their first month with code SPU50. This can be combined with Smith.ai’s 30-day/10-call free trial for $110 total savings!
Want web chat staffed by Smith.ai Receptionists, too?
You asked for it, and we built it. Smith.ai will begin offering web chat staffed by our live, U.S.-based professionals as soon as Fall 2018. To learn more and sign up for the waiting list, visit https://smith.ai/chat.
Questions about virtual receptionists? Looking for more best practices? Smith.ai support can offer guidance so you implement the most efficient and effective call-handling processes from the start. Contact Smith.ai Monday through Friday between 6 AM and 6 PM PST at (650) 727-6484 or email@example.com.
About the Sponsor
Smith.ai – Superior virtual receptionist & intake services, plus cloud phone system. Reduce interruptions, get qualified leads, and run a productive law practice.