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Stuck At Home Attorneys Should Get Their Phone Systems Figured Out – Stat

By: Dan Jaffe

Published: 03.24.2020

Technology is core to keeping law offices of all sizes running. Last weekend, at the request of several of our customers, I published summaries of the technologies that we use at LawLytics that allow us to operate in the office and remotely with equal efficiency. Today I’ll begin elaborating on those technologies, starting with phone systems.

If your law firm’s phone situation looks like this, you have options

You own a small law firm. You have an office. That office has a phone system. But you are now working from home, or your office staff is limited. Your phone system is not easy to program or figure out. Maybe you can forward your main number to somebody’s cell phone. But beyond that… well crap.

There are two critical client-facing parts of your law firm’s business infrastructure that you must keep active and operating in a way that your clients and potential clients expect.

1. Your Website: Your website is your virtual office, and when your physical office is not available to clients, your website must work even harder to make a great impression.

2. Your Phones: You must have a working phone system. But what does that mean? The rest of this brief post explores that, and offers some quick fixes.

If you don’t have both of the above locked down, you should not be spending your time thinking about other major pieces of digital infrastructure (like CRM or digital signature system) that you lack until you get your phone and website squared away.

What your law firm’s phone system needs to do, right now

When your clients and potential clients call your office, they don’t expect to get voicemail immediately, they don’t expect long wait times, they don’t expect to hear a series of different ring tones as the phone is transferring from one forward to another, and they certainly don’t expect the phone to ring endlessly with no answer, or, after many rings to have the the line go dead. Yet this is what is happening at a lot of law firms, and if this is happening at your firm, you are not only losing the potential of getting new business today, you are potentially damaging the hard-earned good will you’ve accumulated with current and former clients.

I’ve long said that your clients are thinking about one thing, and one thing only when they are interacting with your firm. This is true whether you are meeting with them in court, at your office, on the street, over the phone, over a Zoom conference, or whether they are looking at your website while you are asleep at night. Your clients and potential clients are thinking about themselves, first, last and always. They care little about you and your business beyond what you and your firm can do for them. This is as true now, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis as it ever was, and for some practice types maybe even more so.

The expectation of great service is so engrained in the American psyche that both Google and Yelp have temporarily disabled the posting of new reviews while restaurants and other service businesses are closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 because the American consumer is so demanding that people are writing complaints about the slow or poor service they are receiving from short-staffed restaurants from which they are ordering food to go.

The following are the hallmarks of a good law firm phone system:

  1. Consistency and predictability. Just like a good website, you need the experience that your clients have when they call your firm to be predictable and consistent. That means that your phones work the same way every time.
  2. User-friendliness. Callers should be able to easily and intuitively navigate through your phone system and get to the person or information that they want.
  3. Fast resolutions. Callers should not have to listen to overly long messages, or have to repeat short messages where the announcer speaks too quickly for them to understand their options. Somebody should either pick up the phone or the caller should be prompted to leave a message within 20 seconds after choosing their routing option.
  4. Excellent sound quality. This goes without saying, but most attorneys don’t realize how degraded the sound quality can become when an office landline is forwarded to a cell phone.

Within the above parameters, there is a lot of room to get creative with technology.

Using an auto-attendant or third-party reception service for your law firm

In today’s tech-driven world, clients don’t necessarily expect that a human being will answer the call, at least not initially. This varies in degree depending on the law firm’s practice types and location. Small town clients tend to favor a human being picking up the call. Tech savvy clients like auto-attendants if they can easily route themselves to what they need. Tech-phobic clients want humans. In general, older clients prefer humans, younger ones prefer automation.

You’ll need to decide whether an auto-attendant is right for your practice. If it is not, then you’ll need to make sure that you have a system that will result in your clients and potential clients being able to reach a human being. An auto-attendant is always better than an abrupt transfer to voicemail. If you don’t use an auto-attendant and also don’t have the staff or technology to answer every call, I would suggest investing in a fractional answering service (unless you have a full-time receptionist already and that person can work from home if needed because you phone system supports it). There are many good outsourced reception services out there that understand law firms.

If you decide to use an auto-attendant for your law firm’s phone system, keep the following in mind:

  1. Use a human voice in all of your announcements. Do not use text to speech, as you are selling a personal service. Even though your clients will not initially be speaking with somebody “live” you want them to feel welcomed and hear a friendly and helpful voice.
  2. Make the auto-attendant options clear, and limit the options to no more than 3 to 5 (depending on the size of your firm).
  3. Always build in a clear “escape” option to be transferred to a human being immediately.
  4. Stick to single digit numeric prompts (ie, “press 2 if you’re a current client”) except when entering a specific extension that the caller already knows (ie, the caller enters 532 to be transferred directly to their attorney’s desk).
  5. Avoid voice prompts as they are unreliable and frequently result in a bad user experience.
  6. Have separate auto-attendant messages for times when your office is open, and when you are closed. And in both messages, clearly state your hours of operation and whether you are currently open or closed. This avoids client frustration from the outset. For example, if a client needs to talk with you, but your office is closed, it’s less frustrating for him to know that up front before the spend time navigating through your prompts.

If you decide that a reception service, rather than an auto-attendant, is the right way to go for your firm, make sure that the service you choose has clear scripts and instructions for what they are supposed to do with various types of calls. An outsourced receptionist can be more frustrating to clients if the receptionist is unable to help, unable to transfer the call to somebody who can help, and is simply a glorified answering machine. While an outsourced reception service can add a lot to the client experience, it’s up to you as the law firm owner to make sure that you set them up for success. If you’re unable or unwilling to spend the time it takes to do that, you may be better off with an auto attendant.

Cutting the cord between your law firm and the local phone company

Voice over internet protocol (VoIP) has come a long way. While in years past early adopters of VoIP paid the price in unreliable and unclear calls, internet telephony is now mainstream and very reliable. And there are numerous options out there for your law firm that you could have fully up and running in a day or less, all from your laptop. No more waiting on the phone guy, the IT guy or whatever guy used to show up at your office with cables and wire clippers.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, at LawLytics, we use AirCall for our phone system. While I believe that it’s a great option for law firms, it’s certainly not the only one. Before we decided on AirCall, we also looked at Zoom’s phone system, but decided on AirCall because of the mature integrations with other systems that we already used.

I highly recommend Zoom for attorneys looking to do remote client and staff meetings, and if you try and like Zoom video conferencing, their phone system is also worth a look. There are dozens of other reliable and easy to use VoIP systems out there, and many would work well for solo practices and small law firms.

Conclusion

If your clients are not having a great experience when they call your office, it’s time to take action. If you have downtime now because you’re stuck at home, or because business is slower because of the current COVID-19 pandemic, this is a great opportunity to explore some phone systems (most offer free trials) and see which one is the best fit for your firm.

About Dan Jaffe

Attorney Dan Jaffe is the CEO of LawLytics. He tried over 100 cases to verdict while building thriving law practices in Seattle and Phoenix in the 1990s and 2000s. After getting burned by a marketing agency, Dan learned how the internet and search engines really work. He used this knowledge to effectively market his own law practices over the course of a decade, and founded LawLytics in 2011 to make it easy for lawyers to have successful websites without paying a marketing agency or struggling with DIY website builders.

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