A small law firm or solo practitioner might consider hiring a phone answering service to ensure they don’t miss valuable calls, but sometimes automated answering services are a mistake for attorneys.
You may be inclined to save money and time, but it’s worth the extra cost to have a legal receptionist and dedicated phone staff. An automated phone service creates time barriers, frustrates callers who can’t reach a real person, and makes your law firm appear uncaring and impersonal. Each phone interaction with your practice leaves leads with either a positive or negative impression.
The receptionist has the vital job of answering the phone while collecting leads that are potentially worth millions of dollars to you and your firm. Whether you decide to hire a virtual legal receptionist or in person staff, this person is the first impression a potential has of the law firm. These business leads are the lifeblood of your firm, so proper phone etiquette and best practices should be followed.
Rules and Best Practices for Phone Etiquette
A receptionist should answer a call before the third ring. It’s a standard customer service technique that adds value. People may be impatient, but they want to know their phone call is being acknowledged. Calls should be answered by the third ring, even if they need to be put on hold for a short time.
Clients who have legal issues need to hear a caring, sympathetic voice on the other line. Answer with a friendly tone. A standard greeting is “Hello, you’ve reached the office of (law firm name), this is (receptionist’s name). How may I help you?”
Clear Tone of Voice
Speak, slowly, and with enough volume that the caller can hear every word that is spoken. If a caller says, “Please speak up, I can’t hear you” the conversation is already at a disadvantage.
Your receptionist doesn’t need to have a law degree, but they should know enough about your law practice to answer fundamental questions and what staff member to transfer callers to with specific questions.
Ask Follow-Up Questions and Take Notes
The receptionist should ask additional questions such as “When did the injury occur?” What other issues is the client dealing with? It is essential to get down names, dates, addresses, or any additional pertinent information. Paying attention to the timeline of the events that occurred and the date(s) of the incidents factor into the statute of limitations.
Your clients need to know they have a sympathetic ear. The receptionist should empathize with the client with statements such as “I’m sorry that happened to you” and genuinely mean it. A single comment that acknowledges their situation helps you earn trust and establish a rapport with a potential client.
Have Your Own Voicemail Greeting
Each staff member should have his or her message on their voicemail, and not be recorded with another person’s voice. Update your outgoing message each day with your status (in or out of the office), and make sure that status is current. Make your greeting on your voicemail short and friendly. Let the caller know when you will call them back and then follow up.
Don’t Give Clients the Run Around
Clients can get frustrated being transferred from person to person or not receiving a phone call back. Your clients’ time is as important to them as your time is to the firm. Every effort should be made to prevent callers from hanging up and calling another attorney.
A potential client is calling because they have a problem they want you to resolve. They need your law firm’s expertise. They may be in emotional distress, frustrated, or confused. Client calls should never be considered an interruption. This means don’t place them on hold, don’t blind transfer callers and do not ever ask them to call you back.
Other Important Tips
The phone staff should never give legal advice or assess a case unless they are practicing attorneys. It’s crucial that the person answering the phone does not dismiss the client during the initial call unless it is evident that the caller does not seem to have a case. Sometimes, people can be afraid to share details because they are scared or nervous about the case negatively reflecting upon them.
The point of gathering detailed data is to bring the information to the attorneys, who then should be able to make a final determination if they want to take on a client. If your receptionist has done the job correctly, they should be able to call the person and let them know that your firm can assist them.
The initial phone call is not the time to discuss fees. The goal of the conversation is to inform the caller of your services and how you can help. You want to present your law firm as the only resource that can assist them. Once you schedule a lead and they arrive for a consultation, you can present them with more information about your fees and services.
The intake staff should not be put in a position where they are unable to help a caller over the phone. If an attorney is not available, they should know how to follow up or arrange a consultation. The receptionist handling phone intake should be informed the call should end with an attorney following up with the client.