Live chat receptionists and chat bots can significantly increase your responsiveness to — and filtering of — new potential clients. Spend more time with good leads who are most likely to add to your bottom line, and enjoy fewer productivity-crushing phone and email distractions.

By Maddy Martin, Smith.ai

The 2018 Clio Legal Trends Report indicated that most attorneys in the U.S. have major trouble with time management, client communications, and billing practices. Here are just a few examples:

  • 59% of people didn’t hire an attorney even after a consultation
  • 78% of legal professionals report “often” interruptions from existing clients
  • Out of every 3 hours of billable work, only 2 hours of revenue are collected

What this indicates is that attorneys waste time by:

  • Overspending it on leads who aren’t likely to convert into clients
  • Accepting productivity-crushing interruptions
  • Neglecting to capture earnings from time spent with clients

Take a look at the state of the industry in the infographic below, The Rewards of Responsiveness, which I originally published on the Smith.ai blog, and which draws from data in the 2018 Clio report:

With the bulk of the work and cost of running a law practice squarely on their backs, solo and small-firm lawyers are particularly sensitive to interruptions from unqualified leads and to wasted marketing dollars. Yet, new and existing clients demand fast responses.

One way to expand your attentiveness and stop missing leads who generate new-client work is to outsource responses to capable services like virtual receptionists, who can not only answer and return calls on your behalf (these practices are well known and widely adopted), but also respond to website visitors through live chat — and that’s the focus of this article, along with service extensions, like chat bots.

With live web chat, you can:

  • Promptly capture new potential clients
  • Qualify new leads
  • Schedule consultations with potential clients
  • Collect payments for consultations
  • Complete basic new-client intake
  • Reduce distracting calls and emails from unqualified leads
  • Earn passive revenue and build good will by referring unqualified leads to other firms

Let’s dig in to the details and explore how these solutions can work in real-life practice at your firm.

1. Capture new potential clients

Visitors come to your website through many different channels including direct traffic from referrals, organic search, paid ads, legal listing sites, and more. It’s important to capture their information before they “bounce,” and the opportunity is lost to connect with them.

Web chat can be installed on your website and set to passively “stand by” for web visitors who wish to ask questions about your firm, or it can be set to initiate chats proactively, greeting the web visitor and prompting direct engagement.

When live chat agents or automated chat bots collect the name, phone number, and email of the visitor, you collect a new lead, making follow-up possible.

2. Qualify new leads

The next critical step is determining the lead’s “quality” — meaning, is this a “good” or “bad” potential new client? Many non-referral leads, like those visiting your website from organic search results, may not understand your practice areas, fees, availability, and more. It’s important to ask questions and proactively explain how your firm works and with whom, to set expectations and save you time later on. You don’t want your calendar filled with new consults for trademark work if you only work on immigration cases, for example.

Chat agents (and to a more limited extent, chat bots) can ask things of the potential new client like:

  • Do they need work within your practice area(s)?
  • Are they in the right county where you practice?
  • Do they understand, and are they willing to pay, your fees?
  • Does their timing align with your work schedule and bandwidth to accept new clients?

Then, based on your custom instructions, the chat agent will either flag them as a good potential client or as a “bad” lead. We’ll touch on what to do with those “bad” leads later in the article. First, let’s address how to handle the good ones.

3. Schedule consultations

Whether it’s a call-back, a phone consultation, or an in-person meeting, live chat receptionists can schedule appointments directly on your calendar with qualified leads, so there are fewer follow-up tasks after the chats that they’re handling on your behalf.

Fully featured and affordable online scheduling tools abound, and there’s even a free option available through Calendly, an easy online program that plugs into Google Calendar, Office 365, Outlook, or iCloud, and 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, and/or you can make your calendar link available to your chat agents (for better “gatekeeping”).

4. Collect payments for consultations

No law firm captures 100% of the potential revenue billed, but the goal is to collect as much as possible. One way to increase revenue is to charge for consultations.Not only does this mean you’re fairly compensated for your valuable time, it also reduces the chance of no-shows and cancellations.

Online credit card payment solutions built for lawyers, like LawPay and Headnote, allow you to add a payment collection page to your website and to provide an accessible URL to your receptionists. So, if your receptionists are chatting with potential clients online, you can remain hands-off and focus your time and energy on billable work while they collect payment information or direct new leads to enter it themselves in your secure online form.

Tip: You can credit consultation fees to a new client’s account balance if s/he hires you, to ease concerns that person may have about paying you for this time before any engagement has begun.

5. Intake new clients

After the “qualification” step comes intake: The “good” leads get logged.

Use an intake form built within your CRM, intake software, or 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 even booked.

For example, see the steps that Justie Nicol, owner of Nicol Law Offices in Fort Collins, Colorado, outlines on her website for her solo criminal defense law practice:

When you have live chat on your website as Justie does, the chat receptionists can help guide new potential clients as they complete the basic intake form and book an appointment, instructing them on how to best answer questions to help the new potential client and attorney have a successful, informed first consultation appointment.

Note also the disclaimer in the chat window that clearly identifies that chatting does not create an attorney-client relationship. Using disclaimers like this before the chat begins is the best way to set boundaries and expectations for the potential new client, who may be expecting to get into case details and obtain legal advice right away.

6. Reduce distractions from unqualified leads

One of the main benefits of live web chat and chat bots is that these online conversations can reduce calls and emails from leads who are not a fit for your firm. Sometimes it can take several minutes (or longer!) to wait for a new potential client to take a breath and pause, before you’re able to explain that your firm doesn’t handle certain types of cases, or for you to explain your fees, which may be out of the client’s price range.

Chat offers not only an initial screening opportunity to screen out individuals who aren’t going to become clients, but it also does so consistently — a live chat agent or chat bot will deliver the same response every time someone looking for a family law practice comes to your criminal defense website.

7. Earn revenue and build good will by “referring out” bad leads

These unqualified leads are impossible to prevent from reaching your website completely, so it’s best to have a process in place for handling them. My suggestion is to build good will online and in your local community by offering a referral to another firm or list of firms you recommend who may be better suited to handle their legal matter. If your state allows it, you may earn revenue from these referrals, but even if that’s not allowed (or you’re simply not comfortable with it), making referrals builds good will between your firm and that unqualified lead.

You never know if they may be a good potential client for a different legal matter in the future, which your firm does indeed handle. Or, they may encounter someone in the future who they refer to you, since they will now better understand what matters your firm does and does not handle. It pays to be helpful rather than dismissive here — a few extra minutes spent training and informing your live chat agents or chat bot can pay dividends later on by bringing in more clients via referrals.

Get started with Smith.ai Live Web Chat

Smith.ai offers web chat services staffed by our live, U.S.-based professionals and backed by our after-hours chatbot for 24/7 responsiveness. To learn more and sign up, visit https://smith.ai/chat. You may also be interested in our live phone receptionist service, and more information is available on that here: https://smith.ai/receptionists.

Bonus: As an Outsource Easier reader, you’re invited to use the code DINA50 to get $50 off your first month of live chats or calls!

Contact Smith.ai

Questions about live chat, virtual receptionists, or outsourced receptionist services in general? Smith.ai support can offer guidance so you implement the most efficient and effective communications processes from the start. Contact us Monday through Friday between 5 AM and 6 PM PST at (650) 727-6484 or support@smith.ai.

About Maddy Martin

Maddy Martin

Maddy Martin is the head of growth and education at Smith.ai, which provides superior virtual receptionist services for live calls and web chat, through a combination of U.S.-based professional receptionists and AI technology. She has spent the last decade growing tech startups from New York to California, and has expertise in digital marketing, small business communications, lead conversion, email marketing, SEO, and event marketing. Maddy can be reached at maddy@smith.ai, and you can also connect with her on LinkedIn.



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Dina Lynch Eisenberg, JD, is the CEO of OutsourceEasier.com, an outsourcing training/consulting firm for successful lawyers and entrepreneurs based in Oakland, CA.

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