Scaling Your Law Firm, Minimizing The Headaches: Receptionist Edition
Small businesses of all types, from law firms to accounting firms have one problem in common; finding the best way to make the most of their capital. It’s a competitive market, and every advantage stems from using the resources and tools at your disposal to its maximum capability.
Between operating costs, handling clients, and onboarding prospective ones, the biggest assets a business owner has is both their time and their staff’s time. Law is an especially hard business due to income being tied to time more intimately than most businesses due to billable hours.
The ability to leverage is up to how well your team works together and how well they handle incoming work and the results of that work. It’s a hard balance to strike, figuring out how best to make the most of your time as a business owner while managing or handling your staff. With any firm, there are growing pains that occur:
- The arduous process of finding and interviewing potential candidates
- Training new staff members in how your firm runs
- Dealing with rising costs due to scalability problems
- Handling casework versus busy work/administrative problems
These can come from excellent or adverse events. On the good side, growing pains are the sign of your business increasing your client base. On the other side of the coin, they can be the sign that there is a ceiling or limitations your business has based on either finances or organizational issues.
Don’t fret at either possibility; there are ways to address both. If it’s on the finances side, it just means that chances are there are places to trim the fat or optimize your expenses. If it’s on the organizational side, good news, you can fix that as well.
It’s a matter of taking the time to find your perspective on how you want your firm to run.
PatLive has offered us a free trial now for Clever Leverage readers. When I first started looking in to live answering services for my business phone lines, I was hesitant to sign up for anything expensive because I feared what I’d be getting myself into. It’s nice to be able to test everything out for two weeks before committing… and then if it is a good fit, everything is set to go.
More than 60% of businesses fail within their first year. This is one of the most common statistics burned into the minds of every new business owner. For some reason, many law owners are terrible at taking an honest look at their financials.
It isn’t just the inability to look at financials that ruins so many law firms early, compounded problems that stem from poor decision making destroys client bases, partnerships and more years later down the line.
At the root of all the problems law firm owners, the experience is the decision-making process by which they alter or propel their business. These can permeate:
- Micro or mismanagement
- Limited budget
- Over or understaffing
- Wasting Time
- Setting priorities
Look at each part closer can help narrow down what is the number one reason law firms are losing money. Micromanagement means wasting time on tasks that aren’t as important as others.
Mismanagement means pushing your staff to do things that do little to help get through workload and are little more than exercises in futility, such as answering calls or calling prospects back (we’ll touch more on this later).
Overstaffing and understaffing when broken down means that your team is either missing out on contracts that could easily bolster your monthly profits or are just ruining cases because of the lack of time for everyone to do their jobs.
All of these problems are chokes on the tube that is your business’s efficiency and success. Despite each problem representing a unique challenge, there is one that costs more than any of the others regarding time, energy and frustration, and it damages your firm’s reputation in the process.
Clients and prospective clients are impatient. Their willingness to wait tends to be even more exhausted when they are attempting to deal with a problem severe enough to call a lawyer. A majority of callers hang up if they aren’t connected with who they are looking for on the first attempt.
Unless you are the absolute best in your field or have a history or personal connection with a potential client, chances are you aren’t their only option. Every call matters to your firm’s bottom line when it’s time to pay bills, and 50% of a law firm’s fees on average are spent on just keeping the lights on and the business running.
There are times where no matter how efficient your team is, everyone will not be on the ball. It’s not always possible for associates to pick up every incoming call while handling their regular workload and interns are just as limited due to their experience and skillset. Only one mishandled call can lead to a damaged reputation, and if on average one to three are missed per hour, it builds up.
Especially with the myriad of review sites and public forums for disparaging unprofessionalism or customer frustrations online, the last thing you want is to be posted in one for being too busy to handle a simple phone call.
When you begin to factor in the process of managing, handling cases, and attempting to get new clients, not to mention other operating duties, answering phone calls doesn’t make sense as something to spend time on. The variant positions within your team should be dedicated to specialized work, not on general administrative tasks most of the time.
If every person on your team spends 40 hours a week working, every repetitive task that needs to be handled daily or every hour adds up.
Being proactive is the only way not to end up dealing with the backup of leads and frustrated clients reactively. While that sounds like a cause for panic, it doesn’t mean taking action that can be seen as being rash. Many firms tend to try and do too much by making a drastic decision because they are overwhelmed. The usual solutions that most gravitate toward are:
- To Hire A Receptionist
- To Pick Up An Automated Answering Machine
Each has their benefits and their negatives, but for those attempting to optimize their team and their costs, neither of these make sense in the long term. Both are limited because of their financial constraints or their ability to make sense for firms of a certain size.
The cost of hiring a receptionist is two-fold. The money that could be used for getting clients, nurturing relationships, or picking up interns and or other contract associates or direct business costs would be spent on the salary and benefits (such as insurance) for a receptionist.
Receptionists are limited to the hours they are in the office, and to the skill level, they are at. Some receptionists take time to get into the swing of answering phone calls, taking down quality notes, and more. It’s a pain to have to wade through a pool of applicants just to try to find one that is promising.
Whenever you are considering making a hire, consider the number of billable hours that will be required to justify their position. It’s a matter of deciding between paying out $45,000+ a year for a competent person to essentially answer your phones and take messages or finding an alternative that will work well enough.
The other option that many lawyers turn to is the use of an automated robotic answering machine to redirect calls, take messages, and set up meetings. It’s a clunky mildly outdated form of dealing with clients unless your firm is dealing with that much of a massive influx of calls. It can be a turn-off and can cause your client not to feel as if your company will have the right amount of human effort that can make or break their case.
Automated answering machines are seen as more cost-efficient, but there are ways to save money without sacrificing your inbound leads conversion rates.
The only solution that strikes a perfect balance between the warm greeting of dealing with a person and the ability to free up in-house time while saving money is to use a call answering service.
A call answering service is similar to a virtual assistant service in that a remote worker is responsible for answering, redirect, and handling inbound leads and already converted customers.
Call answering services have dedicated project managers that have already vetted and developed the ability of the remote receptionists to handle most situations and influxes of calls. They are organized and efficient in reducing overhead and lead loss.
The best part is that they are available 24/7, so unlike the limitations that physical receptionists have, there are no sick days, no excuses, and low overhead.
- They are usually super cheap, costing from $30 to a few hundred dollars a month max.
- The service runs 24/7.
- It’s easy to change who your receptionist is in most cases if there is a problem.
- You have the option on what languages your call representative knows, potentially expanding your client base.
Call answering services are opportunities for you to free up critical time that can significantly enhance your overall revenue. The justification for picking up one of these services is obvious if you deal with high call volume or expect to be soon, as it will prevent back up before it can happen.
Using international virtual assistants don’t work because more often than not there are either scheduling issues, variations in quality from accents to comprehension or just poor language skills. It’s better to choose a domestically run service that specializes in using native speakers of the language your clients will call you in; it will present your brand better.
To wrap things up, handling your call and prospecting limitations means that you and your staff will be free to manage the essentials. This means the opportunity to have a higher success rate with your cases, more time to conduct research, and fewer chances to make mistakes.