I listen to a lot of podcasts, always looking for good law firm marketing ideas that I can pass along. I find that the same ideas seem to come in waves, and one idea currently riding the crest is the idea of scheduling your email time.
The new conventional thinking (read to the end to see why this thinking is wrong) is that you should review and respond to your email only once, maybe twice, per day. You see, when you review your email, you are allowing others to dictate your schedule. If you see an email that needs a response or other action, then you are allowing the person who sent it to control you. You may have been working on a set of interrogatories that need to go out, and now you have been pulled away from that task in order to respond to the email.
One person I was listening to, Tim Ferriss, the author of the The 4-Hour Workweek, says that he never really checks his email. He has an assistant go through his email, and she answers what she can and only passes along a few emails that require his personal attention. Of course, that would likely not be feasible in the legal field unless your assistant is an attorney, but I’ve heard many attorneys tout the virtues of scheduling email response time to once or twice a day.
When I hear these statements, I just smile, because that means all of those attorneys’ potential clients are coming to me. OK, maybe not ALL of them, but based on the number of calls I receive that begin with, “I’ve been emailing and calling attorneys all day and none of them will respond to me,” it sure seems like a goodly percentage of them are coming to me.
In my upcoming book, I tell the story of a client we’ll call Jane. Jane called me about a case she wanted to pursue. I could tell right off the bat it was a very good case, so I spent about 30 minutes on the phone with Jane talking about her case and the strategies I would employ to maximize her chances of victory. Jane was very impressed and wanted to schedule an appointment right away to come in and retain me, so I gave her back to my assistant to schedule the appointment. We ended our conversation at about 12:45, and I already had an appointment set for 1:00, so my assistant scheduled the appointment for 2:30 that same day.
It’s now about 12:50, and I’m getting ready for the 1:00 meeting, but I see that the phone is ringing and that my assistant is on another call, so I answer. It’s Jane, and she immediately launches into her summary of the facts again, assuming she is talking to a different attorney. Because of the massive amount of information we have on the Internet, combined with our SEO efforts, it is not uncommon for our firm to come up in the top three positions of a Google search, so having talked to the attorney in the number one position, Jane had moved onto the next firm listed, which also happened to be us.
I interrupted Jane and informed her that she was talking to the same attorney she had been talking to five minutes earlier. I asked if there had been some difficulty in scheduling her to come in, and she said, “No, I’m set to come in at 2:30.”
“Did I fail to address any of your concerns about the case? If you’re coming in in an hour and a half to retain me, is there some reason you are still calling attorneys?” I asked.
“I was just hoping I could find an attorney who could fit me in sooner,” she responded.
If you can’t immediately respond to potential clients, then they will move on, and the Janes of the world will be lost. Scheduling email and phone time is great in concept, but if hours go by before you respond to a client inquiry, rest assured that the client has moved on and is contacting the next attorney in the search results. Even if you were referred and recommended, and the client really wants to talk to you, they will likely start contacting other attorneys while they wait to hear from you. The only thing that might save you is that so many other attorneys stink at responding to emails and calls, so you still might be the first one to speak to the client.
Alleged business gurus like to state things in absolute terms, and I get that because a lot of people need to hear things in absolute terms. But if you are a thinking person, you can deal with multiple concepts simultaneously. Setting aside time to respond to emails and phone calls is a great idea, but it doesn’t have to be an all or none proposition.
The single most effective law firm marketing technique you can employ (see how I stated that in absolute terms?) to crush your competitors and to bring in more clients is to BE AVAILABLE. You don’t need some absolute rule to properly deal with email. Go ahead and schedule the two times a day you respond to email, but at the same time, when you hear the incoming mail ding from your computer, glance at Outlook or whatever you use to see if an email has come in from a potential client. Just have the fortitude to ignore all the others until the allotted time.
[UPDATE AND TIP:] It didn’t take long to find additional support for this article.
At one time, back in my solo days, I used to set the office phones to forward to my home office on the weekends, in order to be available to prospective clients even then. I found that many clients, because they are so worried about their legal problem, call attorneys late at night or on the weekends, fully expecting that they will be forwarded to voice mail. They reason that if they leave half a dozen or so messages with different attorneys, there is a good chance that they will get at least one return phone call when the office opens. The potential clients would always express shock when I answered on the weekend. I got a lot of new cases that way, because I won the race to the client over all the other attorneys who would get around to it on Monday.
With the growth of my firm and the success of my law firm marketing, that really isn’t feasible anymore. I would be fielding probably 30 calls over the weekend, keeping me from doing anything else. At some point I made the executive decision not to forward the calls, and instead just to return the calls first thing Monday morning.
My partner and I were both at hearings this morning, so the call return process did not begin until about noon. It had been a slow weekend – only about 12 calls came in – so we divvied them up and began the callbacks. (Clients appreciate that we don’t first screen our calls through paralegals or associates and, again, it just gets us one-on-one with the potential clients that much faster.) Of the six callbacks I made, I left three voicemails and spoke to three of the callers. Of those three, one responded with, “I got my questioned answered, thanks,” and the other said “Thanks, I’ve already hired an attorney.” The third potential client had not yet spoken to an attorney, and I answered his question. Given our selectivity in accepting cases, odds are that I would not have taken the one case that got away, but this small sampling provides additional proof that potential clients call multiple attorneys and are very impatient. These were clients who had called over the weekend, so if we assume the callback race began at 8:00 a.m. on Monday, within four hours two out of the three potential clients had already spoken to an attorney (although the other attorneys might take calls on the weekend).
So here’s the tip. If you want to try fielding phone calls over the weekend, there are a number of phone apps you can add to your cell phone, including Google Phone and even MagicJack, to give you a second phone number. Forward your office phone to that number, and that way you will know when a potential client call is coming in (because the ring will be different). That also lets you answer appropriately, because you will know it is a client call. Of course, you could just forward to your regular cell phone number and check the caller ID when it rings, but I like the ease of this approach.
[YET ANOTHER UPDATE:] The “respond to emails only once or twice a day” approach also fails to account for another business reality. Many view email as an almost real-time form of communication. I returned to this article to add this update based on something that happened today. At 10:50 a.m. my computer dinged, and I glanced over at Outlook to see if it was anything important. The email was from the court clerk in a federal case I have in Sacramento. The pre-trial conference was scheduled for the following day at 2:00 p.m., and I had long since made airline reservations. I was set to arrive in Sacramento at 11:00 a.m., giving me a comfortable three hours to make it from the airport to court. However, the clerk was writing (at 10:50 a.m.) to say that the court was moving the conference to 11:00 a.m. “If that presents any problems,” the clerk wrote, “please let us know before noon.” I wrote back to inform the court of my itinerary, and the judge left the hearing at 2:00 p.m. If I had missed the one-hour window to respond to this email, it would have been a mad scramble to try to change my flight reservations when I later discovered the hearing time had been moved.
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