Being a solo or small-firm lawyer is tough. Although your clients expect the same level of service (or sometimes more) as big firms, you are often a one-person show. Whereas a large firm has a marketing team, receptionists, bookkeepers, paralegals and legal assistants, office managers, and lawyers, lawyers in small private practices are often taking on many if not all of these positions.
Let’s face it, law school didn’t train you in these fields. And with an already busy practice, honing these skill sets is not a good use of your time. Not to mention, it’s probably not your top interest; there’s a reason you went to law school and not business school: You’re most interested in practicing law.
The 2018 Clio Legal Trends Report brought our attention to some startling statistics about the ways attorneys in smaller firms use their time.
- The average attorney spends only 1.9 hours a day on billable work
- Lawyers spend an average of 2.9 hours a day on admin tasks
- 75% of lawyers report working outside of business hours
According to the report, which is based on data from 70,000 legal professionals, the majority of a solo or small-firm attorney’s time is going to billing/financials, marketing and business development, and administrative tasks.
It makes sense then that “77% of lawyers want to hire more staff,” even though “58% want to reduce spending!” That’s quite the conundrum.
There are two proven ways to increase efficiency and without incurring the high cost of hiring new staff members: automate and outsource routine tasks. When you hand off tasks and processes to software and services, the result is tons more time for you to spend on high-level, billable work — work that you actually enjoy, and that you’re best suited to do. Furthermore, your new and existing clients will have the experience they want without feeling like you are offloading them or their legal problems. The key is finding that right balance between cost and quality.
In order to optimize the client experience (and your own happiness), follow these instructions on when to automate, outsource, or continue to maintain processes yourself.
Marketing (specifically Email and Social Media)
Automate and outsource, with a personal touch
Email marketing drip campaigns (sometimes called marketing automation or “lead nurturing”) are systems set up to automatically touch base with potential clients, hopefully leading them to hire you. You can set up these automations using a platform like Mailchimp, or you can outsource the setup to a marketing consultant. Make sure you take part in the wording of these emails, as they directly represent you and your firm!
Automate your social media posts through “trigger” platforms like IFTTT or Zapier. Once set up, you can do things like post to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. each time you publish a blog post. Social media can also be scheduled once a week to go out throughout the week using platforms like Hootsuite and Sprout Social, so you appear consistently engaged without dealing with those constant distractions.
Lead Screening and Client Intake
Outsource, augment with automation
The quality of your leads is probably all over the place. Maybe someone is looking for representation in a custody battle or after experiencing unsafe working conditions. Or they might just have some vague questions and they’re kicking tires or looking for free legal advice without any intention (or budget) to hire you. Whether they contact you via your website, phone, or email, personally screening potential clients can be incredibly time consuming.
According to the Clio Legal Trends Report, 59% of people, on average, didn’t hire an attorney even after a consult.
Take these steps to outsource the screening process:
- Put a live chat widget, like the one from Smith.ai, on your website staffed by U.S.-based personnel to pre-screen clients. Using your criteria, they can ask the right questions to find out whether the lead is a fit for your prices, practice area, and service location. If not, refer them to a firm that matches their needs better and build your referral network.
- Smith.ai also offers virtual receptionists who answer your calls and filter out leads based on the same criteria. Their team will use prompted questions (in a natural way) that fit with your personal style and service, so the new potential client feels like your firm is personally addressing their needs. Again, leads that don’t fit your business can be referred out to your network.
- When a completed contact form (from Documate or your website) hits your inbox, set it to automatically forward to your virtual receptionist service. They will call your lead back for immediate responsiveness, following the same lead-qualification steps the person would experience if they called or chatted.
Automate when you can:
- Instead of offering your email address, ask leads to fill out a contact form in order to book a consultation.
- Using a document automation software like Documate, you can use data collected from the form to automatically fill legal documents with client info later on if you start working with the client.
Scheduling Appointments &’ Consultations
Use a scheduling software (like Calendly or Acuity Scheduling) that integrates with your Google, Outlook, Apple, or Office 365 calendar to make yourself available to appointment bookings from the click of a button. Leads and current clients can find an appointment on your calendar that works with their availability, and you both avoid the nightmare of back-and-forth scheduling emails.
Level it up when you enlist a virtual receptionist service that first screens these potential clients, and books consultations only when they meet your criteria. This way, you’re not only having the calendaring portion handled, but the basic qualification steps, too. Review any notes from the receptionist, and you’ll be prepped for the call so the only thing you need to do is pick up your phone (or meet up) at the appointed time.
Bookkeeping and Collections
Outsource and automate
A law degree is probably the furthest thing from a degree in accounting. And a good accountant should be able to pay for their own services in savings. Use a company like LeanLaw that facilitates time tracking and combines legal billing software with Quickbooks. They also connect you to recommended accountants when needed. Avoid time-consuming invoice-generation and reconciliation tasks.
The average attorney only collects 86% of their billed time… ever!
A good virtual receptionist service won’t just take phone calls. Just like an in-house receptionist, they can make calls to collect late payments and increase the revenue you have coming in. Do you stress about shaking your clients down for money? Outsource it at a fraction of the cost of an actual collections agency or in-house employee.
Automate with personal oversight
Document assembly is often done by legal assistants or paralegals in a larger law firm, but in a solo practice or small firm, it falls to the lawyer(s). If you are reading this blog, you’re undoubtedly already aware of the time you regain from doc assembly tools like Documate, but it’s always genuinely on our short list of automation recommendations. If you haven’t already, create templates and automatically fill out often repeated documents for your family law, intellectual property, employment, or other practice areas. We can’t recommend document automation software enough, because it so significantly minimizes data entry and reduces human error risks.
Don’t forget to proof-read all documents before having them signed or filing with courts. It is a good idea for attorneys to review automated processes.
Automate and oversee personally
Use a legal practice management software like Clio, PracticePanther, or Rocket Matter to significantly improve the quality of your client interactions and tie together all of your other processes and automations. Depending on the practice management software you use, it can integrate with your virtual receptionist service, live chat widget, calendaring software, and bookkeeping software, and collect all of your client information in one place. You have all the information you need for a conversation with the client or to work on the case.
Automating these processes will open up a lot of time you currently use to do admin tasks! But don’t forget to review your automations every so often. A robust automation platform can develop problems by software updates and system changes.
Client Advice and Representation
Done by you, the lawyer!
With all of the mental energy and time you have saved not performing routine and repetitive tasks, you can do actual billable work! Not only will your stress levels reduce and your billable hours (profits) increase, you will have faster turnaround times, making your clients happy and willing to use or refer your services in the future. This is the work you were trained to do; by outsourcing and automating repeat tasks, you can represent more clients and increase your bottom line.
Choose the right products and services for you
It is amazing how many ways small business owners can effectively outsource and automate routine processes these days, and actually improve the experience for their clients. But make sure you do research before you play. Choose the right companies and people to outsource to; they represent your business as much as you do. Smith.ai’s professional receptionists and powerful AI, when combined with the right automated and outsourced processes, can help you run your small law firm like you have a large staffed team.
Smith.ai provides integrated phone and web chat services for solo and small-firm attorneys, including live virtual receptionists, website chat, and Keypad cloud phone system. Our receptionist and chat services integrate with hundreds of billing, CRM, and scheduling tools. Furthermore, we can help set up an integrated and comprehensive intake process that prepares your clients for the beginning-to-end legal process they’re looking for.
Use promo code HSL50 for $50 off Smith.ai calls or chats, and visit https://Smith.ai to get started with our 10-call/5-chat free trial!
About Kelsey Johnson
Kelsey Johnson is the marketing manager at Smith.ai, which provides virtual receptionist and web chat services for solo and small-firm attorneys. She is a legal tech expert focused on helping solos and small firms with their practices through tech-enabled operations, digital marketing, and communications. Kelsey can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at @KelseyColorado. Connect with her on LinkedIn.