I have a confession to make. I failed miserably at this for years. And then, after I first started to implement this one thing, my assistant tried to squash my plans. It was hard to do. Most attorneys won’t do it. What is it, you ask?
Stop answering the phones.
I hear the objections already.
- That won’t work in MY practice.
- My client’s will fire me.
- I’m subjecting myself to potential ethics violations.
- What if it a potential new client calls and I miss the call?
I have news for you. It will work in your practice. Your client’s will not fire you – in fact, they will probably respect you more. If done properly, there should be no concerns that you are violating any ethical rules. And so what if it is a potential new client – if you have marketed yourself properly up to this point, they probably already know that you don’t take unscheduled, inbound phone calls. So they were expecting to get your voicemail, right?
Why it is important that you stop answering the phones
Alexis Neely wrote a guest post at the Lawyerist.com in which she outlined three reasons you should never answer your own phone:
- You will become more productive. She references a study which shows that it takes, on average, 15 minutes to get back on task after an interruption, and then it takes even longer to ultimately complete the task. I started telling clients this one little statistic and they became much more understanding when I tell them that I will not answer the phone while I am doing legal work.
- Answering the phones sets a bad precedent. It tells the client that you are available anytime they need to talk to you. If you listened to my podcast on mindset issues, you already know that it is important to set yourself up as the “wise man on the top of the mountain”, which leads to the third reason Ms. Neely gives…
- When you stop answering the phones you position yourself as someone who is important and whose time is valuable. People want to hire busy lawyers, not lawyers who will answer their call anytime day or night.
For this to work, here is what you need to do
The best possible way to stop answering your calls is to hire a full-time legal assistant who can answer them for you. Ideally, this person will be able to not only answer your your phone calls, but schedule consults with prospective clients, and schedule times for you to call clients or other important people back. However, hiring a full-time assistant is going to be difficult and costly for a new solo starting out with no business and no revenue. Here are a couple other options.
Hire a virtual assistant or virtual receptionist
A virtual assistant is someone who can do everything that an in-office assistant can do on the phones, but works from home. To be honest, I have not experimented with this approach, and I wouldn’t know where to start to find someone that can do this. The benefit to having a dedicated, virtual assistant answering your phones is that they will be able to schedule follow-up phone calls and appointments, something that my next solution cannot offer at present.
As an alternative to a virtual assistant, you may want to consider a “virtual receptionist” such as Call Ruby. I have used Call Ruby to answer my phones for over three years now, and have been nothing less than thrilled. The receptionists at Ruby will follow my default call instructions and can take and email me phone messages, as well as email me voicemails from current clients, other lawyers, etc. They are fantastic, and have different subscription plans based on your monthly call volume. The baseline plan starts at $239/month. If you use this link, they will waive the set-up fee (a $95 value).
Change your voicemail greeting
If you can’t presently afford any of the options above, then at a minimum you need to change your voicemail greeting. It needs to say something like this:
Thank you for calling The Hart Law Firm, you have reached the personal voicemail of Jim Hart. I check voicemail twice a day, at 11:00 am and 4:00 pm. Please leave your name, phone number, and a brief message and I will call you back at one of those times. Thank you.
To make this system work, you need to start training both your clients and your potential clients to understand that you don’t answer the phones if the call has not been scheduled in advance. This can be done with disclaimers on your website, through in-person meetings, or with follow-up emails that you send to people that order your free information.
Try not answering the phones for a week. See what happens. I’d venture to bet that you will become more productive, get more done, and your client’s will respect you more as well.
Have a comment on this post? Have you stopped answering your phones? I want to hear about it. Please post in the comments below.