How May I Help You? Phone Etiquette for the Modern Attorney

Thanks to text, email and chat features, many of us can go an entire day without ever having to talk on the phone. However, when legal consumers are looking for an attorney, they want to find reassurance, support and help. They feel they can get those things by speaking with another human being, not by sending or leaving a message.

Does that take you by surprise? In one of FindLaw’s recent U.S. Consumer Legal Needs Surveys, 74 percent of respondents said a phone call is their preferred method of contacting an attorney. This even applies to Millennials, whom people think of as very averse to speaking on the phone. An article published earlier this year noted that 57 percent of Millennials will take a phone call from an unknown number and participate in a conversation. Even 25 percent of them will answer that call and only stop the dialogue if it goes on too long.

As you can see, a phone call is what people use when they want to get in touch with an attorney. This means the way you interact with people who call you is very important, yet most attorneys don’t really have the freedom to focus on these skills until it’s too late.

Here are some tips for keeping initial conversations with prospective clients professional, efficient and effective.

Be Responsive

This may sound elementary, but the first thing you need to do is actually answer the phone. That sounds too obvious to be helpful, but in study after study, FindLaw’s research has found that many attorneys think it’s acceptable to let phone calls go straight to voicemail as a matter of course. To be blunt, that is not a good idea. In most instances, prospects are calling you because they are concerned or are facing an issue that is of great importance to them. They want to talk to a person, and they’ll keep calling until they get one on the line. Don’t let it be your competitor.

Be Receptive

If a prospect has called you and you’ve answered, you’ve come a lot further than your peer law firms (one-third of whom neglect phone calls, and therefore miss out on new business), but you aren’t done yet. FindLaw’s research shows consumers are very turned off by attorneys who sound indifferent, distracted or inattentive. To cultivate welcoming phone mannerisms, implement these three tried-and-true tricks the very next time you answer the phone:

  1. A good rule of thumb is to aim to answer by the third ring. Answering later risks losing the caller because he or she thinks you aren’t there.
  2. Smile when you’re talking on the phone. It’s a simple act that adds warmth and friendliness to your voice, and callers pick up on that.
  3. A simple, consistent introduction is an easy and important branding mechanism, and it helps consumers know they’ve reached the right place. Try to answer the phone with roughly the same message each time (“Washington Law Office, this is George. How may I help you?”) If you have more than one person in your office answering the phone, make sure you are all sticking to the same script.

Be Reliable

With everything you have going on in a day, no one expects you to have a photographic memory, but your clients do expect that you will remember the basic contours of their cases. That is, once they tell you something, they expect that you’ve recorded it and keep it somewhere close at hand. Put yourself in their shoes – would you really want to recount that frightening night you were struck by a drunk driver more than once? Or go over, once again, how you discovered your spouse was having an affair and now want a divorce? At the very least, when you have a call with a new prospect, you should collect some basic information, store it somewhere safe but accessible and make sure anyone in your office who needs it can get at it.

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