Guest Post By Maddy Martin, Smith.ai
The 2017 Clio Legal Trends Report contains many eye-opening insights into the daily operations of practicing attorneys, but perhaps most shocking were the statistics on earnings collection:
- The average attorney spends only 1.9 hours per day on billable work.
- Only 86% of revenue from billed time is ever collected.
- 59% of law firms regularly deal with late payments.
Take a look at the state of the industry in this infographic, which draws from data in the Clio report:
What wasn’t surprising in the report was the fact that law firms get paid 39% faster when they accept online payments. If you’re already using an online payment solution like Headnote, then you’re ahead of the pack. But if you want to collect even more earnings, it’s worth hiring a virtual receptionist service.
With virtual receptionists, attorneys can capture more revenue in many ways — primarily by systematizing and outsourcing payment collection, but also by delegating non-lawyering tasks like lead qualification, client intake, and appointment booking that eat up precious hours (2.9 hours a day, according to the Clio report) that could otherwise be filled with billable work.
Here are 5 ways that attorneys (specifically, solo and small-firm attorneys without access to big-firm resources and infrastructure like dedicated accounting departments) can use virtual receptionists to earn more money:
1. Collect payments for consultations, one-time payments, and recurring payments
No business captures 100% of the revenue due to them, but the goal is always to collect as much as possible. Virtual receptionists can take payment by phone under a number of inbound- and outbound-call scenarios, such as:
- A new client calls in and books a consultation, for which you charge a fee. The receptionist answers the phone, books the appointment, collects the new client’s credit card information, and processes the payment right on the spot.
- An existing client calls to make a payment on an invoice. Save yourself an interruption. When receptionists answer your calls, and an existing client dials in to make a payment, the receptionist can take payment by phone and note the invoice number so you don’t have to spend time tracking it down.
- An existing client emails in with questions about an invoice. Sometimes clients want to discuss line items on invoices before making a payment. Let’s say an email comes through from a client who has a question about their recent invoice. Simply forward that email to the receptionist service with the answer(s) to the client’s question(s) and a receptionist will call them to relay the answer and take payment by phone.
- Existing clients have payments due this week. Provide your receptionist service with the contact information and invoice amount (or unique invoice link) for a client or a list of clients from whom payments are due this week. Your receptionists will make outbound calls to these clients so you’re not waiting and wondering if they’re going to submit payment on time.
Legal payment solutions like Headnote allow you to add a payment collection page to your website, have a publicly accessible URL available to your payment page, and generate unique invoice links for specific clients. So, whether a client unexpectedly calls in and wants to make a payment, or your receptionist is making calls to specific clients to request payment on an invoice, you can remain hands-off and focus your time and energy on billable work.
2. Collect late payments
Virtual receptionists can also call existing clients who have outstanding balances. Simply provide to your receptionists a list of clients with their name, phone number, and balance, along with your payment processing link (or unique client invoice links), and your receptionists can follow up with each one to collect what you’re due (at a cost many times less than that of a collection agency).
3. Capture and qualify new leads
Let’s say you’re on the phone with a potential client and they appear to be a great fit for your firm. They’re in the right county, willing to pay your fees, and their timeline fits with your other deadlines. Were the questions you asked them questions that only you could ask or could you have delegated this task and saved time here? Remember that one way to collect more revenue is to spend your time on billable tasks and not administrative or operational ones.
Virtual receptionists can use your custom criteria to qualify your leads. Just provide your questions, and identify the answers that indicate the potential client is a good fit for your practice. The receptionist can then follow your directions for either transferring them to you or processing them through a new client intake form. If you use a CRM or practice management solution, the new lead’s contact information along with the call summary will be passed into your account directly, thereby saving you even more time.
4. Intake clients and book appointments
If you have a public intake form (e.g., one that can be shared with clients without a login), you can just as easily share it with a receptionist service and have them intake clients over the phone. Completed forms are immediately passed into your database, so the new client appears as a new record.
Additionally, just like embedded payment forms, embedded scheduling forms are also often utilized by attorneys on their websites for both new-client consultations and existing-client meetings. Appointy, ScheduleOnce, Schedulista, Acuity, AppointmentCore (for Infusionsoft users), and other programs are popular choices.
As with intake forms, if your calendar is publicly available on your website, or if you’re able to share a link to your calendar with your receptionist service, you can hand off scheduling tasks. Just provide the appointment links and any specific booking directions, and the receptionists will add appointments to your calendar based on your availability. (As mentioned above, if the appointment requires pre-payment, like a first-time consultation, receptionists can request and process that payment at the time of booking.)
Virtual receptionists can also make outbound calls to new and existing clients to remind them of their upcoming appointments. This will reduce cancellations and no-shows, thereby increasing the utilization of your time.
Tip: If you use Google Calendar, Office 365, Outlook, or iCloud, Calendly is a free program that allows you to display your availability to your receptionists (and anyone else who has your calendar link) and book appointments.
5. Monetize “bad” leads
Now that you’ve mastered the “basics” of using virtual receptionists to capture more revenue and increase your time spent on revenue-generating activities, it’s time to level up: Have your receptionist service monetize your “bad” leads.
Consider those new-lead calls that the receptionist answers. Sometimes, a lead doesn’t meet your criteria. Maybe they’re in the wrong county, can’t afford your fees, or need an attorney in a different practice area. You can provide a list of firms that you recommend to your receptionist service, with specific directions for each one, and the receptionists will refer leads to them accordingly. If you have referral fee agreements with these firms and the lead hires them, then you’ve just earned revenue from a “bad” lead. And all it took was a few minutes of your time to make the list and lay out your directions.
Choosing the right virtual receptionist service
It’s important to note that not every live answering service offers lead qualification, new client intake, appointment booking, payment processing, and referral services. Make sure you ask about these features when shopping around.
What’s special about Smith.ai?
Smith.ai virtual receptionists offer all of these services. Professional, U.S.-based receptionists answer, transfer, and return calls during business hours, freeing you up to practice law, network, write articles, and do everything else that no one but you can do.
What’s with the “ai” in the name? That stands for “artificial intelligence,” and it powers the following features:
- Automatic spam blocking of 20 million numbers
- Live call transfer requests via SMS and Slack
- Easy status changes via SMS (e.g., text “Do Not Disturb” when you arrive at court)
- Instant call notes via email, SMS, or Slack
Unlike most live answering services, billing is per-call, not per minute. Leads who need to explain their case in detail? New clients who need to complete an intake form? Clients who need to track down their credit card to book a consult? These calls can take 5 to 10 minutes. You get consistent billing when you’re charged per-call.
Moreover, per-call pricing makes it much easier to calculate the cost of acquiring a new client. From your marketing campaigns, you know how much it costs to make your phone ring. When a new client converts from a phone call into an appointment, you know how much that call cost you, too. At the end of each month, simply look at how much you paid your receptionists, and then at how many calls resulted in new clients. (Keep in mind, this doesn’t account for the efficiency gains you received.)
Here’s the full scope of Smith.ai’s receptionist services:
- Inbound & outbound calls
- Lead capture & qualification
- Appointment scheduling & reminders
- CRM and case management software integration with Clio, Lexicata, Rocket Matter, PracticePanther, Capsule CRM, Infusionsoft, and many other programs.
- Payment processing through Headnote.
- Coverage Monday to Friday, 6AM to 6PM PST / 9AM to 9PM EST
- Call screening, prioritization, and VIP lists
- Instant call summaries and end-of-day reports
- Voicemails transcribed and sent to email or SMS
With plans starting at $60/month, law firms get the experience and quality of an in-house receptionist at a small fraction of the price.
No more trade-offs between running your business and practicing law — with our receptionists, you’re able to get your work done, collect more of what you’ve earned, and grow a sustainable, profitable law firm.
Get started with a free trial and $50 off Smith.ai virtual receptionists
If you’d like to sign up for Smith.ai, you may do so online at https://smith.ai, by phone at (650) 727-6484, or by email at email@example.com. Headnote users get $50 off their first month with code HEADNOTE. This code can be used in combination with Smith.ai’s 30-day/10-call free trial.
Questions about virtual receptionists? Looking for more best practices? Smith.ai support can offer guidance so you implement the most efficient and effective workflows from the start. Contact Smith.ai Monday through Friday between 6 AM and 6 PM PST at (650) 727-6484 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Maddy Martin
Maddy Martin is the head of marketing and partnerships for Smith.ai, which provides law firm communication services, including their virtual receptionist & intake service, and Keypad cloud phone system. She has spent the last decade growing tech startups from New York to California and has expertise in digital marketing, small business communications, lead conversion, email marketing, SEO & event marketing. Maddy can be reached at email@example.com.