Attorneys: Quick Tips for Optimizing Your Answering Service

As an attorney, utilizing an answering service or after hours call center can make a lot of sense. You can maintain a 24-7 operation without the costs, gain new business after hours, provide a better level of service to existing clients, and, in general, run a more efficient operation.

That’s if everything is working properly.

If things aren’t working, you’re going to find yourself continually frustrated, dealing with loads of communication problems, and encountering countless angry clients who can’t understand why you’re so difficult to get ahold of.

Below are some tips to make sure your answering service is working effectively and having a positive impact on your practice.

1. Personalize the service to fit your needs and put some time into the setup

Just because your attorney answering service has a default legal script doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for your practice. Make sure operators are answering in the name of your practice and that they’re asking questions relevant to your callers. Less is always best in terms of call center scripts, so keep it simple. Don’t ask for email addresses if you don’t use them, and provide operators with accurate information regarding what will be done with messages and when you’ll be returning calls. That will allow them to give callers precise information – “he/she will be returning your call this afternoon after court” sounds a lot better than “he/she will be returning your call.”

2. Consider using call patching/call routing for different circumstances

There are certain times when it is best to use your answering service more like a virtual receptionist, having them answer and transfer live callers to the appropriate party. A classic example is someone who just missed your call and calling back in trying to reach you. Hearing that you’re unavailable and being asked to leave another message isn’t what people want to hear in this situation, so it’s nice to have an option that allows call center agents to reach you directly in these circumstances. “If a caller says they just missed a call, follow these steps.” Admittedly, this is easy to abuse, with callers saying they just missed a call when in reality you called hours ago, but I personally think it’s best to start with a more client-friendly approach and then making modifications if it doesn’t work out. A similar setup works during office hours when your staff transfers the lines for lunch, or for urgent calls that need immediate attention. In short, taking and delivering messages isn’t the only option, and you can often have a more seamless operation by having certain calls transferred directly to you.

3. Plan for every contingency and make sure everyone is aware how they’re affected

Think of every type of call that may come in on your account and then determine how each should be handled. Again, an answering service that answers for a lot of attorneys probably already has a good default setup for this, but it’s imperative that you go through and make sure everything fits your practice. Too often, only a certain number of steps are considered, resulting in an urgent call being missed or not handled properly. Don’t let this happen to you. If your procedure includes urgent calls that should be directed to your after hours, make sure the steps used to reach you are thorough and complete. The call center should either have a series of steps they repeat or a certain point when they stop. If you utilize other attorneys to cover some of your calls, or if you authorize an assistant or family member to clear calls on your behalf, make sure they are aware what to do with the information and how they should be interacting with the call center. Your call center should have the same information. No one should be surprised when they receive a call. Nor should you continually find yourself updating your script and account instructions to accommodate different scenarios. Everything should be flushed out from the beginning.

These are just a few tips, but they will get you a long way in terms of making an attorney answering service an effective part of your practice. Remember that setting up your own employees to handle these tasks would be even more cumbersome, so the time investment you make with a service is nothing compared to the cost savings you are experiencing. If you have never worked with a service before and aren’t sure where to start, ask your provider about some firms they work with that are similar to yours (in terms of size, practice areas, etc.) and go from there.

Georgette Adanas has been writing content articles on attorney answering service since 2000.

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