In this podcast, Allison C. Shields Johs, Esq, returns to discuss client communication. Allison recently wrote about client communications in the ABA TechReport. In her article, 2021 Websites & Marketing, she covers statistics, trends and work to be done by attorneys communicating with existing and prospective clients.
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- Allison’s website: www.LawyerMeltdown.com
- Allison’s blog: www.LegalEaseConsulting.com
- 2021 Websites & Marketing: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/law_practice/publications/techreport/2021/webmarketing/
- ABA TechReport 2021: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/law_practice/publications/techreport/2021/
Welcome to the Personal Injury Marketing Minute.
Welcome to the Personal Injury Marketing Minute, where we quickly cover the hot topics of the legal marketing world. I’m your host, Lindsey Busfield. While snail mail and most phone conversations are about as obsolete as fax machines, most law firms are behind the times when it comes to client communications. Joining us today is Allison Johs, author of the Website and Marketing Tech Report 2021. Welcome, Allison.
Thanks, Lindsey. Great to be here again.
Attorney Websites and Communications:
Lindsey: Great to have you back. Thank you. Well, client communications are clearly essential every step of the way. Law firms must streamline their communications even before a client signs a contract. Usually this happens during the marketing process, starting with the website. What are some of the trends that you’re seeing on how many firms are using websites and what they’re using them for?
Allison: We’ve done this survey through the Legal Technology Resource Center, our tech survey that the tech report is based on. We’ve been doing it for a number of years now. And we are seeing more and more law firms who have websites. I believe in this past year, the 2021 survey, 94% of our respondents said, yes, their law firm has as a website. But what I’m noticing in the responses to the survey, and even in my conversations that I have with clients during my consulting business, is a lot of lawyers are still using their website really as just a one way communication. What I mean by that is that it’s all about the law firm. A lot of times, they’re not really even thinking about their clients or what their client’s concerns are or addressing the client’s most important and most frequent questions. It’s a very one way communication. There’s not a lot of interaction.
So most of the law firm websites have things like partner profiles and associate profiles. You’ve got more than 85% of respondents to the survey that said that they had both of those things on their websites. But then when you start asking about other things, it’s a lot fewer responses. So you’ve only got, say about 37% of respondents who say their firms have a blog on their website, which would be additional ways to communicate and explain legal concepts to clients. Only 59% have articles that are written in house by lawyers in the firm that would give clients more information. So you start to see a little bit of a drop off when you get into these more … I don’t even know if I would say advanced, but more substantive communications about what the client is going to be encountering when they’re working with the law firm.
And as a matter of fact, it’s interesting. I had conversations with two clients in the past week. My clients are all lawyers who are working on their websites. And they both said to me, “I went out and looked at some other lawyer websites to get some ideas of what I might want to do.” One of them is starting a new practice, and so this will be a brand new website. And the other one has a website, but is not really happy with it. And so they both came back to me separately and said, “We looked and we don’t really love what we’re seeing from these lawyers’ websites.” The one who is starting a new practice, and he’s been practicing for years, but he’s now just going out on his own, said, “I’m looking at this website as if I’m a client, and the information that I really want is just not there. It’s all about how great the lawyer is or how great the firm is. And they say they’re transparent, but there’s no transparency about anything. They don’t talk about their process. They don’t talk about their fees.” So even though more law firms have websites, I’m not sure how effective they are at communicating the things that clients want to know.
That’s a great point. A lot of times, when a lawyer builds the website, they build it from their own personal perspective and how to tout their own accomplishments, because they don’t really understand what it is that clients are looking for when they are trying to choose a website or the website content. And very few of them actually go out to clients and say, “Hey, what is it that you use to make these decisions?” They’re just kind of guessing at what clients want to know. And as you said, it’s mostly one way communication. At best, there are articles that are explaining what different legal concepts are. There are articles that are trying to relate to a client and their experience and say, “This is why you need a lawyer. This is why you should choose us.” But there isn’t a two-way dialogue. And one of the important things to note is that the more time a prospective client stays on a website, the more likely they are to actually convert into a client relationship. So getting a two-way communication or an open dialogue between the law firm and the prospective client is hugely important from a marketing perspective.
Live Chats, Email Forms and Other Attorney Website Needs:
What kind of tools are you seeing out there that can help create that two-way communication platform?
Yeah. There’s a ton of tools out there. And most of us have seen them on all kinds of other websites. There are chat bots or live chat. There are forms that you can fill out where you could explain what your problem is. There are websites that you go to that you can schedule an appointment right on the website. So all of those tools are available to lawyers, but very few lawyers are using them. For example, in the survey, it showed only 9% of law firms have fillable forms, which would make it really easy to do an intake on a client, to have them fill out a form.
As far as scheduling an appointment, whether that’s an initial consultation or an existing client who says, “Hey, I need to communicate with my lawyer,” only 17 or 18% of respondents had that capability on their website, which means they have to make a phone call. There’s all these other hoops that they have to jump through, instead of they’re already on your website. They could do it right then and there. As you said, they’ve been spending a lot of time on your site. They’ve decided that they want to talk to somebody. Let them make that scheduled appointment right there, or let them chat with somebody so that they can direct them to the right lawyer and schedule that appointment, so they’re talking to the right person right off the bat. And then they’re not either playing phone tag or going back and forth. It’s a set appointment. Only about 6% of our respondents said they had any kind of live chat available on their website.
Using Client Portals on Attorney Websites:
And especially when somebody is wanting to speak with a lawyer for this type of service industry, their concerns are usually pretty immediate. And they are more likely to work with somebody who is readily available, not somebody that they call and maybe two days later calls back. They need immediate attention. And if they can feel heard by their lawyer, who is going to become a pivotal part of their life and getting whatever problem it is resolved, then they are much more likely to work with them in the long run. And so once you can get the client past that point, and they convert into a long term client for whatever case it is that they’re dealing with, the communication process needs to stay efficient for both the client and the law firm. In your research, you examined using some secure client portals. You wrote that only 29% of law firms are using secure portals, despite how widely available they are. What can these portals do, and what are some of the benefits of using them?
Yeah. A secure client portal is a great thing for a lot of reasons. One is that first word, which is that word secure. As lawyers, we are charged with keeping the confidentiality of our client’s data and the client communication. And a lot of lawyers are just communicating with their clients through email, which isn’t necessarily horrible. But they’re not always taking the additional steps to make sure that’s secure by using encrypted email or secure send services, or even talking to the client about confidentiality issues on the client’s end, in terms of how they’re accessing. Is it a shared computer? Is it a work email? Is that invading sort of the attorney client relationship, whereas a client portal, the client gets a login and a password and they log in to a portion of your website, and they can see everything that they are involved in with the law firm in one place.
And there are a lot of different ways that you can have a secure client portal. The one that I recommend the most for lawyers is to use a secure client portal in conjunction with your case management program. All of the big case management programs that lawyers are using typically these days have some kind of a secure client portal. So you’ve got Clio, MyCase, PracticePanther, Smokeball. There are a whole bunch of these that have a secure client portal built in. What happens is the client logs in using their secure user ID and their password. They can see all of the documents that are involved in their matter. If you’re collaborating with the client, the client needs to make comments, it’s easy to share documents through the secure client portal. They can typically see a calendar, so they can see when their upcoming appointments are. And you can communicate through that secure client portal.
And most of the time, they’ll integrate with your email program. So for the lawyer, it’s not that much different than checking in Outlook. They’ll get a notification there that the client has left them a message in the secure client portal, and they can go in and respond to the message. And it’s great for clients because they can have access. If they have a question, they log into the portal. Maybe they can answer the question themselves, even if it’s in the middle of the night. They don’t even have to bother the lawyer. So that cuts down on a lot of the back and forth, and the client feels more at ease because they always have access to everything and they can see. And you have different levels of permission. There may be things that some people can see and some people can’t. They may be able to see their bills and see how much is left on their retainer balance, all of those things that clients are concerned about that are really sort of administrative that they can handle on their own if they have a secure way of doing that.
Using Video and Other Technology to Streamline Communication:
That’s great. Yeah, what a powerful tool. And obviously, that can help streamline other operations internally if you’re not tied up answering the phone, or your in-house support isn’t tied up answering questions that could be easily answered in the portal. And as you said earlier, a lot of times the website itself doesn’t necessarily have the information available for clients, nor do they necessarily need to have things that are on the site itself, unless a client is an existing client. But by logging into the secure portal part of the website, they’re able to make the transition between what information is being used to help convert a client into a client, and then facilitate the next steps as they progress through that client-attorney relationship. So that can definitely be an incredibly strong tool. Are there any other technologies that lawyers should be looking into to help streamline their communication process?
Yeah. There are lots of different things that I think you can do. And again, the idea to some degree is almost that sort of self-help, so you have it all set up so that the client can go and get the answers that they need. And then if they still have questions, then they can always call your office, or they can use the website, if you have that capability, to make an appointment directly to get their questions answered. But even if you don’t have a secure client portal with your case management program, there are client portals that you can use for document sharing to let the client see their documents or download their documents, or to again, collaborate. There’s a whole bunch of programs that can do that that are a little bit separate. You may not get the calendar piece or some of the other pieces, but you can communicate and share documents.
Also, another great thing that not a lot of lawyers are using yet is video on their website. And that can be for marketing purposes for getting new clients, but also for existing clients. So if you do a two or three minute video about things that clients frequently ask you. I always recommend that lawyers put a frequently asked questions section on their website. The text is great, but some people it’s going to be easier for them to click the button and watch a video and have you explain it.
And it’s almost like you’re talking to them. So you’re still advancing the relationship with the client, but you can answer the questions that they typically ask, where you know you explain something to a client during the initial consult, but it’s a more complicated concept. And sometimes the client needs to hear it two, three four, five times. You can say, “Here, I recorded a video about this. Here’s the link to it. Why don’t you take a look at that, and if you still have more questions, we can set up an appointment to speak about it.”
So I think providing the client with all of these different ways, text, video, chat, to get the information that they’re looking for. And again, a lot of those things are things where the lawyer doesn’t have to be present. It’s there. The lawyer sets it up in advance, and setting up templates and forms and things, flow charts to explain to clients what the process is. So going back to what I said about my client, when I was talking to him when he was looking at these websites and saying, “None of this stuff … If I didn’t know anything about this process, I would be lost. I wouldn’t even know what questions to ask when I get in front of the lawyer.”
So I think there are so many ways that we can communicate with clients using all of these different tools and these different methods where you can help clients feel like, hey, they really understand what my problems are. And they’re making it really easy for me to find this information and get my questions answered, whether that’s live, or they’re sending me to a resource that I can look at, and I know I can go back to it if I didn’t get all of it the first time.
Absolutely. And I think that you hit on something that is so important. With all the different ways that people like to communicate, I know that there are some clients that I work with who are email people. Others are phone call people. Others are text message people. Others are portal people. And to be able to reach them on their individual preferences for communication, you can really foster a stronger relationship with that client. And so if you can, on your initial website, be able to provide multiple forms of ways to get the important messages conveyed, then you’re already starting to bridge that personalized relationship, rather than just making a wall of text or exclusively video. You’re able to adapt and really bring the information to them in a way that they are going to be able to quickly understand it and make the next move. So that’s very, very important.
How To Contact Allison C. Shields Johs, Esq.
Allison, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. How can lawyers get in touch with you if they want you to take a look at their website and help you to streamline their communications?
Sure. My website is lawyermeltdown.com. You can always reach me through my website. I’m always happy to converse with people by email. My email address is Allison@legaleaseconsulting.com. Or you can always call my office at (631) 642-0221.
Thank you so much, Alison. I hope you have a great day.
Thanks, Lindsey. You too.