What They didn’t teach you at the Law School
Law School prepares you to think, write and research like a lawyer, but once you’re at the door of a law firm or a courtroom, there’s a whole new set of skills you need. The present series of articles aims to enrich a new lawyer with all these skills in order for him/her to excel.
Just think for a moment, how many hours do you spend on your cell phone every workday – not just speaking to your intended party, but also in getting to that person — listening to the phone ring on the other end; being placed on hold and forgotten about; being transferred from person to person; being accidentally disconnected; or listening to long-winded, out-dated voicemail greetings. It’s enough to drive you (and your clients) crazy!
Every time a client or a prospective client interacts with your firm (often by telephone call), he or she comes away with a positive, neutral or negative impression. Obviously, you would want as many positives as possible. Making people feel important and letting them know you care leaves them with a positive impression. And it’s often the little things that make a big difference.
One such thing is how you and your law firm handle telephone calls. It communicates the importance you and the firm place on client service.
So, here are some tips to make your firm look client-friendly.
When you are receiving a call, try answering your phone before the third ring. The point is not to let your phone ring any longer than it has to. For example, if you are out of the office for an extended period, make sure your calls are properly forwarded so they are answered more promptly. Also, if you are already on a call when a second call comes through, it’s absolutely fine to put the first caller on a brief hold to answer the second call.
A warm and friendly greeting goes a long way towards getting the conversation going in the right direction. Answer with your name, company name and a genuine, “How may I help you?” If you know the caller well, a few moments of chit-chat might also be appropriate before you dive into business.
If you want to make your client feel important, there’s nothing like actively listening to and empathizing with him or her. When a client calls, you must give him or her, your full and undivided attention. Put yourself in the client’s shoes and try to see things from his or her perspective. During longer conversations, it’s a good idea to take notes and summarize what you just heard. Remember, people have a way of knowing when you’re not really paying attention, even over the phone.
Clients want access to their lawyers, and knowing they can get you 24/7 can be a big deal to them. It makes them feel important. So, give them your direct cell and/or home phone numbers.
Also, you must get in the habit of returning your phone calls by the end of the business day. Some clients are very demanding and they want quick response to repose their faith in you.
While you are away from your office but are required to make an outbound call, try finding a quiet place that is free of distractions — a place where you have easy access to any paperwork that you might need. This is especially important in situations where you shall be making your “first impression”.
Start your conversation by stating your name and the purpose of your call. Speak clearly in a warm and friendly tone. Your initial greeting is especially important if you’re not well known to the person you are calling, and it’s even more important if you’ve never met that person.
Make sure to ask the person if it’s a good time to talk. If he or she is willing, then get to the point as quickly as possible otherwise schedule an appointment for the conversation.
Let the other person set the tone and pace of the conversation. Some people talk fast. Others don’t. Be sensitive to clues.
There are times when it’s convenient, even necessary, to use a speaker phone. But always ask for permission from the other party before you put him or her on a speaker phone. To do otherwise is rude.
In many cases, it’s rude to take a phone call when you are in the presence of another person. However, a ringing, unanswered cell phone is just as obnoxious. So, if it’s absolutely necessary to take a call in the midst of a meeting, politely excuse yourself to take the call.
By practicing these techniques, you shall definitely be making people, including your clients, feel important.
Executive Editor, Lawyers Update; Director General, Universal Institute of Legal Studies