Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin: October 2012

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When you first meet with a new client, determine exactly how he or she wants to be contacted.

For many practitioners, too often we think technology has not positively affected client service and client relations.  If that has been the case for you and your client base, I say that the problem is not the technology but how we use it or do not use it.

Almost everyone, including your clients, uses technology in their personal and business transactions.  The reality is that your lack of technology sophistication could prevent you from obtaining business. 

This month’s article is going to point out some ways to use technology to help you improve the service your clients receive from you and increase their satisfaction. 

Remember, this is not how to use technology to get clients but rather how to satisfy your clients and make their experience a more positive one. 

It is about them, not you. 

Make It Easy for Them to Find You

If you have not already done it, make sure that you get listed on Google Places (www.google.com/places/).  There are other places such as Yahoo (local.yahoo.com/)  which are free and only take a short time to get listed.  You should also have a link to Google Maps on your website so they can get information on how to find your office. Depending upon the type and location of practice, you might want to also include information on your website about parking or public transportation. 

Make It Easy for Them to Pay You

The MSBA Ethics Committee has many ethics opinions about accepting credit cards for payment (2001-15 – Ramifications of Accepting Credit Card Payment for Retainers and Fee Payments; 91-5 – Fees - Acceptance of Credit Cards; 78-19 – Fees - Use of Credit Cards).

It is possible to accept credit cards for earned fees and that money will go directly into your operating account. While there is a fee to accept credit cards, clients want the ability to charge their fees. In addition, it is also possible to accept credit cards for retainers as long as the fee goes directly into your trust account and all fees come out of the operating account. 

MSBA, like many other state Bars, endorses LawPay. LawPay is now set up to accept credit card payments securely using your smartphone. For more information and to get the MSBA discount, you can go to www.lawpay.com/msba to learn about the options available to make it easier for your clients to pay you.

Are You There?

One of the biggest complaints against lawyers from clients is that they do not return phone calls.  While not the most advanced device, you can use your voicemail and email to let clients and potential clients know when you are available or unavailable, and when you will be able return calls. This is an especially effective way to keep clients happy if you do not have a full time receptionist or answering service. 

If you do have a receptionist or other staff/partners, you should have a shared calendar so that everyone’s schedule is available. This will help staff communicate information about your availability with your clients. 

While there are many ways to do this, Google Calendar (www.google.com/calendar)  is free and easy. You can share with the public, with a few people in your office, or on your website. There is also i-Cal for Apple users and MS Outlook.

Remember, while it is a great idea to put pertinent information on your voicemail to let your clients know when you are out of the office and when you will return calls, it is just as important to remember to update your voicemail when you return to the office. 

Nothing screams inefficiency more than an out-of-date voice mail or email. 

I have heard voicemails and received out of office emails that were weeks, even months out of date. In fact, I received an out of office reply to a message I sent on September 27 that said, “I am currently out of the office. I will return on May 14. I will contact you then.” 

If I was a client of that attorney, I would start to worry about whether or not he had the skills to handle my case. Your clients cannot judge your legal skills, but they can judge your administrative or management skills, and they often assume if you are disorganized at one, you may be disorganized in the other.

Scheduling Meetings

Technology has clearly made it much easier to schedule meetings with many people. There are a variety of applications, from free and simple to fee based and feature rich, available to help you or your staff take the pain out of scheduling meetings.

If you are not used to sharing your schedule/calendar with your clients, my suggestion is to start with a simple and free application that will just send a list of dates you recommend to people you want to attend. The simplest is Meet-o-Matic, which they call “the world’s simplest meeting scheduler.” It does one thing: it allows people to say what days they are available for a meeting and you receive a link that allows you to see who replied and which date works best. The free version does not sync with other calendars or send reminders. It just schedules meetings.

However, if you are interested in a more sophisticated product with more features, there are many to consider. Book Fresh (www.bookfresh.com)  allows you to add to your website and have your clients book their own appointments. There is a free version as well a business version for $19.95 a month. There is a 30 day free trial.

Doodle (www.doodle.com)  is another very simple free application that helps scheduling and does sync with other calendars. The paid solo version is $39.00 per year and the group version up to 20 users is $379.00 per year. There is also a 30 day free trial.

GenBook (www.genbook.com)  does not have a free version but does offer a free trial. Like the others, it syncs to other calendars and offers a mobile app and online scheduling.

Again, there are many similar applications available so there is no reason that you should not be using this to make it easier for your clients (and you and your staff) to schedule meetings and appointments. Visit AppAppeal (www.appappeal.com)  for a list of the top 34 Free Appointment Scheduling Apps.

Signing on the Dotted Line

It is now easier than ever to give your client the opportunity to sign documents and complete documents electronically. This can save a lot of time and hopefully errors. Services include Echosign (www.echosign.com)  from Adobe, Right Signature (www.rightsignature.com) , and DocuSign (www.docusign.com) . All of these give a free trial and have a variety of pricing plans. Docusign even has a free service which you can try for 5 signatures to see if you want to use it as a paid service.

Reminders

Everyone, including your clients, is very busy and it would be extremely helpful if you sent reminders for meetings, court dates, or other information that may be needed by a specific date. Why not send reminders? When you first meet with a new client, determine exactly how he or she wants to be contacted. 

Also determine if the clients wants to receive reminders and how they want to be reminded by voicemail or email. 

You should also contact your current clients to determine if they also want to receive reminders by email or voice mail. 

You should start to include this information in the engagement letter or a separate letter that lists information about how to communicate with a client. This is especially important for clients involved in litigation.

Too often we are too quick to view technology as a necessary evil and more of a barrier between client and practitioners, but there are many ways to use technology to improve our relationships with our clients and create a more positive experience for them. That is a win-win situation. If the clients are happy, they could be good referral sources or come back when they have other legal matters. 

And finally, if you want to know about how they felt about their experience, send them a short evaluation immediately following the engagement. Use Zoomerang (www.zoomerang.com) or Survey Monkey (www.surveymonkey.com)  to both ask about their experience and remind them about your other practice areas.

Gotta love technology.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin : October 2012

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