True Story: Law Firm Phone Answering Gone Badly Awry

It’s Wednesday afternoon, and an instant message pops up on my screen.

One of my intake people wants to know whether we’re still referring to a particular attorney in a particular city when we can’t take the case.

“Yes,” I respond in my curt manner. Suddenly feeling chatty, I typed, “Why?”

“Because they seem irritable in her office when we transfer the clients over to them,” she explained.

“What’s that about?” I wondered. Who gets irritable about a new client? Personally, I get giddy.

I told the intake person that I’d investigate, and I immediately called the lawyer to whom we’re referring a pretty steady stream of clients.

The Phone-Answering Saga

Here’s the timeline:

  • 3:16 PM: Irritable woman answers the phone. Sounds like I’ve dragged her away from her soap opera, rum and coke, and cigarette. Seriously, she was cranky, and I felt like I was bothering her. She takes a message, and I’m left with the feeling that the message will be stuck under her ashtray on a pink slip with little chance of ever being seen by another human.
  • 3:18 PM: I call back. I also know another lawyer in the office. I decided I’d call him and see what he knew. (I was already thinking “blog post!”) This time, I go straight to voicemail. It’s the voice mailbox of some random person I’ve never heard of, so I hang up.
  • 3:21 PM: I’ve really got this blog post in my head now, and I’m kind of blown away by this experience, so I dial again. A different irritable woman answers and says, “Hold please,” and click, she’s gone. I start watching the timer on my iPhone. This is incredible. I’m calling to refer business, right?

Seconds tick by. They turn into a full minute. Then another minute ticks by. I’m a mixture of annoyed, stunned, and giddy knowing that I’ll have something to write for you. This is awesome, yet disturbing.

Two minutes and 30 seconds later, someone picks up the phone. She answers like I’m just now calling. She doesn’t acknowledge my two and a half minutes on hold. She is also pissed off that her phone rang and someone wants help. I can hear it in her voice. She hates me, and I haven’t yet given her a reason to hate me (that’s what I’m doing now).

I ask for the lawyer I’m seeking. She says he’s not available. I ask when he will be available. She mumbles something about not knowing and that she’ll ask him to call me back. She asks what I’m calling about. Being the jerk that I am, I respond, “The terrible phone answering system you’ve got,” and we disconnect.

Unbelievable. The whole episode is stunning to me. Mind boggling.

Don’t Let Your Intake Sabotage Your Marketing

What you don’t yet know is that this law firm spends a ton of time and money on marketing. They’ve got an elaborate website, YouTube videos, advertising, the whole shebang.

They’re flushing that money down the toilet. And it’s not even a pretty flush with that blue water stuff. It’s just a horrible, awful flush that kind of gets stuck and then goes plunging down right before it overflows all over the bathroom floor. It’s ugly.

If I were a prospective client, I would run away so fast they’d never know I’d been interested in them. As I was running away, I’d tell my friends how terrible they are. In fact, I’m betting that’s what’s happening right now, and the law firm has no idea that it’s happening.

This law firm has built a beautiful wall between themselves and the clients. They’ve come up with a way to avoid all the hassles of practicing law. They simply annoy the clients right off the bat so they’ll go away and call someone else.

I love it. It’s like the Great Wall of China. Remarkable. By the way, I read that you actually can’t see that Wall from space. Who knew?

Time passes. Blood pressure eases. I reenter my Zen state.

Test Your Intake System

Later in the day, miraculously, I got a call back from both of the lawyers I’d called. I explained the situation. They were apologetic. I didn’t need an apology, as I’d already started on this article. I was a happy camper.

One of the lawyers explained that a staff person had quit a few weeks ago, yada, yada, yada. He’s trying to replace that person. Later in the conversation, he explained his amazing system for staff training and videos on YouTube. He told me he pays less than average because his training system works so well.

He’s wrong. Something is terribly flawed. He may be running the worst law office I’ve ever encountered (at least for that seven minutes on a Wednesday afternoon). His system for phone answering, training, hiring, paying, and supervision is an unmitigated disaster. He needs to get off the YouTube and get in the space of his phone-answering people—pronto.

How’s your system working? Is this article about you? Will I be writing this whole thing again right after I call your office?

Please, please, please have some folks call your office and test what’s happening. You’d be better off with all calls going straight to voicemail over the system these folks are using. They are literally turning people away.

[ While I have you here, I wanted to remind you that you can get the latest articles delivered to your inbox a week before they go up on the web. Just one email per week. Sign up here. ]

What’s the point of marketing your practice with networking lunches, building a website, or advertising if you’re going to surround yourself with a wall of nasty people answering your phones? What is the point?

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