Here's what to look for when choosing an answering service for a legal practice.
- An answering service may be a cost-effective alternative to hiring a full-time receptionist for your law firm.
- Services include live, after-hours and overflow call answering; message taking; appointment setting and reminder calls; and call recording.
- Answering services are often specialized for industries with particular communication needs.
Attorneys are often very busy. Their responsibilities include meeting with potential new clients, following up with existing clients, securing and reviewing case law, writing briefs, and sometimes litigation. That leaves precious little time for answering the phones, and in-house receptionists can be expensive. Luckily, there are live answering services that enable attorneys to outsource their incoming phone calls (and sometimes their outgoing calls) for a fraction of the price of hiring a full-time receptionist. For legal practices that need help managing the phone lines and improving client satisfaction, legal answering services could be the solution.
What is an attorney answering service?
A legal answering service manages inbound calls to a law firm or attorney's office, generally capturing caller information, taking messages, answering frequently asked questions and setting appointments. Live receptionists at an answering service act on behalf of the client, so callers won't realize that customer service is outsourced. Some legal answering services also conduct outbound calling, which could help your firm drum up new leads and find new clients.
The best legal answering services offer answering for multiple lawyers, making them suitable for small firms. When partnering with an attorney answering service, it's important to choose one your business can scale with. Ask whether the company has the ability to take on additional attorneys or provide new services upon request. As your legal practice grows, so will your needs.
Answering services for attorneys vary in what they offer, but many include these core features:
- Live answering: Generally available 24/7, a live receptionist will answer incoming calls and, if you provide a list of answers, assist callers with common issues and questions.
- Message taking: Message-taking services include the capture of information requested by the legal practice. The receptionist will then forward messages to the relevant parties at the legal practice.
- After-hours answering: When the legal practice is closed, an answering service for attorneys can provide a live receptionist so incoming callers can still connect with a representative and leave their message.
- Overflow call answering: If your legal practice anticipates a spike in call volume, placing a live receptionist on overflow gives incoming callers somewhere to go even when the main lines are busy.
- Appointment setting: Answering service receptionists can use your legal practice's calendar to set appointments for callers. Many also offer appointment reminders. This service can reduce cancellations and no-shows.
- Call recording: Legal answering services can record calls and archive them for later access and review.
Do you need an attorney answering service?
Outsourcing your customer service is a major decision. To determine whether you need the support of an answering service for attorneys, ask yourself the following questions. Then, compare the cost of a legal answering service with the cost of hiring a full-time receptionist. Someone has to help you answer the phones, but who would be most cost-effective?
- Am I missing calls? Missing calls is one of the most obvious reasons to forward your phone lines to a legal answering service. If your staff is busy with other tasks and unable to reach the phone, a live receptionist can make sure your callers are taken care of and the messages are passed on to you quickly and accurately.
- Are clients canceling or not showing up to appointments? Legal practices must often contend with appointment cancellations and no-shows. Legal practice management software often includes appointment reminder features, but answering services for attorneys offer another way to encourage your clients to show up when scheduled. Many can even integrate with your legal practice management software and work directly within the platform.
- Do I receive a lot of after-hours calls? Most legal practices aren't open around the clock, but clients might still want to call in to ask questions or set an appointment after you close for the day. Legal answering services can handle after-hours calls and improve your practice's customer engagement.
- Does my call volume unexpectedly spike? If you ever have unexpected spikes in call volume, some of your clients might have difficulty getting through to your front office. By hiring an answering service to handle overflow calls, you can make sure all your callers are answered, even at the busiest times.
- Do I need to improve client outreach? Some legal answering services offer outbound calling as well, following up on lists of existing leads or even, in some cases, conducting cold calling to find new ones. If your law firm is suffering when it comes to client outreach and finding new business, outbound call support from an answering service for attorneys can help.
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Can a bad attorney answering service hurt your legal practice?
Bad answering services can damage any business's customer service reputation. If an answering service agent is unresponsive or rude to callers, you could lose clients. Worse yet, it could harm your brand for years to come, even long after you fired the answering service responsible. Furthermore, if a legal answering service has lax security measures, sensitive client data and privileged communications could be exposed in a data breach. That's why it is important to conduct a thorough review of your options before signing up with any answering service.
Beyond testing the answering service's customer support quality and examining its security policies and capabilities, you should inquire about the company's physical infrastructure. This should include data centers and redundancy, which allow the answering service to continue responding to callers even when a natural disaster or power failure renders one location inoperable. Resilience is key, because your callers won't care that your third-party answering service is located in the eye of a storm; they'll only care that no one picked up the phone (and they might not call back at all).
The best legal answering services will spell out all the services, pricing, fees, terms and conditions you can expect before you sign up. Request all of this in writing, and thoroughly review it before you decide whether to partner with the answering service. Obtaining a written document with these details will help you and the legal answering service maintain a mutually beneficial partnership moving forward.
What are the unique elements of an attorney answering service?
While legal answering services are not beholden to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) like medical answering services are, it is useful for them to employ advanced security measures and encryption all the same. Attorneys deal with a lot of sensitive information, so there could be serious consequences for cases and clients in the event of a data breach. A legal answering service should employ at least 128-bit encryption, though many offer the more secure 256-bit encryption.
Legal answering services often extend the option of additional contact numbers for the same attorney or firm. This is useful when you're managing a class-action suit or running a particular campaign and you want to separate those calls from your usual calls. Legal answering services can also prioritize calls by type, depending on your preferences. For example, your law firm can prioritize particular case types, or existing clients' calls over consultations.
How much does an attorney answering service cost?
The cost of an answering service depends on factors like your call volume and the features you select. Most answering services charge by the minute, and you can likely expect to pay between 75 cents and $1.25 per minute regardless of the features you choose. Generally, the lower your call volume, the higher your rate. Some answering services charge additional fees for setup, overages and holiday service, so be sure to review the operating agreement for those details.
It's also important to find out how an answering service defines a minute. Many answering services rely on what is known as a six-second increment. This means call time is rounded up to the nearest sixth second, often starting after a minute. For example, a phone call that lasts one minute and four seconds would be billed as one minute and six seconds, typically listed on your statement as "1.1 minutes." While the six-second increment is standard throughout the industry, some answering services round up as high as the nearest minute, while others don't use increments at all and only bill for real call time. Ideally, you'd partner with a company that bills second to second, avoiding the increased cost of increment-based pricing.
Some legal answering services also offer free trials so you can test out their service quality for a week or two before making a purchase decision. You should always take advantage of the free trial when available because it's important to know what you can expect from an answering service. After all, your relationship with your customers is on the line. For a closer look at some of the best answering services out there, see our best picks page.
Many law firms employ an in-house receptionist to answer their phones, take messages and respond to client questions. However, it can be rather expensive to maintain a full-time employee. In some cases, adding a full-time receptionist could even trigger regulatory obligations you weren't previously required to meet, increasing costs well beyond a single employee's salary. Outsourcing management of your phone lines to a legal answering service could be a cost-effective way to retain quality customer service without the added overhead. If you need help capturing caller info, taking messages, setting appointments and following up on leads, a legal answering service could be right for you.