Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

How Your Telephone is Costing You Clients

Here’s a statistic that may shock you: less than 10 percent of prospective clients ever get to speak to a lawyer when they call a law firm.

They either talk with a receptionist, assistant or answering service, or else they’re sent directly to voicemail. Even more dismaying: 42 percent of the time, the lawyer takes three or more days to reply to voicemails and online requests.

Those are some of the findings from a survey conducted by the ABA Law Practice Division of a typical phone intake experience from the perspective of a potential client.

Researchers posing as prospective clients called hundreds of law firms (primarily smaller, consumer-centric practices) across the country. Calls were placed during and after business hours. In addition, the researchers analyzed call-center data from thousands of inbound calls to lawyers, and they looked at how web-generated inquiries were handled.

Among the results:

  • Three percent of callers gave up before the phone was even answered.
  • Eleven percent of calls lasted less than 10 seconds—most likely prospective clients frustrated by their inability to reach an actual person.
  • Six percent of callers received a rude or curt greeting.

“Most of the firms were appalled at their performance and couldn’t believe some of the recordings when we played them back,” says Conrad Saam in this Law Technology Today article. “Our worst result was a voicemail message that, instead of transitioning to the prospective client leaving a voicemail, simply looped back and repeated the voicemail message ad nauseam—and this was for a client investing in Adwords advertising to generate business. Across the board, firms failed to deliver an outstanding first impression to potential clients.”

The Phone Is Ringing

Here are some more of the survey’s findings:

  • The phone call. One out of three callers didn’t get to speak to a human being. Less than 10 percent of callers got to talk with a lawyer. Some of the firms said that was by design, Saam says: “We can’t waste our lawyer’s time speaking with potential business—if the case is important, we’ll get back to them.”
  • Who answered the phone? Sixty-five (65) percent of the time, a receptionist, lawyer, or other person took the call. Thirty-two (32) percent of calls went directly to voicemail. In three percent of calls, nobody answered.
  • How was the caller greeted? Seventy-two (72) percent of the time, the caller was greeted with the name of the law firm. Twenty-two (22) percent of callers received a generic “Law Firm.” Six percent got a blunt “Hello” or something similar. “The very first impression a prospective client gets is the way the phone is answered,” says Saam. “Yet one out of every four callers didn’t even hear the name of the firm when their call was answered. The non-descriptive greeting of ‘law firm’ communicates to the client that you view yourself as interchangeable with any other law firm—a pretty bad message to deliver as a first impression. And yes, this issue is probably exacerbated by answering services, so perhaps it’s time to find a different service.”
  • Was the caller placed on hold? Forty-seven (47) percent of callers were not put on hold. Thirty-eight (38) percent were put on hold one time. Seven percent were put on hold twice. Eight percent were put on hold three or more times. “Some prospective clients found themselves on hold for an inordinate period of time, during which they may very well be surfing the web for a new appointment with someone less busy,” Saam writes. “Another tip: lullaby hold music should be avoided, as it makes the time seem to stretch out even longer.”


The takeaway: the number one thing prospective clients look for in an attorney is responsiveness; this starts with the initial phone call.

About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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