Fire the person who hired him or her. Over the years, I’ve told a few horror stories involving receptionists. Two that immediately come to mind, include: the cigarette dangling, shoeless one, and the one that told the caller to get lost

It has always amazed me that businesses, including law firms, would be so careless when it comes to placing a major part of their contact with the outside world in the hands of an uninteresting, bored, unpleasant person because they don’t have to pay them very much. I’ve even argued that the cashier in a bank should be paid more than the president, since they have the most meaningful contact with its customers. But I digress.

Seth Godin’s recent post on receptionists reminded me of just how important that position is to a law firm. After mentioning several different businesses, and how important new and referred business is, Godin states:

“Go down the list. Stockbrokers, even hairdressers. And not just people who recently moved. When a new referral shows up, all that work and expense, and then the phone rings and it gets answered by your annoyed, overworked, burned out, never very good at it anyway receptionist, it all falls apart.

“What is the doctor thinking when she allows her neither pleasant nor interested in new patients receptionist to answer the phone.”

What indeed! And why do some firms load up their receptionists with so much work that they don’t have the time or attitude to be good at what they were hired to do. Or, they may just be the wrong person for the job personality-wise. In that case, it isn’t their fault. The person who hired them is the one to blame. Fire them.

The story goes that a new client of a law firm called to set up an appointment. The new receptionist told the client that she was “kind of busy right now” and would have to call the person back later. Ouch!! The tale was told by a consultant over on the Law Marketing Listserv (free trial available) yesterday, seeking guidance and suggestions on training that firm’s staff.

I found the responses to her request interesting. They ranged from fire her (great training) to a suggestion that she train the people who hired the receptionist.  While one responder, a former in-house marketer for a large firm, concurred that the receptionist should hopefully be “great,” he said that the “receptionist’s response… has nothing to do with marketing.” Double ouch!! In fairness, he did go on to concede the point that “doing anything well at a firm is good marketing,” which is exactly my point.

A marketing partner at one of my firms was not only a brilliant lawyer (Gonzaga, Harvard), but a brilliant marketer as well. His favorite line was “Everything a law firm does is marketing.”

In the personal services business, excellent client service (or lack of it in this case) is what marketing is ALL about, unless you don’t care about getting more work or referrals from your clients. 

Once I heard someone make the suggestion that the highest paid people in a bank should be the cashiers, and the same should be true for receptionists – whether with a company or law firm. Can’t remember who said it, but I remember agreeing wholeheartedly. The reason is simple. Because of their interaction with customers/clients, receptionists can have an incredible impact on whether callers and visitors have a terrific experience when coming in contact with your firm, or whether it is a downer. The legal marketing impact is real.

There are three posts on this topic that you must read that tell the story better than I can of how important it is to have a top notch person in the role of official greeter. Promise yourself that you will read all three. First, look at Michelle Golden’s post, then Gerry Riskin’s and then Seth Godin’s, which started it all. They are definitely worth the read.

The posts may give you a different perspective on just how important your receptionist is to the impression your firm gives off.

So, how much do you pay your receptionist?

For my own best receptionist story….

Continue Reading How Much Do You Pay Your Receptionist?

With the ongoing discussion of human vs. machine when it comes to answering your office phone, Carolyn Elefant questions “the importance of having a receptionist pick up.” Sometimes she prefers to go directly to voice mail and not leave a message with a receptionist. Further, she states that newer solos may not have sufficient resources to hire a receptionist. Finally, she points out that a rude receptionist or one that sends you immediately to voice mail without a word can be worse. All excellent points.
Let me clarify my views on the points Carolyn mentioned:
A caller doesn’t have to leave a message with the receptionist, you could ask for voice mail to leave a detailed message (and I often do). I simply and quickly ask to be put into her/his voice mailbox.
As to the rude receptionist – whether blatantly or by simply putting you into voice mail without so much as a comment (I REALLY hate that one myself), some stern instruction should be able to solve that problem. If not, there is a simple solution. And you could ask a friend or colleague to call your office periodically to see how your phones are being answered. If not according to your “instruction,” then as I say the solution is easy – unless of course they are your spouse (but let’s not go there).
When I was a sole practitioner, following a stint with the North Carolina Attorney General’s office, I remember my dire financial condition very well. But what I did I recommend to other solos (and have over the years), and that is to try to find someone to share office space with. In my case, I rented space from another solo for several reasons;
*Save money,
*Have access to a library,
*Share a secretary/receptionist,
*Obtain referrals from the other lawyer (and I did), and
*Have someone to talk with that knew the local lay of the land.
When I later went on my own, I hired a secretary/receptionist because I wanted my phone answered by a live person. Granted this was a FEW years ago, before voice mail – hell it was before computers (as in IBM Mag cards, ugh). But it doesn’t change anything. We are in the people business, and I think if a prospect calls, they want to reach a person.
I realize there are times that reaching voice mail immediately will serve some people’s needs (when dealing with some clients, friends, etc.). From a legal marketing perspective, however, when a demanding or potential client calls, you want a human to answer in my view.

Some law firms have gone to an automated answering system for incoming calls during normal business hours. The caller is instructed to punch numbers to reach various people within the firm. Often you only get that person’s voicemail. This is one of the poorest examples of how to market your law practice that I can possibly think of – well, there might be a few others – but this is right up there. You should alwyas have a real person answer your firm’s telephone during the work day. Remember, we are in the “personal” services business.
I got to thinking about this misguided practice as a result of seeing Tom Mighell‘s post a couple of days ago where he refers to a find-a-human page that exists on Intuit’s web site. The page helps you cut through the automated system for a number of banks, credit card, and insurance companies among others. Although the listing is pretty limited at this point, the fun part is that you can add companies according to Intuit and tell your fellow humans how to get around impersonal automated systems you have encountered and beat.

You have a website – great! Even better, you utilized the elements we’ve written about here and here to make a great website. Even better than that? Many of you hired us to build it for you!

Of course, there’s always room for improvement, and depending on your marketing goals, there are some things you can do to really make your website go to work for you.

1. Add Chat Functionality

Those chat boxes you see in the corner of many websites have been shown to increase conversion. Whether you use an app that allows you or someone in your office to speak to visitors, you outsource it (like our friends at, or you have an AI bot with predetermined codes, these have been proven to improve your website’s conversion rate.

2. Retargeting Pixel

If you’re running PPC ads or just want to target people who have visited your website with specific social media posts, you can add a pixel code to your website that will then generate an audience that will see your content. Unless you’re a marketing aficionado, this one is best left to a marketing expert, as there are several steps in this process. However, it could be a great way to continue getting in front of people who visited your website.

3. Online Scheduling

Want to make it easier for people to book consultations with you? Skip the contact forms and having your receptionist reach out to schedule a consultation. Instead, integrate your calendar with an app like Calendly, You Can Book Me, or others and streamline your booking process!

4. Optimize for Mobile

It’s absolutely shocking how many attorney websites don’t work well on mobile devices even though that’s where the bulk of web traffic comes from these days. If your website is more than five years old, there’s a good chance that it doesn’t load properly on phones or tablets. If someone is searching for an attorney and finds a clunky, broken website on their phone, they’re likely not going to hire you.

Your website can be a great marketing tool on its own, but adding these extra bells and whistles can really put it to work for you and make things easier. If you’d like to know more, contact us today!

Having covered how crucial staff is to the practice of law numerous times several times over the last 10+ years on this blog, a refresher on some issues may be in order.

For example:

  • Receptionist. I have argued that the receptionist should be the highest paid marketing person, because of his or her being the initial face and voice of the firm often. He or she should be the best you can hire, which is why you need to pay them more;
  • Marketing staff. Beyond the official marketing staff, everyone employed by the law firm is marketing the law firm, one way or another – good or bad. How they treat not only clients, but people in general, how they act in public, how they dress, and so forth all project a brand; and
  • And everyone else, including accounting, HR, copy room, etc. for the same reasons. (click here for 21 posts on the importance of the receptionist, empowering your staff, their importance in the marketing effort, and other related topics.)

Beyond the obvious, the critical point to remember is that law firms wouldn’t exist without staff. They should be treated with upmost respect. If they are not appreciated, morale is low, turnover is high, and hiring and training new staff is expensive. Just ask your HR department or administrator, if you have any doubts.

When I was in-house marketer, I remember a lateral hire from a prominent New York law firm, who lasted two years.  His demise was in no small measure due to the way he treated staff, especially his shared secretary. His inflated ego and distain for the “peons” led to problems in getting things accomplished. His secretary was often “too busy” with her other lawyers to do his work. His work, apparently, became substandard due to missing deadlines. I expect the attitude toward his secretary and others wasn’t the main reason he was let go, but it hurt his cause. Another example involved a paralegal and “missing” pages from documents because of how the copy room staff was treated. Then, there was the legacy partner who couldn’t keep a secretary for more than a month or two. All either quit or obtained a new assignments.

It is shameful how ignorant some “educated” people really are. Such behavior is not unique to lawyers, of course, but that is beyond the scope here.

Jared Correia, assistant director and senior law practice advisor at the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program, had a post on Attorney at Work last week that reminds us how important support staff is to any law practice. Because, as he states, they :

  1. do the majority of the office’s work;
  2. are better with technology;
  3. are better with the business/financial aspects;
  4. often are more involved with client service; and
  5. particularly with newer lawyers, often “know more … about substantive law, and probably the practice of it, too.”

Bottom line: not only does staff play a vital role in the day-to-day operations of a law firm, but due to their interaction with clients and what that can mean in retaining and attracting clients, they deserve a great deal more respect than some receive.

Your success in landing new clients, or retaining existing clients for that matter, can relate directly to how they are treated when they contact your firm. I have commented in the past on this blog about the role of the receptionist and how important he or she is in terms of the impact it makes on visitors or those who call. For a couple of my posts on the topic, see links below. 

In a recent post by Noble McIntyre on Attorney at Work, he addresses telephone etiquette. Why should you care you may ask?  Because the telephone is probably your main source of contact with the outside world.

First, McIntyre talks about automated phone answering systems and other impersonal ways people are sometimes treated when calling law firms.  I actually know of law firms (albeit small ones) that had no human answer the phone.  Rather, they had automated systems requiring several prompts to get to an individual lawyer or a human.  I totally agree with his comment that such systems “can raise time barriers, frustrate callers and make your practice seem impersonal.”  Crazy, in a personal service business!

Here are a few of McIntyre’s common sense telephone tips:

  • Answer promptly before the third ring.  We live in an impatient world, and although three or more rings are not the end of it, punctuality when it comes to answering the phone is a VERY good idea;
  • Whoever answers needs to do so in a most professional manner, and in a most “pleasant tone of voice”;
  • Don’t have someone else (like the phone company’s computer) record your outgoing message;
  • Don’t give the person the runaround or make them go through a bunch of hoops to just learn that your are not available and they can leave a voicemail; and,
  • Train your receptionist as to who is who, especially when it comes to important clients.  The second time I called my son’s law firm, the receptionist recognized my voice immediately.  Granted some might say I have the voice of a rhinoceros, and maybe that wasn’t so tough for her.  But, I was blown away.  Think how your clients and contacts will feel.

I’ve often made the comment that the receptionist should be the highest-paid marketing person in a law firm, just as a cashier should be in a bank. Ridiculous I know, but think about how important they are.  They are first and foremost the front line of contact with prospects and most clients. And you need to have one that has the proper etiquette and demeanor to handle those calls.

Don’t Fire Your Receptionist…

Receptionist Tells Client to Get Lost


It has often struck me as odd that articles aimed at categories of lawyers (newbies, middle-age, old and the extremely long in the tooth) can just as well and should be directed at lawyers of all ages. Such is the case with a download I ran across on Attorney at Work.

It is entitled “25 Tips for the New Lawyer.” It is really good, and contains snippets that apply to all lawyers. I found it a good reminder of the things that lawyers should pay attention to no matter what stage of their career they find themselves. The following are a few I particularly like relating to marketing (as usual, my comments are added in parentheses):

  • “Your client is always right. (Most of the time, that is.)” (My only disagreement here is that clients are always right all the time, at least from a marketing standpoint);
  • “Return phone calls promptly. Really.” (Within no more than a couple of hours in this day and age. If you are unavailable, empower someone else to at least communicate your unavailability and when you will get back to them);
  • “Before beginning the work, ask your client or supervisor what success will look like. Don’t just guess. You’ll probably be wrong.” (Certainly, this is more applicable to the new lawyer, but all lawyers should apply this tip when it involves two a new matter from a client);
  • “While your client or colleague is in your law office, you are the hosts. Act like one.” (Make sure your receptionist knows this, and courtesies – including short wait times – are followed);
  • “Under-promise and over-deliver. Never the other way around.” (Particularly when it comes to deadlines, I like to recommend to lawyers that they beat the deadline by a day or two. Most clients would be favorably overwhelmed.);
  • “When you complete a matter or a task, ask for feedback. Be clear that you’re not looking for flattery-you want to know how to improve next time.” (Client satisfaction is so important in order to obtain additional work or referrals from a client, failure to demonstrate that you really care about the quality of your services may border on marketing malpractice.); and
  • “Remember that clients don’t always one a lawyer. Sometimes they just need someone to listen to them.” (In a marketing context, make sure that is at least 50% of the time.).

In addition to this document being an easy and a short 5-10 minute read, it has links to additional articles and blog posts bearing on each tip. This is a valuable tool for lawyers of any age, even if it only to serve as a refresher.

Are you open, generous and connected? That is a loaded question for a lawyer. I bet most of you are thinking… “That depends.” When it comes to business development the answer should be… absolutely! That is because you never know where your next client could come from, a referral from an existing client, a friend of your receptionist or a colleague in your firm. Seth Godin points out why we should focus on these values…

Open, generous and connected. Isn’t that what we seek from a co-worker, boss, friend or even a fellow conference attendee?

Open to new ideas, leaning forward, exploring the edges, impatient with the status quo… In a hurry to make something worth making.

Generous when given the opportunity (or restless to find the opportunity when not). Focused on giving people dignity, respect and the chance to speak up. Aware that the single most effective way to move forward is to help others move forward as well.

and connected. Part of the community, not apart from it. Hooked into the realities and dreams of the tribe. Able and interested in not only cheering people on, but shining a light on how they can accomplish their goals.

Paradoxically, the fancier the conference, the more fabled the people around the table, the less likely you are to find these attributes. These attributes, it turns out, have nothing to do with fame or resources. In fact, fear is the damper on all three. Fear of failure, intimacy and vulnerability. Fear closes us up, causes us to self-focus and to disconnect.

When we find our own foundation and are supported in our work by those around us, we can get back to first principles, to realizing our own dreams and making our own art by supporting others first and always.

For lawyers this couldn’t be more true. I’ve seen the loudest lawyer in the room in reality be the most insecure. Closed minded, not letting others speak and disconnected from the group. As Godin points out, it’s simply fear. It is clear that this condition is not fertile ground for building relationships and developing business. So, ask yourself… Are you open, generous and striving to connect with others?