July 31, 2014

Ten Things a Small Firm Owner Should Never Do

Frank T. Lockwood

Attorneys are all too familiar with the daily “To Do List.” Unfortunately, what frequently happens is that matters not on the list sneak in and end up re-ordering these important tasks. To combat this insidious, unconscious behavior, here is a “To Don’t List” for you to follow.

1. Don’t Answer the Phone

The fastest way to lose control of your schedule, or never make it to number two on your to do list, is to answer the phone every time it rings. Some lawyers believe that answering the phone avoids stacking up the callbacks that you’ll have to do anyway. This is simply not true.

All calls into the firm fall into one of three categories, and how each call is handled depends on which category the call falls into:

  • Calls regarding current cases;
  • Calls from prospective clients;
  • Miscellaneous calls, such as sales people or friends.

Most calls regarding a current case are status calls and can be handled by an administrative assistant or paralegal who is probably more prepared to answer the call than you are. If the subject of the call is beyond the capability of the paralegal, he or she can take a message or refer the call to your voice mail and assure the caller you will return the call as soon as you can. The voice mail feature allows the caller to convey what he or she wants to convey without feeling frustrated at not reaching you.

Calls from prospective clients can be of indeterminate length and may drag you into the abyss of free legal advice (see No. 2, below) or into being too abrupt to satisfy the caller. The better approach is to have a trained assistant answer all calls and be prepared to ask the new caller a few key questions, the answers to which will either qualify or disqualify the caller from consideration as a potential client. These questions should be designed to determine if the case fits into your firm’s work profile, and if so, may be followed up by setting an appointment to see an attorney.

Miscellaneous calls can be handled by an administrative assistant. Personal calls from your friends or spouse or a prospective date from Match.com can go to the smartphone number you provided. These calls can be screened by you on the spot by simply seeing who is calling and deciding to accept or reject the call.

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