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LEGAL CENTS: Online booking an inexpensive, but sometimes futile, offering

By: Jane Pribek//April 26, 2012//

LEGAL CENTS: Online booking an inexpensive, but sometimes futile, offering

By: Jane Pribek//April 26, 2012//

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Jane Pribek

From haircuts to restaurant reservations, Kellie Mannette prefers to book all her appointments online.

So naturally, when the Chapel Hill, N.C., lawyer launched her solo practice in October, she wanted to make online scheduling available for her clients.

Mannette found, which offers a free service that makes it easy for clients to book appointments online. It took a little tinkering, she said, but she’s now satisfied with the calendar’s placement on the page, its appearance and functionality.

Unfortunately, no one is using the service.

Although Mannette’s new practice is thriving, she said, not one prospective client — not even her existing clients, whom she’s urged take advantage of it — are using the Web booking option.

“I get the impression that people call instead because they want to actually talk to me, before deciding if they want to meet with me,” she said. “They want that initial impression on the phone.”

Chicago lawyer Gianna Scatchell tells a similar story.

She initially used BookFresh on her website, which likewise offers a freebie version. Scatchell, also a Web developer, ultimately created her own version. But despite the effort, online booking rarely is used on her site, she said.

“A lot of my clients come from word-of-mouth or social media, and they want to talk to me and get a feel for my personality,” Scatchell said. “There’s a potential to lose that personal touch if they just use the booking software.”

Although it seems online booking has yet to catch on in Wisconsin, as well, that doesn’t mean you should overlook offering the service.

Despite the lack of use, both Mannette and Scatchell said they don’t plan to ditch online scheduling
anytime soon. After all, it costs them nothing except their time to designate availability on the online calendar.

Both of them are young lawyers who believe online scheduling is popular with their contemporaries. While young people as a whole aren’t big consumers of legal services, as they age, they’re more likely to need lawyers.

Moreover, smartphones, iPads and other tablets are becoming more popular every day, among all ages, and their users increasingly are looking to their devices to do everything for them, including scheduling their various appointments.

For those interested in giving online booking a try, there are several inexpensive and even some free options. In addition to the two mentioned above, there’s Schedulicity, GenBook, Accuity Scheduling and Setster. Most are inexpensive, about $20 a month, and many offer either a free version or a free 30-day trial.

Google Calendar is yet another option. It’s free and although it might not offer the features of the previously-mentioned programs, most people have some familiarity and, therefore, some comfort with it.

Some attorneys who offer online scheduling include their rates, as well, so clients can pay in advance with PayPal.

That’s likely useful for those who offer unbundled advice or for those who strictly adhere to a cash upfront policy.

And just as pay-up-front pricing might not work for everyone, be aware that certain practice areas, such as immigration law, might not be a good fit for online booking. Jennifer Kowski Dahlberg, a St. Paul, Minn., attorney who concentrates in immigration law said she tried offering online booking but eventually had to stop.

“Clients were not using it very often, and the ones who were using it would get very confused,” said Dahlberg, who used BookFresh. “I think it’s due in part to language barriers. It might be great for other practice areas.

“But it actually added extra work for me, to track down potential clients and get them squared away on appointments. It was just easier to have them call me directly.”

For Scatchell, as a general-practice civil litigator, that’s not really an issue, however.

“It’s not the bulk of my lead generation,” she said. “But in the next few years (online scheduling) is going to become bigger and bigger and it’s free. So why not?”


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