Empowering staff is a strategic way to make clients happy.
The client who comes away with an answer, even if not from the mouth of the attorney, is generally far more satisfied than the one who could only leave a message for a later return phone call from the lawyer. The happy client with an answer is a satisfied client; one more likely to sing your praises and refer new business.
Let me give you a particular example of how staff can be integral in client service and prompt responsiveness. A client of mine who had a volume practice was receiving more than 125 calls a day. What he found was 80 percent of calls pertained to the process of representation, with questions such as: “Where is the deposition going to be?” “How do I have to dress?” “Where is the courtroom?” “How do I get there?” “Will I see you or will I see an associate from the firm?” Only the remaining 20 percent of the calls requested actual legal advice and thus required a lawyer’s response.
By creating a system with the members of his staff, this lawyer was able to become more efficient in the handling of phone calls and increase his clients’ satisfaction with the responses given to their inquiries. How it worked is that each of his paralegals was assigned a different part of the alphabet (such as A to G, H to M, and N to Z) that corresponded to clients’ last names. When a call was received from a client, the receptionist would transfer the call to the appropriate paralegal; that paralegal, then, responded to the routine process queries cited above.
The remaining 20 percent of the calls were transferred to the lawyer if the lawyer was present. For those who could not get their question answered immediately because the lawyer was not in the office or was engaged with another matter, the paralegal made an “appointment” with the client for the lawyer to return the call at a specific time, within 24 hours whenever possible. The result was that because clients were able to speak to somebody directly and have their questions answered, they were pleased. They went away happy and with no reason to complain about the firm’s lack of responsiveness.
Thus, you should explore where and how you can delegate some of the powers that would otherwise be in your domain to those who can help you help your clients.
Do note, though, that what we are talking about here is client service, most emphatically not the practice of law. The National Association of Legal Assistants Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility clearly spells out that a legal assistant “may perform any task which is properly delegated and supervised by an attorney, as long as the lawyer . . . maintains a direct relationship with the client, and assumes professional responsibility for the work product.” In addition, legal assistants “must not perform any of the duties that attorneys only may perform nor take any actions that attorneys may not take.”
However, it is in the interests of the profession and the public for the delivery of more efficient, comprehensive, and better quality legal services that, where possible and ethically achievable, staff members’ capabilities be leveraged.