In previous newsletters, I’ve mentioned that I’ve been writing a four-part “Virtual Truth” column for the American Bar Association’s GP Solo eReport. Below, reprinted with permission from the American Bar Association, is the second half of my final column, which offers tips for working well with clients in a virtual environment. These tips apply to any business seeking to adopt a more technology-driven business model. I truly appreciate the opportunity to share these tips with all of you. I strongly believe this model works and contributes to the current discussion regarding how to modernize the practice of law while keeping the rates affordable.
- How can a virtual law firm best address initial client perceptions?
- How should in-person client meetings be handled?
Tip #2: Coordinate In-Person Client Meetings to Meet the Client’s Needs while Avoiding Confusion
As mentioned in my previous articles, I work from home, rent a nearby conference room to meet with clients, and also rent a nearby private mail box which is used as my firm’s mailing address. This set up is described on my firm’s website. Additionally, I explain this in a letter sent to all new clients. All in-person client appointments are confirmed in advance, generally by e-mail, and the location of the conference room is stated again. Nonetheless, I find that approximately 5% of people meeting me for the first time are confused and go to my mail center rather than the conference room. Your office needs to be mindful that the virtual concept may be baffling to new clients. The meeting location should be communicated to your new clients clearly and repeatedly, so that you minimize the prospects of starting a relationship with a missed appointment and the resulting frustration.
Alternatively, you may choose to meet with clients in other varied locations such as their office, home, or a neighborhood coffee shop. Although I know attorneys who meet with clients in coffee shops or other public locations, I strongly discourage this practice. Privacy is vital in maintaining confidential communications with your client, and it cannot be guaranteed in these public spaces. When scheduling a meeting with a client in their home or office, be clear and up front with your client about whether your travel time will be billed. Also, be mindful of your unbilled travel time and your personal safety when scheduling client appointments in alternate locations, and make thoughtful choices.
When meeting with your clients, you should reasonably anticipate that they will ask wide-ranging questions regarding their file. If you practiced in a brick-and-mortar office, you could pull the paper file, find the pertinent document, and answer the question. As a virtual lawyer, this option will not be available. If you practice consistently within the virtual model, you will likely only have a digital client file. You will not impress your client by responding, “I practice virtually, so I cannot access your file right now. I need to go back to my office and look that up for you, and then I’ll respond.” Plan ahead, and make sure you can access the full client file during the meeting as well as any additional resources you may need. Bring your tablet or laptop to all client meetings. Your client’s file needs to either be fully loaded onto that device or you will need internet access to review the file via your server or the cloud. Additionally, if you are meeting in a public place such as a coffee shop, plan out your internet connection in advance and select more secure options such as your smartphone’s mobile hotspot, rather than public Wi-Fi.
If your meeting involves signing documents, you should again reasonably anticipate that your clients may want to change their documents during the appointment. Although last minute requests for changes can often be easily accommodated in a brick-and-mortar environment, these requests tend to be more problematic for a virtual attorney. Plan in advance how you will revise and reprint the documents during the meeting if necessary in order to meet your client’s needs. If you are able to print documents at your designated conference room, but not at the client’s house or a coffee shop, be sure to communicate this limitation with your clients well in advance of the appointment, so that they can carefully review the documents and ask questions so as to avoid any last minute changes.
A virtual lawyer, like any lawyer, wants to develop productive and positive attorney-client relationships. By taking a little extra time for advance planning and clear communications, your virtual business structure will impress your clients as an integral part of your outstanding client service.
As always, I would love to hear your questions and comments. From all of us, we wish you a happy Thanksgiving, filled with family, friends, great food and much fun!
Supporting Our Community
Our office, along with spouses, clients and friends, came together on October 24th to support the annual “TOPspin Auction” benefitting Tennis Outreach Programs. We had fun, and also raised money for a terrific non-profit that supports children who want to play tennis, make friends, have fun, be active, and learn from positive role models. Take a look at our Facebook photo album of the event.
Recent Updates from Our Blog
Making money and making the world a better place. Two years ago, Washington state added the Social Purpose Corporation to the range of entity choices available to businesses in the state. In this post, Sherry explains what a Social Purpose Corporation is and what sets it apart from other business entities.
How did National Estate Planning Week come to exist? And why is this important? Sherry explores this in a recent blog post.
What exactly is going on with all of these websites, where attorneys provide “quick answers” to your burning questions? Stacey discusses this issue, and explains the ethical problems inherent in these formats.