Because of the impact of COVID-19, the practice of law is changing – and quickly. By way of example, many law firms transitioned to remote working at the start of the pandemic and many continue have work-from-home mandates in place. Similarly, videoconferencing has become the norm, and court appearances, hearings, and trials are now occurring virtually on a regular basis in many jurisdictions. Likewise, law firms have incorporated cloud-based remote working tools into their workflows, including VOIP phone systems, online fax, and law practice management software.
Just as the practice of has been affected by all of these changes, so too have the expectations of 21st century legal consumers. Because of the pandemic, client expectations have necessarily been altered. These days your clients expect 24/7 accessibility to case-related information and immediate answers to their questions, regardless of whether you’re in the office or working remotely.
Law firms hoping to survive and thrive in 2020 need to meet these evolving client expectations. This means providing your clients with tools that make it easy for them to instantly obtain information about their cases, whether from their client files or by communicating with you or another knowledgable person at your firm. 9-5 office hours and constant in-person meetings are a thing of the past. Instead, legal consumers prefer to have the ability to obtain – and provide – information on their own schedule from the comfort and safety of their own home or office.
In other words, affordable legal services with top-notch client service and built in convenience and accessibility to information is the key to success in today’s competitive – and ever-changing – legal landscape. With that in mind, here’s how to provide exactly what your clients – and potential clients – expect from a modern law firm.
Online access to case-related information
One important element of superior client service in 2020 is fast access to information. Your clients want to know what’s going on with their cases and have their questions answered quickly. It used to be that clients had to wait to get answers. First, they would have to call your office to get information, such as obtaining the date of their next court appearance or how much was owed on an invoice. Then they’d have to patiently wait for a return call.
But nowadays clients want more. They want instant, convenient access to information. Fortunately, there are affordable tools available that get the job done, such as online client portals. With client portals, no matter where your clients are or what time of day it is, they can login and immediately obtain the answers to many of their most common questions. And because they won’t have to call into the office, your administrative staff will have more time available to focus on more pressing work.
Getting questions answered quickly
Along the same lines, clients appreciate an open line of communication – especially during a pandemic. Your clients are most likely experiencing a host of stressors related to the changing times, and the last thing they need is to experience road blocks when they’re trying to reach their lawyer. That’s why it’s so important to ensure that your clients can quickly and easily get the answers they need, when they need them.
Of course, now that many lawyers are working remotely, it’s essential that all communications with clients are secure. This is because your client’s case-related information is confidential, so security is of the utmost importance. It used to be that email would suffice, but as the times change, so do preferred methods of communication.
In 2020, as technology and ethical standards evolve, the best way to communicate securely and efficiently with your firm’s clients no matter where you happen to be is through an encrypted client portal. Using a client portal, your clients can securely message you from any computer or internet-enabled device. You can then respond to that message at your convenience from wherever you’re working, all the while knowing that your client’s confidential case-related information is protected and secure.
Safe in-person meetings
It’s also important to ensure that on the rare occasion that you do have to meet with your clients face-to-face, your clients know that you’ve done what’s necessary to ensure their safety. That’s why it’s imperative that you provide your clients with clear information regarding the steps you’ve taken to ensure that your law office is as safe as possible.
First you’ll need to prepare your office. You’ll need to establish safety and sanitization protocols and also take steps to minimize physical interaction between law firm employees and your clients as much as possible. These steps will include physical barriers, reducing the number of people in the office at one time, reducing the number of in-person meetings to the extent possible, and installing building upgrades designed to reduce physical contact.
Next you’ll need to share the firm’s safety protocols with your clients. Clear communication in this regard should occur prior to clients arriving at your firm, whether through the client portal, by letter, via email, or a phone call. It’s also important to post signs around your firm that provide guidance and information regarding social distancing and hygiene protocols.
Competitive pricing for the short and long term
Finally, now is a great time to take steps to reduce firm overhead and re-visit your firm’s approach to pricing. By upgrading your law firm’s technology setup, you’ll be able reduce your firm’s overhead thus ensuring both short-term stability in the here and now, and the ability to reduce law firm overhead – and client costs – in both the short term and the long term.
The first step is to transition all of your firm’s systems to the cloud, since it’s an affordable and cost-effective way to build business resiliency into your law firm. This is because when your firm invests in cloud-based systems like law practice management software, you make it possible for all employees to quickly and easily transition to working remotely, whether there’s a resurgence of COVID-19 later this year or another unexpected event down the road.
Additionally, consider allowing employees who have worked productively from home during quarantine to continue to do so either permanently or for a few days each week. That way you can reduce the number of people in your office at any given time. You also might also want to consider reducing your firm’s footprint and moving to a smaller office, thus reducing overhead and creating a more lean, efficient business in the short and long term.
Finally, now that you’ve reduced your firm’s overhead, why not consider implementing alternative fee arrangements like flat fee billing? One of the top reasons to use alternative fee billing structures is because clients prefer them. When the total fee and expectations are established up front, clients are able to budget and plan for fee payment. Because unexpected and costly legal fees can be stressful, flat fees and alternative billing structures such as fee subscription plans reduce client stress and result in happier, more appreciative clients.
So what are you waiting for? Once you’ve implemented all of the above steps, your firm will be fully prepared to meet evolving client expectations, and you can pat yourself on the back for a job well done. You’ll have taken the necessary steps to provide top-notch, responsive client service, even in the midst of a pandemic. Your clients, and your firm’s bottom line, will thank you.