make a great first impression.

I started this little series of posts here. My inspiration was a recent opportunity to help someone essentially recreate a practice. From soup to nuts.

When faced with this blank slate, we started by strategizing about the first impression this person could make, through all the channels presented to a lawyer on a daily basis: website, calls to the office, email communication, interaction at networking opportunities, sharing a business card, conducting an initial consultation … and there are many, many more that deserve consideration. But I’ll start with these.

WEBSITE

This topic deserves a series of posts in its own right, but here are the obvious basics of making a good first impression on your website: Use professional images, not snapshots and not old pictures or ones that don’t look like you. Write your bio like a story, not like your Martindale-Hubbell bio. Yuck. And if you’re not a good story writer, then hire someone to write it for you. And don’t just talk about yourself — find a way to offer information to site visitors, whether through FAQs, blog posts, white papers or even ebooks. Finally, keep your target audience in mind as you design all aspects of your site. Your target audience is likely not other lawyers (at least not primarily). So don’t think like a lawyer when you create your site.

INCOMING CALLS

Not every practice requires a live person taking calls. But some do — especially in practice areas where clients have a perceived need to talk to someone (anyone) right at that moment. Criminal and domestic clients come to mind. If this describes your practice, keep in mind that you’re possibly losing potential clients if incoming calls aren’t handled well.

A person in crisis wants to talk to another person, and be given a clear expectation of what’s going to happen next. This is the first impression you should be giving, if your practice areas encompass crisis situations. Why? Because this will give potential clients a genuine reason to trust you, which makes it more likely they will hire you.

How to do this? You can hire staff to handle it in your office. Work with them to identify how various types of calls will be handled, even creating scripts (of sorts) for different situations, and nail down how you can make sure clients now what to expect going forward. By this I mean making sure the person taking calls clearly communicates to callers when follow-up communication will happen, e.g. “Attorney Smith will return your call within X hours.” The call taker can make this statement with confidence because you’ve already worked out the expectations to be set.

In lieu of hiring a person to sit in your office, you also can consider a service such as Ruby Receptionists — their staff can be trained to manage calls just as your own staff member would. If the thought of managing another person (or paying a full-time salary) discourages you, then you really should check out Ruby.

EMAIL COMMUNICATION

Yet another topic deserving of its own series of posts. The nutshell version: First, if you haven’t already done it, think through exactly how you’re going to handle initial contacts via email. Your website no doubt has an email contact form (or at least an email address), so you’re inviting people to contact you this way. So how do you respond? How do you make the right initial impression in this response?

I can’t answer these questions for you because they depend entirely on your practice and goals — but I can tell you that taking the time to think through an email policy, especially for initial contacts, is time well-spent.

Also, treat email communication as you would any other professional communication. Choose your words with care, remember that email can’t convey tone (or humor, often), and thoughtfully consider what information you share via email. Sometimes you need to pick up the phone (or meet in person), instead of hitting “send.” This may be especially so when responding to initial contact from a potential client.

Communication is the lynchpin of any successful attorney-client relationship. It’s so easy to do it right, and how you handle both incoming calls and email communication sets the stage for what clients can expect going forward with your office.

In the next post, I’ll share some thoughts on networking, business cards, and conducting an initial consultation …