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Old 02-26-2004, 09:48 AM   #1
Austintatious
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Answering Service

My boss wants to add an answering service so that our clients never have to leave a voicemail.

I have asked around and either no one uses it or no one admits it.

Does anyone have any experience good or bad with using an off-site answering service?

Thanks.
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Old 02-26-2004, 10:01 AM   #2
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Answering Service

Quote:
Originally posted by Austintatious


Does anyone have any experience good or bad with using an off-site answering service?
.
From the other side, they're terrible. Ever called a doctor's office after hours?

"hello, doctor y's office."

"my name is X, and I need to speak to doctor y because I'm bleeding to death but maybe you can help me."

"Oh well I'm just the answering service, I'll have to page him."

Thanks. In other words, they're inevitably going to forward you into voicemail because they can do absolutely nothing for you.
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Old 02-26-2004, 11:02 AM   #3
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Answering Service

Quote:
Originally posted by Austintatious
My boss wants to add an answering service so that our clients never have to leave a voicemail.
Let me see if I can restate this issue:

Your boss wants to force clients to give their personal information (including name and number) to unknown and unrelated individuals (working for a company that may or may not run background checks), who will then have to relay that same information to people in the office either by (probably unsecure) e-mail, or by phone, thereby inserting at least one, but possibly two or more additional people in the message chain (ever play the whisper game, where the message at the end is totally different from the start?), so that your clients will not have to leave a voice mail on a system sold with multiple security features that is completely controlled by your firm and that allows the person receiving the message to receive it in privacy and confidence.

Um. Yeah. Okay.

Answering services are for doctors and hookers. And doctors are switching over to automated paging/call forwarding systems that are faster and more reliable.
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Old 02-26-2004, 11:23 AM   #4
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Answering Service

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Originally posted by baltassoc
Answering services are for doctors and hookers. And doctors are switching over to automated paging/call forwarding systems that are faster and more reliable.
So are hookers. Or so I'm told.

(Substantively, I agree with the other posters. This partner has his head way up his ass).
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Old 02-26-2004, 12:22 PM   #5
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Originally posted by Oliver_Wendell_Ramone
(Substantively, I agree with the other posters. This partner has his head way up his ass).
Or a friend who runs an answering service.
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Old 02-26-2004, 12:33 PM   #6
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Originally posted by Anne Elk
Or a friend who runs an answering service.
Or perhaps he really likes the answering service his favorite hooker uses.
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Old 02-26-2004, 12:38 PM   #7
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Originally posted by Anne Elk
Or a friend who runs an answering service.
He's cheap. He doesn't want to hire a receptionist who fields 5 or 6 calls a day just for the overflow.

This is probably the wrong place to ask but what do small firms do?
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Old 02-26-2004, 01:09 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally posted by Austintatious
He's cheap. He doesn't want to hire a receptionist who fields 5 or 6 calls a day just for the overflow.

This is probably the wrong place to ask but what do small firms do?
There are some office space sharing arrangements. When it looked like my small firm was about to go under a few years ago, we looked into sharing a receptionist with another firm. We also looked into having access to a conference room for meeting clients while working from home. The partner who made decisions about such things balked at not having his own space with his own shingle on it, and ultimately he ended up keeping his rent and his receptionist. He did lose most of the lawyers though.
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Old 02-26-2004, 02:47 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally posted by Austintatious
This is probably the wrong place to ask but what do small firms do?
What's wrong with voicemail? Does each attorney have their own VM account or is it one for the firm? VM is everywhere, with a proper outgoing message I don't think clients would be annoyed at leaving a message rather than talking to a live person.

I, on the other hand, get annoyed at callers who don't leave a detailed massage. "Hey Anne, it's GP, call me back" I hate those. Tell me who you are, why you are calling and where I can reach you. That way, when I call you back I can leave the answer on your VM system.
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Old 02-26-2004, 11:00 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally posted by Austintatious
This is probably the wrong place to ask but ...
Why? - We have small firms in Texas. I'm possibly the smallest one. Ditto the office sharing - it works well for a lot of small firms I know. Sometimes each attorney has their own ring so the receptionist knows how to answer - othertimes em just answers "Law office" which is perfectly acceptable. Even better is to have office sharing in areas that lead to in-office referrals - mutual back scratching. I see nothing wrong with voice mail, however - people are conditioned to it now.

As a one chick operation, my clients can get me on my mobile almost 24/7 - luckily they are respectful enough to call during the day unless it is a crisis. If they get voice mail, they know I will call them within hours of finishing up whatever I was doing and they know I do not work everyday - most have met the baby. This would not work for most people, obviously. (I bake cookies for them at Christmas too which is pretty much unheard of). I am in the process of training them to ask questions via email and have added my email address to my voicemail message. Email solves both phone tag problems, impatient clients, and end of the month billing issues, when I am trying to reconstitute the entire month.

At my old firm we had an answering machine to pick up if we had a rare lapse in assistant/receptionist coverage and the clients did not seem to mind at all - so long as the call was returned. As Ann pointed out, you have to request they leave all their info or you get things like "Hey, this is Bill. Please Call" when you have six clients called "Bill." You should put on the message something like "...and please leave the number where we can reach you today" to encourage them to leave a good number - I hate having to guess which of a client's five or so contact nimbers to call first.

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Old 02-27-2004, 10:06 AM   #11
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Originally posted by TexLex
[]You should put on the message something like "...and please leave the number where we can reach you today" to encourage them to leave a good number - I hate having to guess which of a client's five or so contact nimbers to call first.
This is a fantastic suggestion. I am always trying to figure out who / where a voicemail is coming from, since I have several clients who think I work ony for them, and have their various numbers memorized. This subtlely encourages leaving the number even fro people who think themselves so important that I would have their numbers at my fingertips.

Brava!
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Old 06-23-2004, 11:26 AM   #12
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Small Firm and Solo Practitioners

There have been lots of interest recently on Greedy Texas about hanging out your own shingle, so I thought I might start a thread here. I'm going to merge a few old posts that are on topic.

FYI, the recent Greedy Texas posts regarding shingle hanging start on post 18826

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Old 06-23-2004, 12:04 PM   #13
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Posts from a long-forgotten multi-state thread:

tballstinks:

I've heard that it's tough to make it solely on personal bankruptcies and adoptions (which are classic solo jobs).
_____________________________________

gonebutnotforgotten:

It is hard to make it work. I went solo to pay down my now huge Visa bill (my personal lawyer assistance program for groceries, gas, movies, etc.).

The "uncontested" divorce never is. The small lit matter is often the tip of a huge nightmare but economically worth much less than the hours and fee. Clients regularly lie or selectively remember facts. There's also the frolic and banter of client's after the fact fee re-negotiation.

I was Biglaw corp/fin -- I'm not giving up on going back to the mother ship.
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TexLex:

Blech to adoptions - I don't do any criminal or family law. My partner will take a DWI if they have the money up front, but generally no criminal. Who ever said no-contest divorces never are is right - plus I have yet to see a family law client who is happy with the result: they can't have all the money, all the property, and all the kids all the time. Oh, and then they stiff you on the bill.

I do incorporations (all types), Ch. 7 bankruptcies (not too many of these, maybe 1-3 at any one time), small business matters, small business defense, some collections, general contract work including litigation, a little probate (blech, but it's stable), wills and basic estate planning (anything complicated and I send them away to a friend), real estate, and probably some other stuff too. My partner focuses on probate litigation and employment, for the most part.

If you can set up small businesses, they will come to you for everything they need after that, including litigation (when they get sued, and they will), regular meetings, advice on employment handbooks, etc. They are good clients and will refer their friends.

Oh, and I do some HOA work also - my bread and butter.

I actually started out gathering my own clients 2 yrs ago - I worked on stuff outside of work and those clients have brought me more business. When I was moonlighting, I set up a PO box and did all my work from home. The clients knew this and I told them it helped keep their costs down (it did) and they were quite happy about it. I had a buddy's conference room to meet at or I went to the client - clients are very impressed by a lawyer who comes to them. Essentially for the last 2 years I had no overhead other than cards.

I have a couple of groups I speak at annually/semi-annually (for free, of course) whose members tend to be older and who always come up afterwards asking how much I charge for a will package. I have little handouts with info about Texas law - they love it. Trust me it's not hard - if people think they can get free legal advice (even basic stuff) they will love to have you speak - even your own HOA or church group is a place to start. And of course, you hand out cards (already attached to whatever hand-outs you have). If your hand-outs are advertising, be sure to check into the regs for that, btw - same with any mail-outs.

The key is reasonable prices for products (including flat fees for some items), well written engagement agreements so they know exactly what they are getting, and getting paid up front as much as possible. People will refer their family and friends to lawyers they trust, who returned their phone calls, and who did not surprise them with a whopping bill - and if you can do all that they will think you are the only lawyer that's not a weasel and will tell everyone exactly that.

Oh, and if they have a company BBQ or whatever event and you are invited - GO!!! Make nice and judge the ribs or whatever, but they will luv ya for it.

Now - I'm not making any Biglaw salary - that's for sure, but I take a couple days off a month, come in around 10 and leave at 6, give or take. I only work weekends if I need to meet with clients for some reason. If I wanted to put in psycho hours (like my partner does) I could undoubtedly make more money - a lot more. He's been a solo for 10+yrs and did as well last year as any Biglaw salary.

One idea is to get some groups/companies on a monthly retainer - as much advice as they want each month for a flat fee (plus expenses, natch) - some months you will earn every penny, some months will be quiet, but the money is steady and steady is the best kind of money (besides gigantic windfall, of course). You would need to make exclusions for litigation, very complex documents, etc., but it can work well.

Hope this helps.

Jesus - I can sure type when I get moving.

-TL
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TexLex:

You are right - family law (unless you are high-end) stinks. And don't forget they call at 5:00a.m. leaving messages crying on the phone just because they are "soooo sad." When my boss took fam law cases, we never had anyone call so much, 3x/day? ugh.

________________________________________
EO: You can start building your network from where ever you are in your career.

Get a business card. Go to everything you can: political events, art openings, parties, networking functions, and just talk to people. Tell them you are a lawyer. The more people you can meet, the more likely your card will get into the hands of people who need it. Once you start to build clients, they'll pass your name along. TexLex is right about small business stuff. It's a wonderful source of business for people starting out.

You also might offer to volunteer places to get some experience.
_____________________________________________

tballstinks:

I just want to say "thanks" to TexLex, evenodds and gonebutnotforgotten for the great responses. There are a lot of us that are considering going solo. Who knows, leaving BigLaw could be the best thing that ever happened.

I'm just wondering if it's possible to start off with one practice area and grow slowly, or if a new solo has to be a generalist right away. I have 3 years of corp. experience, but no litigation, no bankruptcy, no trust & wills, etc.

I'm also wondering what practice areas are the most and/or least profitable. For example, I've heard that simple Ch. 7 bankruptcies go for about $500, so I would imagine that the volume would have to be pretty high to keep the doors open. Any thoughts?
_______________________________________________

gonebutnotforgotten:

You can probably start off in one area -- except your work is/will be driven by what comes in the door. Translation: no partner to bring you the deal.

My practice is composed of whatever I can get. It's maddening because I haven't been able to make use of past forms yet -- and with my crazy clients, probably never will. That's not a good thing.

As for no BK, lit, T&E etc ... me, too. Then again we DID get through law school and pass the bar. If no one ever sdaid it before, law really is not rocket science. Unless you do criminal (to borrow a phrase: blech), you can always fix anything you screw up. Just be thoughtful and careful as you go. I stay away from crim b/c I don't like the crowd. The few times I ventured there it was an ugly business (not legal) experience. That's my personal bias. They're entitled to a defense -- just not mine.

The real downside to being a former Biglaw is that you think you can't do anything unless it's parsed out to you, memoed to death and you have a mentor. Not true.

As for lit, as a former corp/fin guy who'd rather draft a deal anyday, my experience has been court clerks are not going to eat you for lunch. Nor will the judge. (Opposing counsel is another story --).

I have a friend who waves the "I'm a newbie" flag around. Even
she has managed to remain standing and pay her rent.
________________________________________

TexLex:

No problem. I think you can concentrate on one type IF you have enough sources of clients to fil your time. The catch 22 is even if you take only one type, those clients will come back with all sorts of problems that they want you to handle and then you still have to figure out how to do that stuff - or face turning away loyal clients.

I don't know anyone who only charges $500 for a Ch7 - even the bankruptcy "mills" charge more than that - call them and ask. There is a ton of paper work with bankruptcy, so it's good to get your feet wet so you know the law, but don't take on lots until you know what you are doing.

And as far as learning litigation - I have small business clients get sued in JP court all the time (I have a few transmission shops as clients - say no more) and you know what - they pay me by the hour for those too and as long as I'm getting paid, I am no court snob. Plus, it's much less intimidating if you haven't done much litigationand pretty gratifying to have a whole case done in less than 6 months with a client that can't stop raving. I've found that no matter the size case, clients get bored with it (and the bills) after about 6 months.

As far as wills and other routine types of cases - find a friend with ProDoc (or other automated form system) and take em to lunch for letting you use it. You can whip out a simple will package (will, POAS, directive, etc.) or all the docs to set up a basic corp or llc in less than an hour. Failing that, get a good form book or forms on disc. You'lll also need a good annotated rule book, and a book with causes of actions in it (all O'Connors in Texas). Basically, if you can bum a bunch of stuff from someone with an office to start out with, you can really work cheaply. Incorporations are pretty high yield for the time you put in, so that may be up your alley.

Whatever you do - get money up front for the flat fee stuff, don't forget to charge for expenses, and for hourly work, get enough retainer that is fair on you while being fair to the client (set up a trust account!!!), and above all - get the bills out every month on time. Also, read the Foonberg book for more on billing practices - a very practical guide.

And I will second GBNF - court clerks are the key - if you feel stupid calling and asking what to do or what documents need filing - phrase it "Can you tell me how this judge prefers Motions to ____ ?" and "Does this judge require ______ to be attached to _______?" Makes it seem like you know what you are doing, but you want to make sure you are catering to the judge's preferences. The worst that can happen is that they think you are an idiot, but since you usually don't tell them your name when asking the questions - who cares. If you're female they often assume you are the secretary calling for the idiot attorney anyway and will treat you nicely for having to put up with him.

HTH, TL

________________________________________

Dammit:

thanks, e/o, that is sensible advice. I'm generally an outgoing person but have never been comfortable with going to big events. guess i just have to grin and bear it.

oh, btw, i'd also like to extend my thanks for the responses on this thread. this is truly helpful.

__________________________________________

Anon:

A caveat to the advice offered above regarding Wills, sorry Tex Lex, in some states - beneficiary-scrivener lawsuits are a growing phenom. It was the focus of an entire section of a seminar that I recently attended. There's a derivitive duty there. In representing beneficiaries, I have had instances in which attorney liability ranged up to $1 million for what would seem like an insignificant mistake until you looked at the consequences. This area requires a lot of careful research into tax law, notice requirements, etc. If you are going to deal with clients with almost no assets, no big deal. Otherwise, you need to attend as many seminars and talk to as many people as possible. There are lots of seemingly insig things that can really trip you up. Also, I've had a lot of instances where the attorney was dealing with the little old lady with the 20 year old car, $40,000 house and unknown to anyone even attorney, $2 Mill in stock. You never know when your simple little will is going to turn into an all out court battle with you implicated in the entire mess. I would proceed with caution and document the client's wishes carefully if you intend to do wills.

___________________________________________

Biker:

If you want to work in a limited area and can get enough business doing that, great. If you've been practicing in that field before hanging up your own shingle, you usually have sources of clients and, if they like you personally, will travel with you. (That's what happened to me in environmental law.)

As TexLex notes, it's inevitable that those clients will then broaden their requests for your services as their needs arise (e.g., brother-in-law gets caught driving drunk). This presents you with three choices, not just the two TexLex mentions. In fact, her two choices (learning new stuff or turning the clients away) are the worst options.

Linking to other lawyers in fields you don't practice in is valuable and profitable. Sending business, especially a stream of clients, to other lawyers is appreciated and, in most cases, rewarded with referral fees. I don't practice matrimonial law yet attract an average of one case per month in that field; I refer them to Art, he does their work skillfully and sends me a check for the referral. Same with criminal and other areas I'll never touch.

Consider referrals to trusted colleagues as the best answer in most situations. Build relationships with people in other fields so you can send clients to them AND receive clients from them. When, for example, Art (who limits his practice to divorces) gets a toxic tort case, he refers it to me.

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