How to run an online law firm: external communication tools

I often receive emails from other lawyers asking about the practical ins and outs of online law practice.  This blog series is for you, plus other non-legal professionals wanting to move their work online.

Last month, I shared some of the online tools I use to communicate with my team. This month, I’m going to talk about communicating with the outside world.

First, phone.  I use an iPhone because I can’t be bothered learning how to use an Android. 

It’s my lifeline.  I kept the whole legal practice afloat for a week using just an iPhone after I gave birth to my daughter and found out that rather than going home after 24 hours as planned, I would need to stay in a shared room at the Women’s for a week with no wifi while bub undertook tests (more about this in another post – whilst iPhones are great and all, it was nine months of extreme contingency planning that enabled this to happen smoothly).

But back to the iPhone.  I use it to make calls (often on speaker whilst breastfeeding – she’s got her mother’s appetite), text (again, often dictated whilst breastfeeding), view and email client docs, scan docs, manage my calendar, do banking and reconcile my accounts, use social media, FaceTime and Skype clients, delegate, take notes, track bub’s naps and, if she won’t, listen to podcasts or audiobooks whilst walking her around and around the block. 

And, whenever possible, I use it to take calls too.  Usefully, when an unknown number calls, the new iOS scans email signatures of people who have emailed me and if there is a match, suggests who it might be.  When I can’t take the call, the call is diverted to VirtualHQ who take a detailed message.  They have notes about my practice so they can give basic information about services and prices over the phone.  They encourage people to email me directly (particularly if it is to just unilaterally convey information about a conveyancing settlement).

I find VirtualHQ take pretty good messages now that I’ve told them exactly what information to ask for.  They do provide you with a landline number which if called goes straight to VirtualHQ and then they can then screen and transfer calls to you.  Sometimes I find myself wishing I had publicised this number rather than have my personal mobile number plastered everywhere.  But new clients rarely telephone as the first point of contact – most will email, inquire through the website or send a Facebook message. 

And generally I find that existing clients appreciate that I’ve given them my personal number and they’ll text rather than call else are fine with me calling them back when I can.  After years of temping as a legal assistant through university and screening calls so my lawyers never had to talk to their clients, I think my clients get an awesome deal on the telephone front.

Next, fax.  Yep, it kills me that I still have to have a fax number in 2016 but them’s the breaks in conveyancing.  I use Efax, which lets me send and receive faxes from my email (including any attachments). I refuse to do fax coversheets as this just validates the continued use of faxes.  And I make a point whenever someone asks me for my fax number of asking them to email instead.  It is 2016, FFS. 

Third, text/instant messaging.  Clients often make initial contact via Facebook but I try to move them over to email before we talk about anything substantive so it can be saved to their file via LEAP.  If I need to file any instructions or advice given via Facebook or SMS, I take a screenshot and email it to myself and file the email.  And the champagne bottle emoji was totally invented for letting clients know that their first home purchase has settled!

Fourth, video conferencing.  I used to just use Skype but more and more I’ve been using FaceTime as the sound and video quality is so much better.

Fifth, post.  I have a PO box, which I redirected to my home address when I was too pregnant to walk to check the mail each day.  I’m not too precious about my clients knowing my home address if required as I only act for nice people, and sometimes clients will courier docs directly to my home. I’m still undecided whether to join DX now that postage costs and delivery times have increased.  I didn’t initially when I started Nest as I (perhaps naively) believed that the rest of the profession would embrace electronic conveyancing as enthusiastically as I did.  But sadly that’s not the case (perhaps a topic for another post).

Sixth, email.  We use Google for Business accounts that use the Nest domain name.  LEAP Cloud requires you to use Outlook to be able to file emails but when I’m not forwarding documents, I will often use the Gmail interface as it has a better search function, grouping of conversations, filters for promotional emails and great plugins such as Rapportive (which brings up a person’s social media info) and Boomerang (to schedule emails and followups). Emails sent via Gmail can then be filed via Outlook.  In an ideal world, 80% of these conversations would happen via a platform like Slack so the emails didn’t need filing, but I can’t see this happening in the near future – I’m a B2C business and my clients don’t want to learn a whole new platform to communicate with me for the purposes of one conveyance and a Will, and it is a struggle enough to get other practitioners and banks to communicate online. And the filing of emails every 24 hours does give me the opportunity to make sure nothing has been missed.

And sometimes I even get to meet people in the flesh, which is all types of lovely as we already feel like old friends, having communicated via every other means for the preceding weeks!

What kind of tools do you use to communicate with your clients?