Most lawyers don’t give the person who makes the firm’s biggest impression the biggest salary. Why? Well, usually that employee holds a position that’s considered lower ranking. But the opposite is actually true.
Your real “ambassador of first impressions” (AFI) may be a secretary, paralegal or executive assistant. By answering the phone, greeting prospective clients at the office and screening prospective clients, this person makes your firm’s powerful first impression.
These are critical responsibilities. In effect, your AFI represents almost everything about your firm. As such, the importance of this role should not be overlooked — or under-compensated.
Depending on the size of your legal practice, staff or market, your firm could be spending thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, to get people to call with potential cases. But what happens then?
- Do you know what kind of impression your key phone manager is making?
- Is your AFI accountable for following a standard screening process?
- Does this gatekeeper have the tools to do his or her job well?
- What happens when you call your own law firm? Does the person answering the phone use a tone that makes you feel valued — or uncomfortable?
If you’re unsure of the answers to these questions, this is a great place to start building the role of ambassador of first impressions at your law firm.
How to Promote Your Ambassador of First Impressions
When a new prospect or even an existing client calls your office, this interaction can completely set the tone of the next action. It’s that important.
So start to view the AFI role for what it really is: the person you want on the firing line each and every day. This realization could raise some tough questions. For example, you might not have the right person in place; this might currently be a shared role that’s creating inconsistency and needs to become a singular position; you might need to move a more dynamic, engaging existing staff member into the AFI role to elevate its importance.
- Here’s a step-by-step guide to defining this critical function in any law firm:
- Identify who plays the AFI role/s right now.
- Decide whether it’s the right person or whether you need a new intake personality.
- Ask a few “undercover” callers to phone the office and share their impressions of that initial interaction.
- Define the new expectations of this role.
- Identify what tools could help your ambassador work smarter, faster and more autonomously.
- Train this person in phone etiquette. There are many online resources that can help with this.
- Promote the importance of your ambassador of first impressions throughout the firm.
- With the new responsibility, may come a higher salary. Give your AFI a promotion.
- Monitor and adjust over time. You can record calls and listen in regularly to see how your ambassador is performing.
Phone Communication is Priority No. 1
Most initial law firm communications continue to take place over the phone. Many prospective clients see advertising and call an 800 number for more information. That means your firm’s phone communication should be priority No. 1.
However, one of the largest gaps in phone communication with victims, in particular, is having the natural empathy to be able to put yourself in that caller’s shoes. Often when people take the step to call a law firm, they are already in a stressful, precarious situation. They may not be as friendly or focused as if you met them outside of this predicament.
Communicating with victims requires a calm and patient personality. The conversation cannot be robotic. Often the AFI is not setting that impression by how cheery he or she comes across, but rather how sympathetic he or she is when communicating with people in distress.
The legal profession is not exactly known for scoring off the charts in the empathy category. So this alone could be the largest ask you make of your ambassador of first impressions. But remember, you can teach an employee the mechanics of phone communication, but you cannot teach personality. Hire accordingly.
More Tools for Making a Great First Impression
One way to narrow in on the impression you want your firm to make is by identifying a competitor that you know is already winning in this area. Or you could identify a company outside of legal space that you just like doing business with.
What do you like about how you’re treated when you call this business?
What aspects do you appreciate most: tone, consistency or follow-up?
What steps can you start taking to match this level of empathy?
Lastly, if you are not already doing so, dial in your intake style by starting to record all the calls coming into your firm. You can use the most challenging ones to train your ambassador in dealing with difficult communication. After that, the rest will feel easy!
Your AFI has a big job representing your firm. Make sure this position is not only acknowledged but also promoted as one of the most appreciated and valued roles in your legal practice.