How to Make Virtual Consultations More Personal
Connecting with clients via video conferencing has been more challenging than many attorneys expected. These days, we’re all realizing exactly how important one’s physical presence is to effective communication and building rapport.
Still, it can be done. Continue creating the meaningful client relationships your firm is known for with our advice on making virtual consultations more personal.
Before the Consultation
1. Communicate Beforehand
Communication doesn’t (and shouldn’t) begin when the client clicks ‘Join Meeting’ on their device.
Messaging, calling, or emailing the potential client before the initial consultation will work wonders in demonstrating your firm’s preparedness to take the case.
The client will feel confident in your ability as a legal advisor and it will relieve any anxiety they have about being kept out of the loop.
After all, advising implies speaking – you’ve got to be good at that.
Pre-consult communication can look as simple as this and can take less than five minutes:
Thank you for visiting our website and filling out the consultation form. We’re pleased that you would consider us for your legal needs.
I wanted to reach out to you before our scheduled consultation to see if you have any questions for me. Even if you’ve had a consultation before, we like to check in with potential clients and make sure they’re comfortable meeting virtually and using video software.
I’ve attached a short questionnaire regarding the details of your potential case. Please fill it out and email it back to me before our meeting. Once I’ve received your questionnaire, I may request certain documents pertaining to the case, but I’ll let you know if that comes up.
Thank you again and I’m looking forward to speaking with you next Thursday.
Clear expectations are also a crucial element of effective client communication. If your client expects you to work outside business hours (59% of clients do), but you aren’t available at those times, they’ll be disappointed and lose trust in your ability to handle their case.
Instead of letting your client assume, tell them exactly what your hours are, which channels you’re available on (email, phone, etc.), and how often they should expect to receive communication from you.
2. Protect Your Network
Attorney-client privilege didn’t go away when COVID-19 erupted across the planet. In fact, lawyer-client confidentiality became even more important as in-person meetings became fewer and fewer, or as was the case in many states, completely out of the question.
Your firm’s security should be a top priority if it isn’t already. Clients trust you with their most sensitive information, and because law firms are prime targets for cybercrime, you need to install a virtual barricade between your firms’ data and the outside world.
26% of law firms that responded to the 2019 ABA survey reported that they’d experienced some form of security breach.
By compromising your firm’s security network, hackers can obtain client trade secrets, legal strategies and litigation tactics, details on mergers and acquisitions, and personally identifiable information (PII), any of which could spell doom for your firm.
Here’s how you can avoid that fate: switch to a virtual private network (VPN).
A VPN will route your internet traffic (everything you search, download, and interact with on the internet) through an encrypted, private server owned by the VPN provider, hiding all that activity from everyone else.
You won’t get that level of anonymity by simply going into incognito mode; even in incognito, Google, your internet service provider (ISP), the system administrators, and whoever opens your browser can view your activity.
A VPN still isn’t completely anonymous (there is a network owner, after all), but it does provide a sturdy defense against snoopers, hackers, and internet ne’er-do-wells.
We’ve all seen it: the co-worker who keeps muting themselves, or the family member who’s always halfway out of the shot, or the friend who has the worst internet connection imaginable and is constantly being cut off.
There’s no better way to make your clients assume you don’t care about their case (or learn how to operate technology) than being unprepared and unfamiliar with the software, video etiquette, or general internet skills like having a decent connection.
It’s simply not an excuse to say “I don’t ‘get’ the internet.” The legal landscape has shifted dramatically in the last few decades, and implementation of virtual systems and programs is just a given.
Before your next consultation, do a quick run-through with your partner or spouse. Practice how you would handle a situation where the signal keeps cutting out and you end up talking over the client. Practice what you would do if you experienced one or several technical glitches, and have a backup plan in case a glitch can’t be fixed immediately.
Practicing all sorts of possible scenarios is another great way to establish your preparedness and capability, and potential clients will appreciate a smooth consultation.
4. Be Open About Offering Virtual Consultations
Don’t make it a guessing game. Clients want answers quickly, and if they have to message you and wait for your response just to find out that you do not, in fact, offer virtual consultations, you’re almost certainly lost a potential client.
Make it easy for clients to find you. Trust us – people don’t want to sift through dozens of pages on Google to find a lawyer, and they don’t want to sift through pages of virtually worthless material on your site to find out if you offer virtual consulting.
FindLaw has a useful feature where law firms can add a ‘Virtual Appointment’ icon to their profiles, indicating that they offer this option and allowing potential clients to make a decision from there. FindLaw is hugely popular and can give you great visibility through their platform, so it’s worth looking into.
During the Consultation
1. Take Measures to Keep Meetings Confidential
Attorneys are not only tasked with protecting privileged information, but to “make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.”
That duty is fairly straightforward during in-person consultations, but what about virtual ones?
Since last March, the question of reasonable privacy – and what exactly that implies in a virtual setting – has put law firms at risk of compromising their information.
And yes, that applies to working-from-home situations too.
Many lawyers are using their kitchen table or living room as their new office, potentially welcoming in a host of eavesdroppers.
Think about it – do you know every single person who steps inside your home in a given day? The neighbor, your kid’s friends, the UPS delivery person.
Here’s how you can protect your clients’ private information and ensure attorney-client privilege:
- Use earphones or earbuds whenever possible. Sure, they can be annoying, but they add a layer of privacy to your conversations. If you have a particularly loud speaking voice, you might consider soundproofing the room that you work in most. It doesn’t have to be expensive; you can buy inexpensive egg crate foam, which only takes a couple of hours to install and comes off easily.
- Choose the strongest privacy settings that your video conference provider offers. Most provide password-protected meetings and even settings that limit what meeting participants can do (share their screen, initiate a recording, etc.).
2. Use Accessibility Features
We probably don’t need to tell you this, but just in case: not everyone is technology-fluent, and many people have vision or hearing impairments that make virtual meetings difficult to fully comprehend.
One of the best ways to make a virtual consultation more personal is by meeting the potential client where they are. That means offering them certain accommodations and being prepared if they accept.
Here are just a few of the measures you can take to help potential clients feel welcomed and appreciated, no matter their level of impairment:
- Provide an option for closed captioning. This can be helpful even for those who are not hearing impaired, or those with mild mental incapacities that Legalese can be confusing and difficult for people to understand, so before you begin the consultation, just let your potential client know that you can enable closed captioning for them at any time. Cisco Webex, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Skype, and Zoom (along with several others) offer captioning options, so it’s easy (and inexpensive) to boost your firm’s accessibility measures.
- Use visual tools. This is another tip that can provide great assistance to those who are hearing impaired (not to mention clients with attention deficit issues). Because it can be more difficult to hold a potential client’s attention when they aren’t in the room with you, try and include relevant slides or videos during your consultation.
3. Record the Consultation
Unless you can dumb down the legal process like a pro, potential clients will likely have some questions. And unless they have prior experience with the law, they probably won’t fully understand everything you say.
That’s why recordings can be extremely helpful in moving the case forward. The client can go back and look up any legal jargon or issue they’re unfamiliar with. Better yet, they’ll know exactly what to ask you in your next meeting.
You’ll obviously need the client’s permission to record the meeting. Ask them at the very beginning or even before the consultation begins.
Here’s something else to consider: when meetings are recorded on video conferencing apps, those providers can store the videos, meaning they have a permanent record of everything that was discussed in the consultation.
Instead of recording through the videoconferencing app itself, consider using a recording device or recording app on your phone. These apps allow you to download and send the file via email, so it’s an easy way to keep you and your client safe.
After the Consultation
1. Keep Communication Flowing
Remember: client interaction isn’t over when you hit the ‘end meeting’ button. While you’re learning how to make virtual consultations more personal, remember that what happens after reinforces the connection.
Try to make it a habit to send relevant documents or presentations the same day as the consultation.
You should also keep a communication channel open to exchange questions and answers. Clients often forget to ask a question during the consultation.
Don’t make the mistake of coming across as aloof or forgetful by not checking your messages and seeing communication from the client.
You can even send clients an evaluation form, asking them to provide feedback on the virtual consultation process. This is a great way to make your clients feel valued, and you’ll receive helpful feedback in the process.
2. Make and Frequently Check Your Client Portal
If your firm offers virtual consultations in any capacity, have a secure client portal. This is a space where data passes from the browser to server in an encrypted format. Without a client portal, you can’t guarantee lawyer-client confidentiality.
Your clients can upload documents or review the documents that you’ve prepared, pay their bills, and communicate with you quickly and easily. Here are a few options to get you started:
Making Virtual Consultations More Personal
As more and more lawyers take to the virtual world, you’ve got to learn how to stand out from the crowd. Some people will take you to make more commercials; after all, more people are at home watching TV, right?
We’re here to tell you something else: focus on your relationships with clients. When that’s your focus, all the other things – advertisements, marketing, outreach – will fall into place. As a law firm SEO company, we’ve helped hundreds of lawyers take their business online and expand beyond what they thought possible.
Let us help your firm grow using hard-hitting SEO strategies. Contact us today for more information.