Maddy Martin has spent the last decade growing tech startups from New York to California, and most recently helping law firms streamline efficiencies with inbound and outbound communication. Maddy is the Head of Growth & Education at Smith.ai, a virtual receptionist service for phone calls, web chat, and text messages that combines human intelligence and AI to help small businesses achieve happier clients and more qualified leads.
In this episode, Maddy and I discuss:
- Business acumen gaps identified in the 2019 Clio Trends Report
- Variability in lawyer staffing choices, on site and off site
- 2 Keys for deciding how much call volume to buy from an off site provider
- How NOT to pay for spam or wrong number calls
- Virtual reception service extras, such as collection calls, confirming appointments, court reminders and networking follow up
- Intake support, such as conflict checks and web chat
- The Appearance of a larger firm through strategic use of off-site personnel
- Text-based communications – legal disclaimers as protection
- SMS support to email drop campaigns
- Acceleration of the Client Acquisition cycle
Allison Williams: [00:00:08] All right, Mattie Martin, I want to thank you for taking your time out of today to join me on the Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. Thank you for being here. Hi.
Maddy Martin: [00:00:18] Thanks for having me, Allison. Hi.
Allison Williams: [00:00:20] So Maddy, you and I have spoken before, right? You’ve been a guest in our Facebook group. And as a representative of Smith.ai I just I love the information that you’ve had to share because you’ve always been such a great resource. So today I want to start with something that we actually didn’t get a chance to talk about the last time we were here because we spoke in August. But now Clio has had its annual conference, the Clio Con Conference in October. And of course, we know the Clio Trends report came out of that and shared with us some pretty disturbing stats about the quality or lack thereof of lawyers as business people. So I want to start there and I want to ask you, what are some of the major issues that you found from reviewing that report and how it affects the business of law for the people that you serve?
Maddy Martin: [00:01:06] Yeah, absolutely. So the report comes out every year, and what was fascinating is that for this year it really focused on the business acumen gaps for attorneys. And what we find is that for the many attorneys who move to small firms or solo firms from medium or large firms, it isn’t something that’s exposed to you as a potential risk in the success of your law firm. Because a lot of these business tasks are handled by other teams in larger firms.
Maddy Martin: [00:01:34] But when you come to a smaller solo firm or establish your own, then you actually start to see other gaps that weren’t necessarily in your purview or relevant before, such as marketing, communications, accounting, those things. So what Clio focused on for this year was the sort of business maturity model and the business acumen gaps that are missing for solo and small firm attorneys. And they took their data. They also did an independent research study where they emailed and called law firms to determine how well are they handling these new potential clients who are coming in, how well are they leveraging the communication channels that are available to them? And are they giving, and this is always a focus of Clio. And I love this. Are they are they giving the answers that the law firm consumer wants and is explaining through the questions that they use as in. How expensive is this going to be? How long is it going to take to resolve this legal matter? What’s involved in this? Am I reaching out to the right firm? You know, the entire sort of setting expectations, period. That is something that the Clio report exposed as really suboptimally handled by the majority of law firms. And what I take from that, Allison, is that it’s actually not a negative. It’s a huge opportunity as low hanging fruit to know that if the majority of your peers in competing practices are not doing these things, not getting back to leads and potential clients, that that is a door wide open for you to walk through and grow your business, because we know that two out of three potential clients base their decision to hire on your initial responsiveness to a phone call or email. So simply picking up the phone, simply responding on chat or text or Facebook to these queries that come into you actually moves the needle faster and better and more consistently than almost anything else you can do. So so that to me is really encouraging as an opportunity that doesn’t require a whole lot of strategy behind it, just implementation of those systems to respond.
Allison Williams: [00:03:43] Wow. So, I mean, that is definitely a great point that there is a great opportunity that we have available to us because of lack of responsiveness. And so if you as a law firm owner are going to be that next best cutting edge customer service maven and you want to really step up in that area, how does someone address the communication issues, the hiccups of not having that large team that’s going to be able to respond the first time the phone rings?
Maddy Martin: [00:04:12] Right. So one of the things that we see in the report said 73 percent of attorneys are reporting being overworked from this year. And we know that obviously being in the law profession, not only are you potentially overworked, but you can’t even accept interruptions when you’re in court and you can’t turn on your cell phone or the various other specific issues for law firms that are faced. So what we know also in a solo small business, any business, frankly, there is not necessarily the wherewithal to hire full time staff because, A, you don’t know what you don’t know, what the future is going to bring. And it’s scary to be responsible for someone’s livelihood to pay a full time staff person unless, you know, you’re really going to be able to support that person and give them work and to get value out of them at a full time capacity. But also, there’s so much variability that having someone on staff may not necessarily be the best suited method for handling responsiveness. If they, you know, people are people and life happens and sometimes they’re out of the office. Also, sometimes there’s higher call volume and one person’s not enough. So there’s a lot of variability that a service like a receptionist service is able to handle and you only end up paying for the usage, meaning per call or per minute. However, that company handles that.
Allison Williams: [00:05:29] Yeah, so, you know, we’ve heard a lot about the burgeoning of of off-site services. And I think a lot of people are intrigued by the idea of it, especially if you are trying to be that nimble, solo, small law firm and you want to grow, but you don’t want to leapfrog your way into growth, you really want to be very strategic in your growth. How does someone decide what they need in terms of how many phone calls I should be purchasing a month or, you know, how much how much I should invest in getting someone out of my office doing the phone call? You know, labor as opposed to having someone that I might even hire part time.
Maddy Martin: [00:06:08] Yes. So first of all, it’s not necessarily either / or. Sometimes in the firms that we work with at Smith.ai, will use us as an overflow situation or to extend hours and staff capacity.
Maddy Martin: [00:06:19] So because our hours are much greater than those of a part time or even full time staff person, we are able to actually extend the ability and the responsiveness of the in-house staff that’s available, whether that’s just you or you actually have hired staff. Now what’s really interesting is that we see a lot of benefit of a trial because you get at a question that is only answered through data. So if you’re trying to estimate how many calls you’re going to pay for or what your budget will be, there are two really important pieces of information to consider. One is yes. What’s your current call volume? And also, what’s a client worth to you and how relevant is the call volume that’s coming in? And there are a couple factors here that may not be immediately obvious. So one is that if you just look at a web site and see the pricing based on per caller per minute and you compare that to your call report, we know that at Smith.ai we don’t charge for spam or sales calls or or any wrong number calls. So that is completely free. That’s something that may not be obvious and is not necessarily with every service, but it is with ours.
Maddy Martin: [00:07:29] And we know that that can be up to 30 percent of the calls that are inbound coming in. Now, the other factor and this is the reason why we always do a trial is because you may decide I want all of my calls to be handled or I just want new client calls or existing client calls to be routed to a receptionist service. So that is a way to also have control over the call volume that’s being handled by the most important sort of communication channel and noise, so to speak, that’s coming into your firm. What is the number one cohort or group of users or people who is coming in and contacting you and how do you handle them best as that first biggest leakiest bucket, that has the best potential to grow your firm. So let’s say they’re new potential clients. And even maybe you have a phone number from a marketing campaign that you are paying to drive leads to? That would be number one today. Those are people who’ve already invested in calling your firm. And if you’re not picking up you’re throwing money away, so then you say, let’s do the trial. You have the phone calls answered.
Maddy Martin: [00:08:36] You make sure that it is conversion optimized, that they are screening the leads properly and then they are getting work done during the call. So not just taking a message. It’s so critical that you get that work done on the call, because what we find from the Clio report is 59 percent of consults don’t result in retained clients. So there’s a lot of time wasted with poorly screened leads before they turn into consults. So whether you pay, you charge for consultations depending on your practice area. Many family law attorneys are doing so and even immigration. And obviously many others. Or you just have a consult if you’re in a field of perhaps like personal injury or you’re do screening and scheduling on the call so that there is at least a vetting process and then that’s booked on your calendar. You have the call notes and you have a productive call with hopefully a very well-qualified lead. And then and then you can say to yourself, OK, this many calls, I’m expecting this many new clients. It is, you know, very clearly profitable to pay for someone to answer because every missed call is actually worth this amount of lost potential revenue to me.
Allison Williams: [00:09:49] Wow. So there’s a lot that goes into making sure that you are planning appropriately to have your phones covered because it’s not a small characterization. It really is one of those major things that if your law firm doesn’t have a body on deck ready to answer the phones, that you’re missing opportunities there. But, you know, it’s more than just from what I have heard. And my office admittedly does not use a virtual reception service. But from what I have heard, a lot of people are telling me now that there’s a lot more that virtual reception services will do than just answer the phone and screen and book people. So can you talk to us about what some of those additional services might be, that someone, if they’re looking for an offsite service, could be looking to add to the value and then just answering the phones?
Maddy Martin: [00:10:40] Yeah. No, absolutely. That’s a really good point. And frankly, that’s why I’m in Facebook groups like yours at Maxim Lawyer and why we go to these conferences to be really Face-To-Face in touch with our clients, because that’s where we find out what they need. That’s beyond just the initial reception service and how we’ve built out these other things that we do that. One thing that’s sort of funny, because it’s a misnomer to say we’re a receptionist service. We also do outbound calls. So we’re not just receiving calls. We can make a call using your business number actually on caller I.D. to call people who, A, they owe money on past due invoices. B, are people who consistently sort of miss or reschedule appointments. And you want to make sure that they’re going to be where they say they will. People who may be in a criminal defense firm, as a client, who need to be at court and you want to make sure they show up and they know where to park, et cetera. Right. Sort of that stewarding process you can do with existing clients, getting the clients to pay you owe you money. And then also even following up with potential clients who you met at maybe a networking event and seeing if we can get time on their calendar for you. It really sky’s the limit the way that we we limit it because we’re not a sort of lead gen call center company, is that, you know, anyone who would recognize your name on the phone, not just a cold call, lead list who’s going to hang up on us.
Maddy Martin: [00:12:02] That’s really not we don’t we’re not like a dialer service where we’re prospecting. More high level than that. Now, speaking down to the services, we have added a conflict check service. So there is a lot of work being done before that consult is scheduled to make sure that it’s a good use of time. We are also able to have calls prompted to us from web site chats that we’re handling, which is a brand new service that we are offering. So very interesting to connect these services between a web site chat that we have added as a service from Smith.ai, either at the free chat bot or the live staffed agents on your web site, that we can actually after a chat happens, if it is indicated as a good potential client and they don’t schedule an appointment. We can actually call them back if you also have a receptionists plan with us and have that follow through happen. That is not a burden on your team. But we also find is that can eliminate calls from the not good potential clients so that they’re not interrupting you. And if you use the free chat bot for that, that is actually a complete cost savings and not a shift of cost from call to chat. Which is important.
Allison Williams: [00:13:23] Wow. So there’s a lot more to what Smith.ai can offer than just like you said, reception, because it sounds like you guys really do a lot of additional support. There’s collection support, there’s intake support. And a person that would want to invest a law firm, would get a lot out of having kind of almost like a second team member off site that could be able to follow up with people and make sure that things are moving smoothly through the law firm.
Maddy Martin: [00:13:51] Yes. And I think also, you know, Allison, the lesson that we talked, we really talked about a lot of the like sort of social science element. So if, you know, being a small business owner and the control element and a lot of these psychological components that work life balance and these social signals. That sort of comes to play into here as well, because we have, let’s say with collections, the ability to be a neutral third party. So you’re not actually violating this sort of personal relationship you’ve built up with a client to then interrupt them with a very transactional conversation about, hey, can you pay your bill? That’s not the most comfortable conversation to have for anyone who’s a small business owner. No one really likes to do that. So let us do that for you, not only as a sure, it’s, you know, a few bucks per call and the net profit is obvious. But just as also a comfort thing to protect your relationship, it extends your ability to also have a professional presence and to look bigger than you are even when you’re small. So that and this is critical. You set expectations that you will be fulfilling for a very long time, that you’re not responding to a personal text on your cell phone, that you’re not directly available to pick up your calls so that people who then refer you say, oh, Allison, just call her cell phone like you don’t really want that to happen.
Maddy Martin: [00:15:17] Right. What you want to have happen is call Allison’s office and they will take care of you. Right. Like Allison runs a professional operation because the latter is something that someone can say from now to eternity. The former is something that you will be pulling your hair out. If someone says next year when your firm is much bigger and you say, oh, please, please stop texting me. This is like out of control. I wish that person didn’t give out my personal cell phone number. Right. Because that was their experience early on. And we see this so often that there isn’t that outlook to the future where the standards that you set right now, especially given the reduction in the costs of technology and the services that you can afford now, even before you’re big. Like install these systems so that you can grow with them and you set the expectations. Now, that will be the same client service expectations even when you’re much bigger.
Allison Williams: [00:16:15] Wow. So that is 1000 percent correct. And I tell people all the time that that the public we really put a certain level of faith in someone who has a team in a way that we don’t the individual. And I know that a lot of lawyers have resistance around that, we think. No, no, no. My clients really want me. They really want to be connected to me. And I don’t want to miss that opportunity. But when somebody’s team member, their secretary, their paralegal, whomever on their team is placing the phone calls for you to schedule that time to speak with a lawyer. It adds a level of mystique and value to the lawyer. It actually makes you more marketable when you are less available.
Maddy Martin: [00:16:56] Absolutely, it is a way to scale yourself, it is a way to screen the noise off from yourself and is also a way, you know, speaking about other services, people contact you from all the time, you are not a good fit. The answer to that is not to say you’re not a good fit, but actually deliver an exceptional experience by referring them to a firm you recommend or putting them in touch with a resource that you know of and to build goodwill not only with that person because who knows who’s going to be a potential client? Either it’s them or a family member. Someone heard about you and you take a moment to say what your firm actually does, but then you refer out to that firm. And that is an extension of your networking efforts, of your work, of your building, your brand. And you can build these relationships where that person gets that new potential client. You see the call summary note. It doesn’t happen. You know, in an atmosphere where you’re not aware of any of these things, you see every interaction. So at the end of the day, maybe you personally follow up and say, hey, you know, I’d love to know how that new you know, if that client hires you, how that worked out. You know, all these referrals valuable to you. And and that really ends up having a huge impact where that person is much more likely to refer back to you. And we all know that referrals are the absolute best way to grow. They’re just not consistent enough to base your entire growth plan on.
Allison Williams: [00:18:18] Yeah. And, you know, I think that’s that that’s 1000 percent correct, that every touchpoint that a person has from a communications perspective with you or your team is a reflection of you. And the more touchpoints you can make with people on a consistent basis, the more you’re going to grow when you are creating a law firm business. So I want to circle back, Maddy, to something you said earlier, which is talking about web chat, because I know a lot of lawyers are intrigued by the idea that they could be available, quote unquote, but not physically have to be the one answering the phone or engaging online. And now with social media being the boom that it is, I think a lot of lawyers are afraid of going there because they don’t want to attach themselves to the hit, to their Facebook account or their twitter or what have you. And having a service to use web chat is a little scary because God forbid, they give out legal advice and it’s the wrong advice. And then I could get sued. So how do you advise somebody who says, I’m interested in this, but I have a little bit of trepidation around what what the risks are with it?
Maddy Martin: [00:19:19] Let me tell you, we are very aware of the unique needs within the web chat and even ask them about texting and Facebook messenger chat realm and even WhatsApp. Let’s say like any sort of text based communication realm where people are contacting you, perhaps seeking out legal advice or sort of kicking the tires. And what we have done, we have built into our chat interface is legal disclaimers that are optional, that display before a chat begins and before the name and email are entered, which we require up front. So there are many chat systems that don’t require you to put in your information. That is an immediate screening of the sincerity of the lead. Are they willing to give their information? And then once they have read at the top that says this is a web site chat that is staffed by not lawyers. Maybe it’s a bot or maybe it’s staffed agents, however you phrase that. But the point of the disclaimer is to say this does not establish an attorney client relationship and this does not constitute legal advice. And the two things that are most important and then when they begin the chat that’s been established and you can create that phrase however you feel most comfortable.
Maddy Martin: [00:20:34] We see our clients doing it in all number of ways. But those are the two things that we see most consistently being used. And then the chat begins and you engage with the bot live agent and sort of a sequence conversation can happen with the bot where they will screen the lead based on practice area and the live chat agent can schedule appointments, they can take a payment with your law pay invoice link or whatever for that consultation if you charge for it. And then because we have the name, email and phone number, we can send the confirmation email that is scheduled for you and the work flow is played at as far as we’re concerned and the notifications come through. So you’re always in the loop.
Allison Williams: [00:21:23] Ok. So a lot there for someone to consider that there’s a lot of protections that it sounds like Smith.ai has already wrapped into the process of having a chat bot. So that if somebody wanted to try it, they have the ability to say, I’m not going to get sued as soon as somebody, you know, puts their name out there.
Maddy Martin: [00:21:42] Yeah. One of the other things that I wanted to emphasize, Allison, is that we see a lot of people who are now very comfortable with email and email marketing is, maybe over adopted so that when emails come through that are perhaps case updates or real documentation that is needed from the client. That’s that needs to be the focal point. But we can use web chat and ask a math score more in the moment. Urgent messages that get the attention better than just these email drips that you may also be doing. So the way that we’re tying that in and this is a really clever sort of way that I think it’s important to highlight SMS messages, text messages get a way higher response rate than email. So if you are using email as your marketing nurturing channel to follow up with these potentially maybe don’t schedule consult they call and then they get added to this email address. What we’re doing for some clients through chat because our interface works with responding to text messages, chats, et cetera. We actually have the ability to send an SMS out to people who can respond and then have a text based conversation with us so that we’re responding on behalf of the business to answer questions they may have that would have filled your email inbox that actually get routed from email to SMS so that we can handle it.
Maddy Martin: [00:23:21] So we’re doing these things that are cross channel to facilitate faster answers without actually. This is important, very ethically not getting access to your email inbox itself, right?
Allison Williams: [00:23:35] Wow. Wow. I mean, there’s so much there and I can’t even I can’t even imagine what a relief it would be if if you at this point, if you’re a solopreneur. Right. If you’ve got yourself maybe one secretary or you’re starting to grow, maybe you have one or two team members, but you’re not yet at that place where you could have a full time person who’s doing nothing but screening emails. And of course, lawyers oftentimes are always very bad about delegating out their email. They want to have that control. So this is another avenue that gets you not only greater contact with potential new clients, so you’re getting more people in the door, but your existing clients are also getting that extra high touchpoint, that feeling that they are even greater connected to you, which is going to just make your customer service through the roof.
Maddy Martin: [00:24:20] Yeah, I mean, another thing that that I was just discussing with our team here that we would be happy if this interests you, it hasn’t yet been launched yet.
Maddy Martin: [00:24:30] But having the ability, one of the things that we see with many firms is like after we have these phone calls in a consult that scheduled, there is sometimes a little bit of work for oh, now the person who’s in-house has to send those documents that they have to complete before that consult or, you know, during the onboarding process. So the next piece we’re sort of looking at, Allison.
Maddy Martin: [00:24:50] And please do contact us just hello at Smith.ai. If this interests you because we haven’t yet released said at least at the time of us talking. Maybe when this is released we will have.
Maddy Martin: [00:25:02] But to to have the email be sent from us after a call, knowing what documents you need them to complete before a consult, or if they’re a serious client or or whatever scenario comes through and we can actually send that to them on your behalf. Again, sending an email, not receiving any sort of emails back that are confidential, but just making sure that a message gets pushed out.
Allison Williams: [00:25:33] Wow. So there’s there’s another value that comes with having, it really sounds like I am I’m trying my hardest not to refer to you to as as a virtual reception service because it sounds like you really are kind of like an ancillary communications hub for the small law firm.
Maddy Martin: [00:25:52] Yeah, it’s funny. It’s a conversation that we have every day in the office of how to describe the evolving nature of our business as a remote communication solution, that also doesn’t make us sound like some, just call center or somewhere. Like it’s it’s at once very much personalized. It’s driven by very sophisticated technology. So it’s like the merging of these humans who are answering your calls that are very capable with the technology that facilitates this. You know, spam blocking and their CRM integration with Clio and File Vine and all these things and and your calendar and your billing. So it’s it’s a conversation that we’ve been having. And you really hit it on the head, Allison, where we started out as a receptionist service and by listening to our clients built in all these other services. And how do we now frame ourselves as a solution for both inbound and outbound communications that facilitate a lead moving to a client? That really is what primarily it comes down to.
Maddy Martin: [00:27:01] How do we how do we accelerate the growth of solo and small firm businesses that are in service driven practices like like law firms, about 60 percent of our clients to facilitate that work moving through that funnel.
Allison Williams: [00:27:23] Well, I think there is so much to be said for a company that innovates and evolves with the needs of its clients. And so we know that Smith.ai has always been or I shouldn’t say we. I personally know that you guys have always been very responsive and very attuned to the needs of the small law firm owner. So that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to have you on the podcast. And I want to just thank you so much again, Maddy, for all of the wonderful information that you’ve shared with us about how solo and small law firm attorneys can really revolutionize their communications process and take advantage of that gap, that huge gap that the Clio Trends report found in terms of business acumen of lawyers and that customer service piece that may be missing when we don’t respond fast enough. So, Maddy, if somebody wants to get a hold of you and they want to talk to you about all the different resources that you’ve talked about today on the program, how can they do that?
Maddy Martin: [00:28:16] So you can visit our web site, which is Smith Dot A-I. And you’re also able to call us 6 5 0 – 7 2 7 – 6 4 8 4 or chat with us live on our web site or email, which is hello at Smith Dot A-I. And if you do contact us, I will say that we would love to give you not only a free trial of our services, 10 calls or 10 chats for free, but also $100 off just as being, you know, a friend and listener of Allison who we admire so much. That code is Law Firm Mentor 100.
Allison Williams: [00:28:54] All right. You guys heard it here, Maddy Martin. Thank you so much for the wonderful information that you shared. If anyone wants to reach out, please do that. The information on her again will be summarized in our show notes. You are listening to the Law Firm Mentor Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. Everyone, have a great day!
For $100 off your first month’s service with Smith.ai, use promo code LAWFIRMMENTOR100.
To learn more about how you can improve your inbound and outbound communication efforts with Smith.ai visit https://Smith.ai
Connect with Maddy on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/madelainemartin