Consumer expectations have changed. Before the internet and smart phones, law offices were simpler places where a receptionist answered calls from prospective clients and lawyers and assistants called them back. But with technology accelerating the pace of just about everything, consumers want immediate satisfaction in the form of responses to their inquiries.

So how long do you have to respond to a lead before you lose it forever? About five minutes, according to various studies over the last few years. The Harvard Business Review study in which that recommendation was first published was not specific to lawyers, whose response time the ABA says can often be measured in days, not hours.

Needless to say, your law practice does not have days to get back to a prospect who has likely been scouring the internet, filling out contact forms, replying to live chat prompts and calling other law firms. According to our new report, Hiring a Lawyer 2019: Legal Consumer Choices; Client Expectations, how quickly an attorney responds to a consumer’s first contact is a top criterion in the client’s hiring decision.

In the study of 6,300 U.S. and Canadian respondents, 48 percent listed responsiveness as a critical factor in choosing an attorney (only fees and a free consultation were mentioned more often). When asked about the three biggest deterrents to hiring an attorney, slow response time was the top-rated reason for deciding against a particular lawyer or firm. Also a red flag, according to 32 percent of respondents, was the appearance that a lawyer was too busy or overly stretched – an impression that can be left by slow response times.

Not only do consumers want their calls and emails returned in short order, they also make hiring decisions quickly: 35 percent of respondents made their decision to hire within a week, with 22 percent saying they decided in as little as one to three days. Only 17 percent said they spent more than two weeks searching for a lawyer before pulling the trigger.

Another important factor to keep top of mind: Most people searching for a lawyer will contact more than one. In fact, 75 percent of consumers who hired an attorney said they contacted at least two lawyers before committing.

High-tech solutions for high-tech expectations

For a busy lawyer tending to current cases in and out of the office, it’s often impossible to respond to every call and email within an hour – let alone in five minutes or less. Yet a consumer may not know that you were in court all day or putting out fires for three different clients. To avoid raising one of the red flags that turn clients away:

Meet clients where they are: Be realistic about how clients want to connect. In our study, 46 percent said they were likely to call as the first method of contact. Consider training staff to fulfill intake forms over the phone. With the right technology, much of intake can be integrated with your contact and case information, which helps organize a case file from the very first call. A service such as Captorra can customize your intake needs, building client confidence that your practice has the bandwidth to handle his matter.

Email response time is important too: After calls, 36 percent of respondents said they would likely email to first contact a lawyer, so have a plan ready for responding to emails immediately. You could designate a staff member to be responsible for immediately replying to emails from prospective clients with a form or list of questions to gather basic facts. You can also look into smart automated response emails, a tool that many vendors offer.

Put your website to work: In the same question on preferred methods for first contacting a lawyer, 26 percent said they would be likely to use live chat. If your website doesn’t have this feature, consider adding it for prospects trying to connect once they find your site. A live chat service lets visitors to your website interact with a trained representative who can seamlessly answer prospect questions while collecting valuable information. Live chat not only buys you and your staff time to respond, it also puts the appropriate facts and details at your fingertips – another way to show that your practice is well-organized and ready to take on another client.

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