I recently downloaded and read Alexis Neely’s Law Business Manifesto. It’s an interesting approach. Of course it is written like a marketing piece, because it is, but there are still some gems. I’ll be doing a full review soon, but in the meantime I’ve started implementing one of her strategies: not taking unscheduled phone calls.

Neely advocates going cold turkey and not taking any unscheduled phone calls. If I had a full-time assistant or virtual paralegal I might be able to get away with that. But I use Ruby, so they can’t schedule calls for me. I also do a lot of work with county agencies and police officers. Most of them leave for the day by 4:30. I’ve found that the inevitable phone tag when I don’t take those calls is brutal. That means my instructions to Ruby are to only let those types of calls through. Every other call gets returned in a designated window.

I’ve only had the system in place for a few days. It took a little while to make sure the ladies over at Ruby knew what I wanted. And of course we had to work out a few “what if” scenarios. But now that everyone is on the same page, the system seems to be working without any kinks.

Miss Calls Without Guilt

When we first opened our firm, we got a thrill every time the phone rang. But now that we’ve built up our client base, the phone rings a lot. Of course it’s not just clients. It’s opposing counsel, officers, and so forth. But the phone rings constantly.

Some of that stopped when we first hired Ruby. The phone still rang, but we could screen the calls and only deal with those we wanted to handle at the time. If we didn’t take the call, clients were told we would get back to them. There was no assurance about when. We tried to get back to them within a day or so, but sometimes messages got lost or forgotten.

Now as soon as an e-mail comes in we can schedule the call and put it on the calendar.

Assure Clients They’re Important

When Ruby tells people I will call them at a specific time, they’re assured that the call is important. The client knows the message won’t get lost in the shuffle. Instead, he or she will get a guarantee that I will return the call in a specific time window.

Moreover, the client understands that their time with me is important. They get the message that when I’m talking to them there will be no other distractions, like other clients calling in.

Save Everyone Time

In the Manifesto, Neely points out that when you stop answering the phone, it will “eliminate the phone tag, thereby saving [the clients] time & a whole lot of frustration.” But more importantly, it saves me time. It also cuts down on Ruby minutes. If someone called before and I missed the call, Ruby would take a message. I would see the message and return the call. At least four times out of ten, the person wouldn’t answer. Then they would call back minutes later and have to explain to Ruby who they are all over again. Now they just call once and they know when I’m going to call back.

Bask in Your Productive Glory

When Sam said he doesn’t take unscheduled calls, I didn’t see the point. But after reading the Manifesto I decided to just give it a shot. Like I said, it’s only been a few days, but I’ve already felt much more productive. I don’t get interrupted by the phone nearly as much. And when I make the scheduled call backs, people answer the phone expecting my call.

A Bit of Caution

When we made this switch there were a few people whose calls hadn’t been scheduled and their messages took longer to respond to than we normally like. If you decide to try this method, make sure to let clients know in advance if possible. I told clients for a week beforehand that we would be moving to the new system. And any clients that I call this week for their first scheduled call get an explanation of the new system.

Depending on your schedule, this system may mean later nights in the office. That’s what I’ve found. With my court schedule I’m usually in and out of court for most of the day. That means the only guaranteed time to call clients back is after five. As a result I’m essentially guaranteeing that on most nights I will stay late.