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How I Stopped Taking Unscheduled Calls

The most common complaint made by lawyers is that the constant flow of interruptions (phone calls and emails) throughout the day prevents them from getting any work done. However, the most common complaint made against lawyers is the failure to respond to clients.

Fixing these two problems may seem like a zero-sum game, like you can’t correct one without worsening the other. As counterintuitive as it may seem, the move to stop taking unscheduled phone calls in my practice simultaneously increased my productivity and client satisfaction.

My improved productivity is probably not a surprise but why would client satisfaction increase? I think it happens for a few reasons.

  • The common complaint “my lawyer didn’t get back to me” really means that the client would like to know that their matter is being handled and progressing, that someone is listening and helping, or something along those lines. Those underlying needs can often be addressed by a team member who isn’t a lawyer, and I would bet money that a properly trained team member with the right personality will do it better than you. If the matter does require a lawyer, the call is scheduled so the client knows that you now have time set aside to contact them and assist.
  • Scheduling calls guarantees that the client gets a response from you. That means less chance of things getting missed or falling through the cracks.
  • Phone calls are more productive since you have a chance to prepare before the call.
  • When something is available in limited quantities, we automatically assume it is more valuable and higher quality and we desire it more. When clients know your time is limited but they have a spot reserved in your busy schedule they feel special and are more appreciative, not to mention we’ve noticed they are more inclined to be punctual and respectful of your time.

You might worry about losing potential new clients if you don’t answer the phone every time it rings but scheduling all calls has increased our engagement rate as well. The potential new client speaks with a team member who is able to give some initial information and schedule an initial phone call with me. The key is to help the potential new client feel heard and clearly set out their next steps.

Your practice doesn’t need to be chaotic. You can take large volumes of phone calls in an organized, calm, and deliberate way that makes your clients happy and helps you be more productive. Here is the process I followed to stop taking unscheduled calls:

1. Create rules for your calendar.

I decided the times each day during which phone calls can be scheduled. I do my best work in the morning, so on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday my phone calls are scheduled in the afternoons when my energy and focus typically dips. On Thursdays, phone calls can be scheduled any time during the morning or afternoon since I try to schedule deep focus work earlier in the week. I do not take phone calls on Fridays.

I set rules for how far in advance calls need to be booked and how close together calls can be booked.

My calendar has “flex time” built-in where I can make calls or send emails even if a true emergency disrupts my schedule. Every practice area is different and you might have legitimate things that unexpectedly upset your schedule. Build some flexibility into your calendar to account for this.

Your system can be created manually in your Outlook or Google calendar, or by using scheduling software like Calendly or Acuity. We use Calendly.

2. Create a phone script to handle incoming calls.

Over thousands of inbound calls, we discovered that almost all phone calls could be grouped into three categories. We created a detailed decision tree/phone script for our Client Coordinator to follow based on those categories.

If someone asks to speak with me, the default answer is “He’s not available. Is there something I can help you with?” I am unavailable for unscheduled phone calls so even if I am in my office is the truth to say that I am unavailable. It is crucial that the person answering the phone asks they can help the caller. At this point in the conversation, we likely still don’t know the reason why the caller wants to speak with me and offering to assist will often leave the caller to disclose more information which the Client Coordinator can use to determine the appropriate next steps. Often it will be something that the Client Coordinator can help with, even if that help is scheduling a phone call.

The caller is almost never put through to my voicemail. The only exception is if the Client Coordinator is certain that the purpose of the message is only to pass along information to me and does not require a call back. The Client Coordinator explains that my voicemail messages get just get sent to her to determine how to handle them, so by speaking with the Client Coordinator they are making things move faster.

3. Train your team.

Our Client Coordinator knows the calendar rules inside and out and must follow them. The phone script decision tree has been tested out on thousands of callers and must be followed.

The Client Coordinator is not allowed to override the rules on her own and must consult me if she thinks an exception should be made – yes, sometimes I make exceptions in special circumstances. For that reason, she needs to have a good idea of what constitutes a true emergency and what does not.

Our Client Coordinator is more involved in our files than a traditional receptionist. She knows our clients very well and usually knows the status of the project we are working on for a particular client. This allows her to offer more help to the caller than a traditional receptionist could. This is where an in-house team member can provide far superior service to the client compared to a virtual receptionist.

4. Train your clients.

From the first contact with our firm, potential new clients are learning to rely on non-lawyer team members since that is who they speak with.

In my first conversation with potential new clients, I let them know that our Client Coordinator is the best point of contact since they will get a much quicker response.

New clients receive a welcome package that includes an introduction to the team, explains our roles and once again points out that I only take scheduled calls and that our Client Coordinator is the person to contact if the client needs anything. It explains the benefits to the client that come from our call scheduling policy.

New clients usually see the benefit of our call scheduling policy right away, but we have many clients who have been with us long before the policy was in place. The key to transitioning these clients to the new call scheduling policy has been to explain the benefits to them. When you are working on matters for those clients, they don’t want you to pause to take every incoming call as that type of multitasking reduces efficiency and performance and increases the chance of errors.

5. Follow the schedule.

Make sure that you are punctual making calls at the scheduled time. If you don’t follow the system, your team members and clients won’t respect it either.

How to Share Files with Clients

Let’s say you have got a document with sensitive information in it, and you need to send a copy to your client or to opposing counsel. What is the best way to do that?

Here are a few options.

Not Good: Email, USB Drive

Unless you use encryption, sending an email is basically the same thing as sending a postcard. While there are efforts underway to change this, email remains pretty wide open. This is true and scary: anyone who wants to (not just the NSA) can read your email.

Sure, most of the time you can send a sensitive document through email and nothing will happen. But you are playing Russian Roulette (almost literally, given the recent theft of 1.2 billion email account credentials by a Russian gang). You may be sending documents straight to a criminal without even knowing it.

USB drives aren’t safe, either. A recently-discovered USB exploit means you could be distributing malicious code with your USB drive (or getting it from your clients) without ever knowing. While we don’t know if this exploit is being used, it is probably better to be safe than sorry, especially since better options exist.

Sometimes Okay: Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, OneDrive, Etc.

There are plenty of cloud-based file-sharing services out there, but I am just going to use the most popular — Dropbox — as a proxy for all of them. While I no longer think it makes sense to simply store all your files in Dropbox, I do think Dropbox can be useful for sharing specific files.

Related“It’s Time for Lawyers to Re-Think the Cloud”

You can share files either by sharing with another Dropbox user or by creating a public link to the file. Sharing directly to another user is by far the better option. While public links are not advertised, anyone with the link can access the file(s). Plus, you have to send that link to your client somehow (it is too long and complex to relate by phone), which makes it no better than sending an attachment to an unencrypted email. It is not a good idea to use a public link to share sensitive information.

If you do use Dropbox to share files with clients, don’t leave public links active indefinitely. Have your client tell you when they have the file, and then remove the public link. In fact, it may be best to remove the file from Dropbox entirely, if you share my thoughts on keeping client files in Dropbox.

Better Options: Encrypted Email, CD/DVD, or a Secure Portal

The best options for sharing files do not require you to grant access to the file in an email.

Encrypted Email

For now, encrypted email remains clunky, and requires some tech-savvy on both ends. Fortunately, you don’t need to go full encryption to send files more securely. You can just encrypt the attachment.

If you opt for encrypting the attachment, use a good password and just call up the recipient to give them the password over the phone. (Don’t leave it on voicemail, though; lots of people get their voicemail by email.)


You can also just burn the file to a CD or DVD and mail it. This is often the best option for large collections of documents, but it is slow if you are trying to share something like a redlined contract. Still, plain old discs are as secure as the mail.

A Secure Portal

Most cloud-based practice management software now includes file sharing, so that you can share files with a contact. When you share a file, the software sends a notice to the recipient. In order to access the file, though, they have to log in, so it is much more secure than a public link from Dropbox or Viivo. Two-factor authentication, where available, ratchets up the security even further.

A portal also allows your client to access the files over time. Despite advances in search technology, people lose emails all the time. If they just have to log into a portal (assuming they can remember their login details), they can access the files you have shared at any time.

The weak link is the inconvenience of having yet another login. If you are just going to share one or two files with someone, an encrypted attachments is probably easiest. If you are going to share a huge set of files, a CD or DVD is probably easiest. If you are going to share lots of files with someone, one at a time, a secure portal is the best option by far.

Worst: an Email Disclaimer

First, email disclaimers are pretty pointless, period.

Second, disclaimers do nothing to secure your email, even though an alarming percentage of lawyers who responded to a LexisNexis survey apparently think they do.