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Do Clients Want to Self-Schedule Appointments With Lawyers?

by Carolyn Elefant on May 16, 2012 · 4 comments

in Client Relations, Solo Trends

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Despite the proclaimed rise of the DIY-client, seems that many aren’t yet willing to self-schedule an appointment with an attorney.  At least, that’s been the experience thus far for several of the lawyers interviewed by the Wisconsin Bar Journal on their experiences with self-scheduling.

One North Carolina lawyer, Kellie Mannette reported that while her practice is thriving, not a single prospective client has taken advantage of the ability to make appointments online through appointy.com, the free scheduling platform that Mannette uses for her firm.  Mannette reasons that clients prefer to speak with her initially before making an appointment – and presumably, once Mannette has them on the phone, she’ll schedule the appointment herself instead of asking them to do it themselves.

Over in Chicago, Gianna Scatchelli has had a similar experience with Bookfresh,com which also offers a free appointment-setting platform.  Scatchelli’s experience is particularly surprising to me since she reports that a good portion of her clients come by way of social media and thus, are comfortable with technology.

So why doesn’t self-scheduling work for lawyers, when it’s become standard practice for restaurants?  I have a couple of thoughts.  For starters, when I make an appointment with a service provider, I’ll frequently want some preliminary information regarding insurance coverage or whether there is a fee for an initial consult.  Many lawyers’ websites are opaque about whether a consultation is free or not, or will offer a 30 minute consult free (leaving prospective clients to wonder if that will cover the full meeting).  So naturally, in those situations, clients will want to call before scheduling an appointment.

Second, many of the self-schedule platforms that I’ve used for hairdressers, optometrists and even doctors have been seemingly unreliable – either breaking down midway through the transaction, sending error messages or failing to send me a message confirming my appointment.  In fact, the only scheduling platform that I’ve used with consistent success to date is OpenTable for restaurant reservations.

I’ve not tried either Appointy or Bookfresh and both look quite slick.  However, using the freeware versions, as Mannette and Scatchelli are doing might  create reliability problems or look unprofessional if the scheduler carries ads or doesn’t allow for firm branding (also, as an aside, I have confidentiality concerns about most free products used to service clients).

But at the end of the day, I suspect that once consumers or businesses make a decision to hire a full service lawyer, they want a full service experience.  That’s not just true of professional services, but any service as well.  If you choose to grab lunch from a food truck or McDonalds, chances are you’ll tolerate rude servers, less than perfect food quality or a miserly offering of a single napkin or ketchup packet.  By contrast, if you choose to fork out $100+ for a fancy meal at a five-star restaurant or even $15 for a bite at middle-of-the-road establishments like TGI Fridays, Cheesecake Factory, etc…you’re far less likely to tolerate cursory treatment by waitstaff, undercooked food or an un-replenished breadbasket.

The same holds true for legal services.  Some consumers do choose to DIY – to use a virtual service and do much of the legwork themselves in exchange for lower prices.  But those consumers who decide to hire a full service lawyer haven’t signed up to do the grunt work.  Thus, they reasonably expect all of the amenities of full service including having a live person schedule appointments, assist with filling out forms and sending documents when requested.  Oh and by the way, these niceties aren’t annoyances, but rather, justifiable expectations given when consumers or businesses are paying an arm and a leg for legal services.

But the other thing that’s important to realize is that it just doesn’t cost much to offer these amenities.  You don’t have to schedule appointments yourself or hire a full time receptionist – you can outsource to providers  like Ruby Receptionists.  You don’t have fill out forms or send documents yourself; rather, you can hire a virtual assistant or a law clerk part time for a few hundred dollars a month.  You don’t have to offer clients catered tea service when they come to your office – you can stock your waiting room with water and snacks from Costco.  Sure, all these extras are an added investment – but when you provide clients white glove service, you can charge higher fees which they’ll gladly pay because they’ll appreciate being treated like a royalty rather than an annoyance.

Despite their inauspicious experience with self-scheduling, Mannette and Scatchelli aren’t giving up yet.  They’re both young lawyers and they predict that self-scheduling will catch on as the generation that’s grown up accustomed to automated service begin to need lawyers.  And while it’s smart to always allow DIY as an option – whether it’s for scheduling or file downloads or other services, full service lawyers should never force clients to accept DIY the default.

  • Tom

    Carolyn, I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve been using timetrade.com to let clients self-schedule for 3 years. I get a minimum of 4 appointments per week set online.. It cuts out the phone tag and clients often thank me for offering it. Works beautifully for me. Tom Sammons http://www.lawsam.com

  • myshingle

    It’s good that you have had a positive experience. I think that offering online scheduling as an option is great for those clients who enjoy the convenience. However, some don’t and that should be considered as well.
    I’m curious – do you have some idea why you’ve had success with your online scheduling where the lawyers profiled in the article have not?

  • Johanna

    I would have a problem with self-scheduling. I like to create an efficient work day, and that might mean booking two clients back to back, and blocking off time to do something else the morning after (usually, to get started on the work created by the new appointment). If someone self-schedules, I can’t control that as much.  Second, I like to screen people before I see them. I might not need to set an appointment with them, or need to do a few things before seeing them, that hasn’t been done yet.  I guess for limited purposes- estate planning, comes to mind, I can see an hour block of time for an initial meeting.  

    I like email, people letting me know the issues up front (to an extent) and then getting them on my calendar after that.  Not saying it can’t/doesn’t work, I am just not a fan of it.

  • http://www.rebeccaphalen.com/ Rebecca Phalen

    I also used Setster for several months. Only one person made an appointment–but she never called at the appointment time. While it seems convenient to schedule online, most prospective clients will simply call or email at the moment that the case is one their mind. It’s interesting to see that others’ experiences mirrors mine.

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