Ever Consider Using Live Chat on your Law Firm Website?

Live chat button on computer key board

Some bold lawyers have introduced “live chat” functions on their websites to get leads, but is this a good idea?

We live in an age when a vast number of websites provide innumerable services and access to products, allowing consumers to expect immediate attention. People use smartphones constantly to order products on the go, locate businesses, and download information and services. Some bold lawyers have introduced “live chat” functions on their websites to get leads, but is this a good idea?

What is live chat?
Live chat is an instant messaging service that is embedded into a website that allows consumers to instantaneously chat with a representative of the company. Lawyerist.com provides a good outline of live chat options for attorneys, including the benefits and drawbacks.

Is live chat software easy to install on an attorney’s website?
It can be. There are even free services like Pure Chat and My LiveChat that offer free installation of live chat software to a website. Other services install the software on your site at a cost and also offer to communicate with potential clients on behalf of the firm.

What are the benefits of using live chat for a law firm?
The primary benefit is that consumers are instantly connected to a law firm.

Are there any significant drawbacks to live chat?
Yes. There are three major drawbacks:

  • Technology does not exist to perform an instant conflict of interest check automatically before the potential client engages with a member or agent of your firm. The conflict check must be done manually by the representative of your firm during the live chat. The Lawyerist.com article provides an example of an attorney who became disqualified based on a conflict arising from the live chat function on his website.
  • Staff members (or independent agents) responding to online chat inquiries on behalf of a firm are the partner’s responsibility. Attorneys familiar with the practice area and who can discuss the qualifications of the attorney who will handle the potential client’s case should be engaging in these live chats — and nobody else. Attorneys should also have a “declination of services” letter that is automatically generated to the potential client if they have not retained the firm within a specific number of days following the chat.
  • There is an opportunity cost associated with live chat. Employing an attorney to remain available to engage a potential client is costly and time-consuming.

While our family law firm is able to conduct an instant conflict check during the initial stages of a live chat and we have attorneys familiar with our practice that could respond to live chat inquiries, we are hesitant to use a live chat system simply due to the opportunity cost. If you are able to afford an attorney to monitor the live chat site, and if they are able to conduct an instant conflict check for your firm, then the service may be a viable option for you.

For more information about conflict checking for law firms, visit Client Conflict Check. WSBA members receive a lifetime 15% discount. Use promo code WSBA15P at checkout or when you sign up for a free trial.

4 thoughts on “Ever Consider Using Live Chat on your Law Firm Website?

  1. Greg McLawsen (@mclawsen)

    Not sure understand the “opportunity cost” rationale for why your firm doesn’t use chat. The ROI on the time investment is either worth it or not. If you think it’s a great (good?) return, then you should get busy with chat and staff up as needed to meet your increased demand. That another firm can “afford an attorney” to be available doesn’t make chatting a good use of resources. Different outcome if that firm has attorney downtime, but even in that case there are plenty of options for time investment, such as content marketing.

    Reading between the lines, sounds like you’re just not convinced it’s a great return, and I don’t necessarily disagree.

  2. beverlym

    Reblogged this on Oregon Law Practice Management and commented:
    An interesting idea. Before you jump in, consider the following:

    Chat tends to be more in depth than speaking to potential clients by phone. For best practice purposes, assume you are forming an attorney-client relationship.

    Consider writing disclaimers you can copy and paste into chat at the end of your conversation. Make your nonengagement clear if ending the chat concludes your legal services. This is critical if the client contacts you about a matter that typically has a deadline associated with it, whether the client mentions it or not. Also be careful if the chat results in scheduling an appointment. Get the client’s contact information so you can confirm your meeting by email and provide your street address, directions, and phone number. Yes, the client can get these details from your website, but it is more convenient to include them with the appointment confirmation. If the client doesn’t keep the appointment, send a nonengagement email.

    Besides running a conflict check before chat begins, remember to add the potential client to your conflict system so you have a record of the contact.

    Protect client confidentiality and consider saving the chat record. Since chat software allows you to print the conversation, one choice is to print to PDF and save the PDF as you would in-person consultation notes and intake forms.

    Lastly, some practical pointers:

    As this post intimates, chat has the potential of being a time suck. Plan accordingly.

    First, know your analytics: peak times when new clients are most likely to call, email, or send a contact form through your website. If possible, chat (meaning you) should be available during prime time.

    Whatever your chat hours are, make them clear or potential clients will quickly get frustrated.

    If you are only willing to chat for a set amount of time, disclose this limitation up front. Each lawyer will have a different sensibility about length of time. I may be channeling my inner “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” but 5 minutes seems too short, 10 could be okay, somehow 15 minutes feels just right.

    Keep your eye on the goal. While you might build good karma helping someone by chat who will tell his buddies how wonderful you are, the idea is to convert a potential client into an actual client. Remember to use this tool as you would a phone consult: to qualify or eliminate someone from being a client as quickly and economically as possible.

    Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment. As my husband is fond of saying, first you don’t know, then you know. If chat hours or chat limitations change, just update your website.

    Good luck!

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