Once upon a time, lawyers starting out were encouraged to rent ground-level office space on Main Street or down the block from the courthouse to capture walk-in traffic. These days, that advice isn’t as persuasive as lawyers are taking advantage of technology to move out of costly conventional office space and work from home or part-time virtual space. And even those lawyers who still practice in a central location frequently limit walk-in appointments because they’re disruptive to workflow and most walk-in prospects aren’t prepared to pay.
But just as technology taketh-away the conventional walk-in client, so too it giveth a 21st century version: the Skype-in client. For those unfamiliar, Skype is a platform that supports video-calls and video-conferences, where participants can converse and see each other over the computer or even their phone. Skype’s been around for a while, but the quality has continued to improve such that it’s ready for prime-time professional use. Law firms are taking notice too – for example, consider this California based firm, The Trust Store which just announced that it will meet with clients online via Skype.
Meeting with clients online through Skype is a great way to give your firm a competitive advantage. For starters, it’s a neat use of technology that is bound to stand out. Second – and somewhat surprisingly, Skype is a less-intimidating way to use technology than, for example, requiring a client to log-in to a site and fill out a form. Many otherwise tech-challenged folks (my parents, for example, come to mind) are being introduced to Skype as a way to keep in touch with family members who may be stationed overseas or who’ve moved to other parts of the country. As a result, they’re more comfortable with Skype than they might be with a conventional online portal. Third, Skype adds credibility to the attorney- client relationship and builds trust. Through Skype, clients can see that they are meeting with an actual lawyer. Though of course it’s conceivable that a charlatan could hire an actor to pose as a lawyer and collect payments and run, it’s far more difficult to set up this type of ruse than, for example, to create an anonymous website. Finally, since most computers have video recording built in, you could (with a client’s consent of course) record Skype calls to avoid any future misunderstanding about what’s been said.
In addition to holding client meetings on line, lawyers can also use Skype to set up a proverbial “walk-in shingle” on the main street that is the world wide web. As with any walk in arrangement, a client could just come in and wait, first-come, first-served for a turn. Or a lawyer could use some of the online scheduling tools that I discussed here and ask clients to make an appointment. Moreover, Skype can facilitate the kind of after-hours availability that is convenient to clients who work 9-5. Though many lawyers may not want to cut into their weekend to trek to the office to meet clients, through Skype, they can meet at a home office.
If you’re going to use Skype, bear in mind that certain best practices apply. For starters (and hopefully obvious to most), you can’t show up in your pajamas with a five-o-clock shadow or a greasy pony-tail. Nor should you Skype from an easy-chair in front of the television or a coffee shop. Because clients can see you on Skype, it’s important to come across as professionally as you would in an offline, face-to-face meeting.
You may also want to practice a Skype call and have a friend record you on the other end so you can see how you come across over the monitor. As this article on Skype for job interviews notes, Skype hones in on a waist-up shot “so if your eyes are shifting or darting around, people may wonder whether you’re not telling the truth or that you are extremely nervous.” Likewise, a user might focus on the camera, and may not appear to be making real eye contact. In addition, you may need to use a microphone to ensure high quality sound.
In a few years, Skype will be fully ripe – and all clients will expect to reach a lawyer by video-phone. Why not carve out your on-line walk-in office space now, because everyone else stakes a claim?