In the following Guest Post, Aaron Lee discusses the challenges and opportunities facing small to midsize law firms. A new era of outsourcing services is a breath of fresh air for small and mid-sized law firms, allowing them to survive and thrive not only despite, but because of the Great Resignation.
Aaron Lee is the CEO and Co-Founder of Smith.ai. He is the ex-CTO of The Home Depot and co-founder of Redbeacon, acquired by Home Depot in 2012.
COVID-19 forced workers ‘round the world to re-evaluate their lives at the same time – and what we ended up with was the Great Resignation.
After two years of lockdown and turmoil, employees in fields ranging from legal to retail to tech have been voting with their feet in favor of a better work-life balance. Across the board, people are now prioritizing family wellbeing, flexibility, and career satisfaction over rigid hours, urban living, and unfulfilling roles. Despite offering generous compensation, companies struggle to fill open positions that don’t meet the demands of the post-COVID-19 workforce. In fact, LinkedIn’s newest Workplace Confidence Survey shows that 40 percent of Gen Z employees would be willing to take a pay cut for a more enjoyable role, or one that offered them a better chance of career growth.
We don’t have enough people willing to fill all the openings for these roles that are essential if employers are to fully capitalize on current opportunities
This makes it challenging for any business to take advantage of the rebounding economy, perhaps more particularly for small to midsize law firms that rely heavily on front office staff to perform a bevy of activities critical to their operations. But now we don’t have enough people willing to fill all the openings for these roles that are essential if employers are to fully capitalize on current opportunities. Firms with their sights on growth know they must deliver the right levels of customer satisfaction, and for this they must attract and retain key staff.
Functions like phone answering, outbound calling, appointment setting, lead screening and – most crucially – lead capture and engagement have to be done with virtually no time lag. These fundamental functions are not only a matter of driving business growth but also of protecting the overall health of the business. Business owners know if they delay responding to leads, they’re wasting their marketing efforts and opening the door for negative reviews and reputation risk.
A recent study of hiring managers (September 2021) found that 53% of all businesses say that the pandemic-driven reliance on remote work has increased their willingness to use virtual freelancers, remote workers, and outsourced teams overall. It’s a mindset shift evidenced by the skyrocketing demand for services that our industry is experiencing, from the legal field in particular.
Using external suppliers for tasks like phone answering, intake, booking meetings, or taking payments means they can cover gaps, relieve stress, and focus staff on more valuable and fulfilling work
A huge proportion of our clients now are small-to-midsize law firms, who are managing their staffing problems by outsourcing commodity work. Using external suppliers for tasks like phone answering, intake, booking meetings, or taking payments means they can cover gaps, relieve stress, and focus staff on more valuable and fulfilling work. Over the last few quarters this trend has continued to grow and we’ve seen dramatically more interest in our AI-assisted virtual receptionist service in the last few months alone.
In an informal survey of our legal clients, we found these were the top five reasons for turning to an outsourced solution:
Anecdotal evidence provides a little more color. “I am an elder law/estate planning/special needs attorney,” wrote one client. “My assistant tells me my phone rings all the time and she is tired, stressed … I’m worried she may quit on me. I don’t know how many calls I get daily or monthly. I thought that a virtual receptionist would take the load off of my assistant.”
Another legal client said, “We had been dealing with a large volume of chat traffic to our website during off-hours and were missing sales leads consistently.” They had tried various external and automated options and ultimately found an AI-supported virtual receptionist service that worked best for them.
Outsourcing today needs to be more than just filling gaps in the law firm’s staffing roste
This is a key point. Outsourcing today needs to be more than just filling gaps in the law firm’s staffing roster. Done badly, it’s frustrating for clients and businesses alike. Handled correctly, it’s a good economic option (especially when you compare the $3 – $4,000 a month you’ll spend on a full-time employee versus an hourly rate for a remote agent.) It’s also an option that can be triggered almost instantly, like the owner of a solo law firm desperate for coverage after losing their office staff at short notice, who was able to book a virtual receptionist on the same day.
Outsourcing is not just for emergencies. Consider a small law firm where the front office manager’s duties include patient intake, billing, scheduling and appointment reminders. Inevitably, there are days when some of these activities fall by the wayside. Using virtual agents for scheduling and reminders ensures that offloaded tasks are completed on time and consistently. Using a service boosted by embedded AI technology behind the scenes allows the remote receptionist to interact with clients just like in-house staff, while the office manager can focus on higher priority tasks.
The forces behind the Great Resignation are also fueling an amazing supply of excellent virtual agents: good news for outsourcing services and small to midsize law firms alike. In the last few quarters, we’ve found ourselves processing tens of thousands of applications every month. We’re hearing from people from all walks of life who are attracted by the flexible hours, the compensation, and the ability to dictate their own work patterns – so, for example, a parent can work around their children’s school hours rather than despite them.
Working for a virtual receptionist service is even more appealing to talented people when the business operates entirely remotely. With no physical HQ, there is no bias towards local staff, and no such thing as typical office hours or limited career paths. A virtual business is able to do away with the artificial barriers to career development that so often are the norm in traditional businesses. Promotion is based on the individual’s inclination and talent, not departmental structure or proximity.
Selecting a Service
One of the key differentiators between a passable outsourcing service versus an excellent one is the technology that supports its agents. We find the best agents don’t need a law degree, they just need to enjoy talking to people on the phone, because our AI chatbots provide them with the means to sound competent, professional, and personable no matter which client or industry they’re serving. This freedom from dependence on specific qualifications is yet one more area where technology, and AI specifically, makes it simpler for individuals to enjoy their work, and leverage that enthusiasm to the benefit of the legal firm.
This new era of outsourcing services is a breath of fresh air for small and mid-sized law firms, allowing them to survive and thrive not only despite, but because of the Great Resignation.