Running a law firm in the digital age isn’t easy. Not only do you need to serve your existing clients, but you must be on the constant lookout for new clients. How these clients—prospective and existing—want to engage with you varies. For prospective clients, some may prefer to make a call and engage directly with you or a member of your staff. Others may conduct online research and reconnoiter details on your firm from your website and what clients say about you on review sites like Yelp. 

When it comes your existing clients, they also want multiple engagement options—phone, email, online self-service, live web chat, and text. Rarely does one engagement channel suffice, but rather they want to engage with you at any time, on any device through their channel of choice.

In most cases, your website serves as the entry point. You need to ensure that it offers visitors engagement options—an online knowledgebase for those wanting to self-serve, contact links for email, phone, and text, and a static live web chat button. Live web chat has quickly become a preferred engagement option of many, and this includes those seeking legal services. 

Why Law Firms Should Use Live Web Chat

So, why should a law firm use live web chat? Following are some of the reasons a law firm should add live web chat to their website—or even their emails and Facebook page:

1. First impressions count.

Research shows that professional and personal impressions happen in seconds. A study of U.S. consumers finds that nearly 60% will never buy from a vendor if the first call to a company’s customer service live wasn’t handled correctly. And once a bad impression happens, it is virtually impossible to change it—regardless of what you do. 

Prior to the digital age, the initial customer contact was quite predictable. That is no longer true. They want multiple engagement options, and live web chat is frequently cited at or near the very top of the list. When clients want to engage with law firms when investigating potential legal options or seeking legal advice, there is no difference; they want multiple engagement choices, and live web chat is often preferred by many.

2. Better, more efficient client support.

Existing clients don’t always require a live call to get their questions answered—from billing questions to requests for emails and documentation. In these instances, live web chat enables them to gain quick answers and responses via a much cheaper engagement channel for the law firm. And with live web chat not available on many law firm sites, providing clients with that option can serve as a competitive differentiator.

3. Lead engagement and conversion.

Often, prospective clients visiting your website cannot locate what they need. Growing numbers are averse to picking up their phone and simply depart—and never come back. With proactive live web chat, law firms can engage with these prospects and answer their questions before they leave your website. This enables you to increase lead engagement, which ultimately improves conversion rates. 

4. Lower sales and marketing costs.

Live web chat possesses efficiencies over phone sales and support in two ways. One the one hand, live web chat agents can typically chat with three or four clients concurrent. Thus, rather than pushing clients into an on-hold queue as in the case of phone support, 3x or 4x more clients can go directly into engagement with live web chat. On the other hand, in addition to engaging with more clients, the cost per engagement for lower for live web chat as compared to phone.

How Law Firms Can Use Live Web Chat

There are various factors that law firms need to consider when employing live web chat on their websites: 

1. Ensure compliance with American Bar Association (ABA) online ethics.

The ABA has outlined various online ethical rules for law firms. There are a few concerns that law firms need to make sure are covered in their live web chat practices. First, digital content—including that provided via live web chat—could be misunderstood or misconstrued by a prospective or existing client as legal advice. Second, as live web chat interactions are often stored, sometimes with a time limit and in other instances without, the digital live web chat interaction could comprise an attorney’s commitment to confidentiality. 

The ABA stipulates that attorneys provide updated content contained only general information. When it comes to confidentiality of information, law firms need to ensure that their live web chat provider abides with cybersecurity standards, uses encryption, and conducts regular penetration testing. Any breach of data could be construed as a breach in client confidentiality. (It’s safest to say, when in doubt, consult an attorney with online domain expertise.)

Other actions that a law firm should take with live web chat include:

• Disclaimers. Include disclaimers as part of the pre-chat qualification process. These warnings and cautionary statements can help ensure that liabilities are avoided.

• Limits of interaction. Set up reasonable expectations with clients as part of the pre-chat qualification workflow as well as train your live web chat agents to warn clients that the live web chat exchange, unless indicated otherwise, should not be construed as legal advice. 

• Advertising and marketing. Law firms can make statements comparing other legal services, about the character or quality of your legal services, and testimonials from clients or former clients. They cannot, depending on the circumstances, use live web chat to solicit legal services for prospective clients.

• Duties of competence. Law firms need to be cautious when responding to questions outside of their areas of practice.

• Communications with opposing party. Law firms cannot communicate with an opposing party—and this includes via live web chat. 

• Location jurisdiction. Law firms cannot answer legal questions in states where their attorneys aren’t authorized to practice law. 

2. Use static live web chat.

Ensuring clients can initiate a chat session on their own is important. Thus, “Chat Now” buttons need to be place in appropriate areas on your website.

3. Proactive live web chat.

When prospective or existing clients are on your website and cannot locate the information they need, seconds count and having static live web chat buttons aren’t sufficient. In these instances, proactive live web chat can reduce bounce rates and improve lead capture and conversion rates. 

4. Offline forms.

While a law firm may elect to use a 24/7 hosting provider that provides around-the-world hosted live web chat (or even staff live web chat 24/7 with an internal resource, albeit an expensive decision), many law firms may elect to provide live web chat support during business hours or for a specific time frame (viz., non-24/7 support). In these instances, law firms need to ensure they have offline forms set up to capture client questions and messages to which they can respond upon resuming operations the next day.

5. Pre-chat qualification.

Not every incoming live web chat is the same. By soliciting select information via a pre-chat qualification form, law firms can determine if the inquiry can be handled by a live web chat agent or if it should be routed via phone. In other instances, law firms can answer or provide clients with the information they need without even initiating a live web chat session.

6. Canned answers and responses.

Certain phrases and answers and responses get used repeatedly across live web chat engagements. Many live web chat solutions allow for the preloading of canned phrases, answers, and responses that engagement agents can easily identify in an index and use in a chat interaction. This improves response times and productivity while ensuring answers to questions are compliant with ethical and legal standards.

7. Mobile support.

The percent of live web chat sessions initiated from mobile devices continues to rise. As clients want to engage with law firms on their device of choice, law firms need to ensure their live web chat solutions are mobile friendly. 

8. Notifications and transfers.

Sometimes, questions and issues posed to law firms can be easily answered and resolved. But this isn’t always the case. Here, law firms can set up notifications that help them escalate chat engagements that aren’t producing an anticipated resolution to other live chat agents with the expertise needed.

9. Hybrid chat: machine (virtual agents) + human.

Some live web chat providers offer solutions that combine virtual chat agents (machine) along with live humans. In addition to enabling clients to answer questions and resolve issues without initiating a chat with a live human, virtual chat agents can help law firms to pre-qualify prospective and existing clients before passing them to a live human chat agent. 

10. Integration.

Forcing clients to repeat information as they move from one engagement channel (e.g., from live web chat to phone, email to live web chat, etc.) can be a showstopper. Indeed, needing to repeat information when transitioning to a new support agent is often cited as the number-one engagement irritant. As a result, law firms need to demonstrate due diligence when vetting live web chat solutions to ensure that they integrate with other engagement options (phone, email, text, virtual agents).