Making the Most of Non-Traditional Office Hours
If you have a brick and mortar office, more likely than not, your office hours are somewhere in the range of 9 to 5. This seems to be standard operating procedure for many law firms. We’re all familiar with late night dentists and weekend doctors, but how about after hours legal services? Do you offer after hours or weekend appointments? More importantly, could non-traditional office hours help your business?
This topic has been hotly debated among lawyers in the context of clients respecting your “off” time. A popular 2011 thread from the American Bar Association Solo & Small Firm listserv discussed why clients always seem to call, email, or text at times clearly outside of your set office hours. These clients then become upset when you do not immediately respond. The general consensus among the lawyers participating in that thread was that you must enforce the hours you will or will not work. If your office opens at 9, you better be ready to field phone calls or emails at that hour. Similarly, by answering calls after your business closes, you are signaling to clients that you are, in fact, available after 5, even though your posted hours indicate that you are closed.
We can all agree that managing client expectations about when you are available for communication is a good thing to do to avoid any misunderstanding about when you will be addressing your clients’ needs, barring some sort of emergency situation. But there has been a recent shift in communication expectations in our society. It seems like the world is always working, and just because you’ve packed up your laptop and headed home for the evening does not necessarily mean you are off duty. The proliferation of technology allowing easy accessibility on a smart phone has, in a way, already extended your business hours without you ever changing the sign on your door. While you may not respond to after hours calls or emails, you still know that you have a voicemail or an email to address the next day. Some of you, despite your best intentions to separate your office life and your home life, go ahead and pick up the phone or respond to emails to assuage your clients.
Have you embraced the shift in working hours to maximize the benefit both to your clients and to your business? You could be missing out on potential clients who may need a lawyer, but can’t take off work to meet with you during traditional work day hours. Could setting a schedule of, say 11-7, generate new business simply because you are servicing a group of clients that previously could not easily access legal representation? There are a few considerations worth noting.
First, depending on your practice area, you may be doing a great service to your community by meeting with clients or potential clients after 5:00. Particularly if you are a small-town attorney, there may not be many (or any) other firms nearby. By working with clients and potential clients to meet with them on their schedule, not only could you endear yourself to your community, but you fill a much needed vacuum for local legal services.
Further, your sacrifice of after hours time that was traditionally considered “personal” time could allow you to secure new business. If you’re offering something the competition isn’t, you may find yourself with new clients simply because of the convenience to the client. If a potential client calls two lawyers for consultations, it seems more likely that they’d hire the attorney who went out of their way to show the client that their case mattered.
You may also, as suggested in the aforementioned listserv, charge a premium for those after hours meetings.This could be a way to help offset the added cost of paying employees to stay late or to compensate you for going beyond the scope of your usual business practices. It may also deter clients from setting after hours meetings, if that is your goal.
Another factor is whether your personal obligations allow for flexibility in appointment scheduling. Do you have to pick up kids or hurry home to care for a pet? If so, meeting after hours is difficult. A better solution may be to pick one Saturday a month and set client meetings for a few hours in the morning.
Assessing your ability for meeting with clients past 5:00 or on the weekends is a personal decision. Consider how doing so impacts your business and evaluate whether it is time to add “or by appointment” to your office hours.
Jared Pierce hung his own shingle right out of law school and has spent every minute since then discovering the joys and difficulties of chasing success. Anyone who has ever met Jared will tell you h