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The Jones Law Firm Blog

A Word On Communications

A recent article in the wall street journal stated that new graduates from law school have a 50-50 chance of landing a career in the legal field within their first nine months.  The starting salary for a lawyer in a small firm setting has decreased by 35% since 2009.  The reason is simple, the economy has finally caught up with the profession and the demand for lawyers is simply down.  

Almost 11 years ago I broke into the legal world, and at the time I would take any case that I could get my hands on.  I started out in Memphis working for a real estate attorney, who really didn’t need a young attorney, but who was kind enough to give me a chance.  I handled a dog bite, a slip and fall, and even a case of an employer giving an employee a wedgie.  Proud moments in my legal career.  As I progressed, like most, I narrowed my field of practice and began to focus on Family Law.  In time, I saw that bankruptcy is often a helpful or unforeseen consequence of family law, so in order to better serve clients, we began taking on more bankruptcy cases.  Even back then, like most attorneys today, I was struggling for clients.   However in 2006 something phenomenal happened, something that would change the fortune of my family and my career forever.  Drake and Zeke, the morning Dj’s for 98.1 the max were giving away a divorce for valentine day and they were having difficulty locating an attorney to perform the deed.  One of my best friends just happened to be a relative of Zeke, so with a days notice, I agreed to perform the legal duties for the contest in exchange for some on air plugs.  For the first year, I received two paying clients because of my association with the duo.  As time marched on Drake and Zeke were kind enough to read my emails on air, and use me for personal work, and eventually to give me a monthly segment.  Around the third year, I noticed something.  I was receiving a good number of phone calls and Ask Lawyer Bill emails.  My little business was on the rise.  

I knew that we were in a down real estate market, so I went looking for a deal and I found one and purchased the building we currently practice out of in east memphis.  I also found a small real estate title company in North Mississippi that was going out of business and bought various and assorted furniture.  But what I was really proud of was the phone system that I bought from this now defunct title company.  It had six lines and 10 handsets.  It was an executive phone system that was state of the art in 1987.   What I was so proud of back then, is now an embarrassment, and the reason for this post.  

I mention the facts about the current state of the legal field, and my own history to say that I realize how blessed we have been.   How lucky we are to be a firm that is constantly being inundated with communications.  I want both our clients and our listeners to know that I have heard concerns and I have taken decisive action to correct any shortcomings we have in this area.  

I want to take a moment to acknowledge that we have fallen short of our promises as of late to our clients.  We have done so by failing to upgrade our equipment and acknowledge the fact that we have grown from a solo practitioner to a small firm.  We have been trying to maintain a twitter account, Facebook page, youtube page, blog sections, personal cell phone calls, office calls, emails, text and faxes, and haven’t succeeded at doing a great job at any of them because we’ve just been spread thin.  Being spread thin is manageable for a while, but two major events have sparked the changes that we are undertaking.  First, I recently became aware that our voicemail has been malfunctioning for quite some time.  The system has gotten progressively worse and has now gotten to the point that we are unable to even check to see if we have voice messages.  This has naturally created both some concern and dissatisfaction from our clients, and our contemporaries.   Second, a personal friend recently asked me why I had failed to respond to an email.  I wan’t even aware that she had emailed me.  Our email  has so many filters applied that in many cases emails that should be received are being forwarded to spam or junk.  I want our clients and listeners to know that our staff is doing the best they can, but I have failed to give them the tools they need to succeed and to fulfill our clients expectations.  All of that changes starting today.  

Starting July 18th, we will be completely revamping both our telephone and our email system.  We have gone to great expense to obtain a brand new state of the art system that will allow us to not only speak with you, but in many cases schedule video consultations.  I have a tracking number that shows our new system will arrive before the close of business on Thursday, the 19th.  We will slowly make the transition over the course of the next 10 days with the hopes that you do not notice any difference, or if you do, it is an improvement.  The system will allow us to quickly direct your call to the person that can best answer your question or schedule your appointment.  Each individual will have their own extension and their own personal voicemail as opposed to the one non functioning general voice mailbox we have now. These messages will then be emailed or texted to the recipient.    The one sacrifice that we struggled with was when you initially call, you will be greeted by an automated system, but we have made it where the press of a button will get you to a live person, keeping you on the phone with HAL for as brief as possible.  We have simply grown to the point where we felt this small  downside was worth the benefits.

Our next phase will be to revamp our emails and our filtering system.  As of the time of this post, I personally have 5 different email accounts which contain a total of 483 emails.  Many of which are solicitations, junk or offers to receive an inheritance from a sheik.  In order to assist us in quickly responding to your emails we will be implementing the following changes over the next month:

  1. Emails from persons not in our system will be filtered to junk.
  2. It is imperative that clients keep us advised of their current email address.
  3. Attorneys and Courtroom personal will generally be in our system, however, please let us know of any change in your email address.
  4. All persons not in our contacts will receive a auto generated notice letting them know their email was not received and how they should contact us.
  5. Ask Lawyer Bill emails will continue to operate in the same fashion they always have and will not be filtered to spam.  These emails will be reviewed as quickly as we can accommodate them.  Understand however, on days I appear on the show, we receive a substantial number of correspondence and it can take us several days to respond.  If you have an urgent matter, we strongly suggest that you call and schedule an appointment as opposed to waiting for a response.  

A word about emails in general:  Email was created to be a substitution for mail.  It was designed to transmit documents that could be responded to with a letter or for eliminating the cost of sending copies.  Over time it has morphed into something else entirely that is a cross between a letter, a  phone call and a text.  The problem occurs when you and I have different expectations as to how quickly you should receive a response to an email.  You may check your account frequently throughout the day and expect a response in an hour or less, whereas another individual may believe a response in a day is appropriate.  To further compound this problem, we often receive multiple emails back to back from the same individual, each containing different portions of the same stream of consciousness.  It would greatly assist us in responding if you could endeavor to send a single email that contains all attachments, comments or questions.  

In order to be clear and set expectations, I generally check email once or twice a week.  In part this is because of the volume that we currently receive, and perhaps once the filtering system is put in place that will change, but for now, unless I know to look for an email, this is my response time.  In light of this, I generally will not respond to a “text style” email.  Nor will I respond with a novel when a  five minute conversation would accomplish the same goal.  In my mind, email is still what it was generally intended to be, a substitution for mail.  If you have different expectations, please let us know.  If you send us something pressing or urgent, I would strongly advise calling us to let us know to look for it.    

Again, I want to sincerely apologize for any lapse in communication that any of our clients or listeners have suffered over the past month and assure you that we have invested a great deal of time and money to resolving this problem.  We look forward to continuing to provide you with the same level of service that you have come to expect over the last seven years, and assisting you with all of your legal needs.  If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me, just gimme a day or two to figure out how to transfer a call on our new phones.  

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