Your receptionist is the most important first impression for your law firm. He or she will set the tone for every future interaction when answering the phone and/or greeting clients in the office – and for many law firm owners, that statement alone may force you to radically rethink everything about the receptionist position. With so much riding on this point of contact, you must get this hire right. (Oh, and I’m going to reveal to you the #1 thing most receptionists get wrong so that you can get instant improvement from the position.)
The Top Responsibilities for a Law Firm Receptionist
Before we talk about how to hire a law firm receptionist, let’s set some ground rules on what a receptionist often does in a law firm:
- Be the first person to answer the phone
- Triage the calls and route them to the right person
- Either primary or backup intake for new clients
- Greet current and prospective clients who come into the office
- Maintain the lobby area to ensure a positive first impression
- Outbound calls and limited scheduling responsibilities
Obviously, there are many more tasks a receptionist can handle, but the above list represents the biggest overlap in the duties of the position.
(Some law firm owners like to call the receptionist the “director of first impressions.” Frankly, slapping the “director” label on someone when they don’t really have the power to back it up is unnecessary. And if it’s causing you to pay more lip service to the idea of a great first impression than actually improving it, you’re getting in the way of your success.)
Traits of a Successful Law Firm Receptionist
There are some obvious traits you want in a receptionist, including:
- Phenomenal on the phones (not just comfortable but excellent at handling calls)
- Empathetic enough to make the person on the other line feel heard...
- And systems-oriented enough to want to maintain forward progress, so they’re not spending all their time stretching out calls
- General interest in adding an “extra touch” to all kinds of interactions – you would love to hire the person everyone trusts to make family events memorable
Of course, the real power comes from matching these desirable traits with someone who is a great fit for your practice. They fit into and actually enhance your culture. They elevate the business. Don’t settle for maintaining the status quo!
Writing a Job Description for a Law Firm Receptionist
I can recall working with a Private Coaching member who was “settling” for steady service from the receptionist position. He had kept the same receptionist around for over eight years, even though she had been slowly checking out of the job for the last two years despite several conversations he had with her about the issue. She would come in, barely talk with anyone else, handle her calls, then clock out. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that approach, except that everyone else will pick up on the behavior and start to match it.
Your firm’s culture is only as strong as its weakest link! And this member’s culture was sliding. Fast.
During one of our one-on-one calls, I finally managed to break through his resistance to replacing the receptionist. He promised me he would "have the conversation” with her and run a job ad.
I’ll tell you what I told him about creating the job ad:
- Dream bigger than what you’re getting now. Every time you hire a replacement, it’s an opportunity to get better. Never aim just for the same.
- Put detailed information in the job ad about your expectations.
- Spend some time selling your firm to prospects and give them a sample daily/weekly work schedule.
- Be honest about the downsides to the job. For some people, what you view as a downside may actually be the perfect fit for them! You’re an entrepreneur and think different from normal employees.
- Describe who would be a great fit for the job and who would not. You want to attract and repel candidates.
- Make sure you list any make or break items, such as required software proficiencies, relevant job experience, or unusual hours.
- Require applicants to send a cover letter answering a specific question, so you know they actually read the job ad and can pay attention to the details.
There are plenty of places to put your job ad, from Indeed.com to LinkedIn to local job boards. Even in print publications!
Don’t stop at the easy online posting options.
Mine your local network. Ask current employees for referrals. Even think about visiting some local businesses with good customer service training and consider starting a conversation with someone there who may be looking for a new opportunity.
How to Start the Interview Process for a Law Firm Receptionist
Once you have some candidates, make sure you do a multi-step interview process. We talk a lot about this in our HERO and ICON groups. (ICON members get a lot of instruction on hiring because it’s such an important part of building a multi-million-dollar law firm that runs itself.) The general gist is to speak with candidates at least 90 minutes before hiring someone, however you chop it up. And the longer, the better! I know many members who will spend up to four hours with a candidate before hiring. And guess what? They tend to hire better fits for their firms.
There is a funny trend I started to notice several years ago surrounding interviews. Even experienced trial attorneys would go into interviews feeling a little anxious and without a plan. Don’t worry; I did the same thing for a while! It wasn’t until I gave myself “permission” to relax and have conversations with candidates that I started to relax and learn the information I never would have in the normal interview format with normal questions. These days, I want to know as much as possible about the person I’m hiring. Yes, we dig into the job and its responsibilities, but the best information comes from listening for interesting details and saying, “Tell me more about that.”
Once you have it narrowed down to your favorite, it’s time to make an offer.
Make sure your offer sheet is filled with all the essential information and sets expectations. Imagine it this way: What information does your candidate need to talk with his/her spouse and make a decision?Then, it’s off to the races! Hopefully, you’ve put some time into figuring out your onboarding and training processes. Of course, if you need help there, talk to one of our experts about how you can explode your practice's growth with our help. We help law firm owners achieve their great levels of personal and practice growth – and I’d love for you to be our next member!