George Bernard Shaw said that his “main reason for adopting literature as a profession was that, as the author is never seen by his clients, he need not dress respectably” – I’ve been test driving a Virtual Law Office in the hopes that, like Mr. Shaw, I could, on occasion, dress a bit less respectably (or at the very least wander about the office barefoot) and TotalAttorneys has been good enough to allow me to abuse their product, picking nits, and ask odd questions since mid-June. I’ve come away very impressed.
This product, originally VLOTech Stephanie Kimbro’s brain child, combines a practice management engine and a client portal – basically, like all SaaS offerings, it allows you to manage your practice, track your time, send out bills, and communicate with clients on a 24/7 basis from anywhere you have an internet connection. Besides having some of the best customer service I’ve had in a long time and a process flow that works the way I think, the value of this product lies in the client communication side of things – this is not merely another lipstick-on-a-pig email makeover, this is file sharing, appointment scheduling, paying bills on-line, realtime chat client communication. Way cool.
So, I show it off to some colleagues (a few lawyers, a few computer geeks) and they are impressed. Then I show it to some business tech folks (not clients, not lawyers, not computer geeks) and the reaction is a bit more tepid. Seems client portal stuff is common fair in the business world and client acceptance seems dependent having internet-using clients who are comfortable with and trusting of on-line services. Unfazed, I offer the service to my clients and it goes over like a lead balloon (I hate it when my kid sister is right) – not a single client took one look past the login window.
Once again, I am reminded of the conservative nature of rural clients and the importance they place on ritual and experience. It is not that small town folks don’t use the internet, they do, but it is for things like the seeing price of corn or cattle, ordering a part of the tractor, getting a e-mailed picture of the new grandbaby. Basically the internet is treated as a combination of a 1930’s Sears & Roebuck catalog and the USPS. It is not a place for business – business is done face-to-face. They want the lawyer experience -lawyers in suits meeting with clients in a brick and mortar office over a polished oak conference table with paper documents.
Without clients buying into the portal concept, TotalAttorneys is just another good practice management solution and, at present, I just don’t get much ROI by switching from my current solution. Looks like I’ll still be dressing respectably.