Legal View: Don't cut the chatter

By Jane Pribek
The Daily Record Newswire

My guess is, the connotations most lawyers make for the word “chat” generally are not positive — at least from the perspective of bumping up your bottom line. That is, chat = waste of time.

That’s what I thought, too, until I looked into chat services for lawyers as an effective use of your marketing time and dollars. I found there are a few decent options out there.

NGage
NGage live chat software allows website visitors to communicate immediately with a live representative.

The way it works is, NGage uploads a small piece of code to your website. Its operators monitor your site 24/7 to greet them and answer questions.

On the user end, not long after the homepage has downloaded — usually less than a minute — a polite pop-up appears that asks if you’d like to chat with a live operator. (“Hi, sorry to interrupt... You may just be browsing but if you have any questions we are available to help.”)

Visitors may click no, or if they click yes, then the conversation begins. Or, they might initiate the conversation by clicking on an icon (an attractive young woman wearing a head set) that reads “click here to chat live.”

Milwaukee lawyer Robert C. Menard says his firm, Derzon & Menard SC, concentrating in personal injury and worker’s compensation, has used NGage for about six months. He gives it a thumbs-up.

Now, Menard doesn’t anticipate lots of serious injury, big-money cases finding their way to him with NGage’s assistance. But he has been retained in enough moderate injury cases with NGage’s help to have made it a wise investment of marketing dollars, he says.

On his end, Menard receives e-mailed scripts from NGage chats, and he and his colleagues decide how they’ll follow-up. The chats typically aren’t very long — they contain the bare bones facts of the case and they conclude with the operator writing something along the lines of , “The attorney who can help you with this is unavailable now, but I’ll have him contact you as soon as possible.”

Menard likes NGage’s pricing. He only pays for what he calls “qualified leads,” and what NGage’s CEO, Kim S. Curtis, prefers to call “relevant conversations.” By that, Menard means if he and his colleagues opt to follow up with the NGage lead, they pay $35 for the contact, whether or not the lead actually turns into a file. Menard also paid an initial, one-time fee of $500 when NGage set up its system. Still, it’s been a good value, he says.

Menard notes that not everybody wants to chat. They decline the invite, but then complete the form on the “Contact Us” page. In that instance, he owes NGage nothing.

He suspects, though, that in the coming years, when more members of the texting generation age, they’ll be more likely to use NGage. Along these lines, if your focus is elder law, I’d hold off on adding chat to your website — for a few years anyway.

Firms that are extremely sensitive to the aesthetics of their website might not be interested in NGage, says Menard. On his page, however, he’s interviewed wearing a Badgers   sweatshirt and Packers memorabilia is in the background — so he’s not marketing to an artsy client base.

In addition to whether there’s potential for a case, Menard looks for if the visitor found the firm’s site via Yahoo!, Google or some other search engine, and what the key words were that made the firm’s website appear as a search result.

Chat For Lawyers
ChatForLawyers allows visitors to your website to click an icon that generates a call directly to you - although they have the option of text or video as well. It employs software as a service to initiate a free call over the Internet, using Voice over IP technology. If you’ve used Skype, you can use ChatForLawyers.

ChatForLawyers is owned by SuperGlobe LLC. Its CEO, Carl Allen, told me they have successfully marketed similar services to other professional service firms, but have just recently, within the past month or so, branched into the legal market.

Allen explained to me that lawyers inquiring about the service are directed to Glen Ellyn, Ill.-based Larry Bodine, a well-known speaker on the tech/legal marketing circuit.

It’s pricier — the least expensive package costs $129 per month, plus a one-time set-up fee of $750, and includes 500 minutes of voice, video or text; training one person on the system; access to tech support during business hours; and installation of up to five standard icons on your website.

But Allen is convinced that voice is the better route to turning website visitors into clients — instead of chatting with an operator, they are speaking with the lawyer or actual staff person with whom they’ll be working, which makes that prospect more likely to actually hire you.

This assumes you or perhaps a well-trained assistant are able to devote time to fielding such inquiries. If you’re a solo without staff who appears in court regularly or has a very busy client meeting schedule, it probably wouldn’t work.

Give them a Try
Go to either website, to get a feel from the prospect’s perspective.

At NGage, the operator will greet you, just like he or she will for prospects to your site. At ChatForLawyers, you can click to speak to Bodine, his assistant or another SuperGlobe rep.
Finally, a word of warning here: Just because you might not be comfortable with this at first, don’t assume your prospects will feel the same.

As someone over 40 who just recently started using text on my mobile phone with some regularity, I found it off-putting at first. They — someone, somewhere — can tell I’m visiting their site, what else do they know about me, and can they see that I’m still in my pajamas well past noon?

But that’s just me. When the Pew Internet Research Project last asked American adults in Sept. 2005 how many of them had visited a chat room, some 22 percent said they had. Since then, we’ve all seen how FaceBook, with its simple chat capabilities, has captured the interest (sucked the time?) of the American public. Chatting is catching on, and this might be your chance to get ahead of that trend.

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