I recently attended a presentation by Judge Scott Schlegel, a Louisiana district judge who has received many accolades for his forward-thinking views about the use of technology to improve court
proceedings, including text message reminders about appearances and calendars available online for scheduling. He asked those attending the program if they had missed a dentist appointment in the last year. He said, “I know you haven’t because one thing about dentists is they are relentless about sending text message reminders about appointments.”
His practice of text message reminders to those with scheduled court appearances in his court has not only reduced the number of failures to appear in his court, but many self-represented parties have thanked him profusely, admitting they forgot to write down the date or had it on the wrong day. Considering the possible ramifications of a failure to appear, such as being arrested or losing a court case by default, it seems this judge’s experiment is a success. So why is this not the standard practice in law firms the way it is in dentist offices?
Text message reminders are not always necessary. If you represent a corporation, it is perhaps not as important to provide a text reminder to the assistant general counsel you are working with for either a court appearance or an in-office appointment. They will enter the date in Outlook and get a reminder from that. But if you practice “people law,” this practice is likely good for your law business and your clients. Like no-shows are a financial hit for dentists, particularly when it is a new patient, the same is true for lawyers. In private practice, we always tried to call those who missed and reschedule. But some never did, whether it was from the embarrassment of missing an appointment or hiring another lawyer in the interim, we never knew.
MANUAL TEXT MESSAGE REMINDER TOOLS
Years ago, a lawyer told me about her method of texting to and from the law office. She bought an inexpensive burner phone and purchased more time for the phone as needed. She left it plugged in at the receptionist’s desk, and it was used to text the clients. It would be a simple task for the receptionist to set aside 10 or 15 minutes each day to text out a few reminders for the next day; if anyone responded with a question or canceled, that employee is best set up to reschedule the appointment or get answers to questions.
A slightly more expensive version of that would be to buy a smartphone with a limited data plan. That would allow you to easily set it up to have the text come from the law firm’s name and do more sophisticated tasks since many burner phones lack a camera or web browser. You could send a Maps link to the law office or a photo for example.
Either approach is simple and understandable as long as your receptionist is not overwhelmed with current duties. However, both are done manually and require a staff person’s or lawyer’s time to accomplish the task. That is not terrible, but a person may forget or run out of time. Still, if you improve from never texting reminders about appointments or appearances to doing it 90% of the time, it is a huge improvement that should result in fewer missed appointments.
AUTOMATED TEXT MESSAGE REMINDER TOOLS
In today’s law offices, anytime you can automate a process, it is usually worth it unless the cost is prohibitive. In January 2020, I wrote about an Oklahoma lawyer who loved the app Apptoto:
“Apptoto will integrate with calendar software. That is, if we type an appointment into my calendar and type the client’s cellphone number into the appointment, Apptoto will automatically pick up the meeting and will send a text to the client before the appointment, notifying them of the appointment. My secretary likes this feature because she can type an appointment into the calendar and does not have to take any extra steps. I learned to use Apptoto, and then all I had to do was tell the secretary to continue entering appointments into the calendar. I chose Apptoto precisely for this reason [my secretary was concerned she’d have to do additional work and learn to use a new tool]. My secretary was very happy and thanked me for the choice I made.
“I can program Apptoto to send the client a text at a specified time before the meeting. I’ve programmed my account to send each client two texts – one at 6 p.m. the day before the appointment and another text one hour before the appointment. I can also program Apptoto to send a client a different text message based on what I type into the appointment. For example, if I type ‘appt’ into my calendar, Apptoto will send the client a text saying, “Appt Reminder: You have an appointment with [my name] today at 4:30 p.m.” If I type ‘Court Appearance’ into my calendar, Apptoto will send the client a text saying, “This is [my name]. You have a court hearing tomorrow on Monday, Nov. 4, at 1:30 p.m.” The text will also ask the client to press 1 to confirm that they received the message.
“Apptoto has set me up with a local number … If the client texts a response, the client’s text response will be emailed to me. If the client calls the number, the call will go to my landline.”
When that lawyer gave me his glowing recommendation, Apptoto was $29 per month. Now the starter pack is $39 per month, which will link to three calendars and provide 400 auto messages (essentially each text or email).
Capterra lists its top 10 text message reminder tools. Apptoto is included. The highest rated is DoctorConnect, and several others have names linked to the medical profession. DoctorConnect’s minimum pricing is $210 per month. It is HIPAA compliant and has advanced features, including payment reminders.
INTEGRATED TEXT MESSAGE REMINDER TOOLS
We can all appreciate that the most affordable technology tool is the one we already have and are paying for but haven’t yet utilized or discovered. The developers of practice management software tools appreciate the increasing use of text messages and that these client communications need to be saved in the client file like other communications. Many practice management solutions are now incorporating their own text message solution or integrating with preferred text message providers. Here are a few examples.
MyCase has integrated two-way text messaging so a lawyer can send a client text messages within the MyCase desktop or mobile app and have those conversations retained within the client case file. A subscription to the Pro plan is required at $59 per user per month.
PracticePanther launched its text messaging application within its practice management solution in late 2021. It’s only available with the Business plan at $89 a month. They offer time capture, event and reminder alerts using a unique phone number for your firm that they will assign when you set up text messaging within their product.
Clio provides text messaging, including calendar notifications and reminders, in its Essentials plan. So if you are a Clio EasyStart base-level subscriber, it might make sense to upgrade to Essentials for an additional $30 per user per month. If you are already a Clio Essentials subscriber and haven’t set up text reminders yet, it is time to start implementing it since you already “own” the tool.
CosmoLex and Rocket Matter, both now owned by ProfitSolv, do not offer texting tools within their practice management solution. However, both have a CRM (customer relationship management) suite of tools that includes the feature and many others. CosmoLex’s CRM is an extra $147 per month for up to three users. Rocket Matter’s CRM package is an additional $49 per user per month.
Smokeball has a Communicate feature that allows communications with clients via email or text, but the preferred method is via the free downloadable app.
Using a texting tool provided by your practice management solution has the benefit of making sure all text messages are automatically saved to the client file. These tools are often much easier to use and save you time since they work within the PMS.[i]
SERVICES PROVIDING MORE COMMUNICATIONS TOOLS THAN JUST TEXT REMINDERS
To complete this roundup, I wanted to take a deeper dive into a messaging platform with more CRM features. I noted on Bob Ambrogi’s LawSites blog that Case Status, “a mobile client portal and messaging platform with a primary focus on consumer law firms, has raised $5 million in a Series B round, bringing its total funding to over $11 million.” We met with some of Case Status’s employees to review its features over Zoom, and it has some impressive features.
While Case Status is referred to as a mobile client portal, I’ve always looked at portals as something that could provide the client access to digital copies of the documents in their file that they could log in to view at any time. I would describe Case Status as a powerful client communication hub. I also suspect many of their subscribers also subscribe to a practice management system.
But that is not intended to diminish what Case Status does. While I won’t quote too much from their marketing material, one customer recently participated in a Case Status webinar where the law firm reported a 30% reduction in phone calls from current clients, a 90% reduction in emails from current clients and a triple-digit percentage increase in Google reviews. Those results would draw a lot of attention in most law firms.
The law firm communicates with its clients through a mobile app that is branded for the law firm. The client installs the “Johnson and Smith, Lawyers” app on their mobile device. If your firm has wanted to have a law firm app, here it is. All Case Status communications are sent to the client’s mobile phone, but the features go beyond simple texting. There is a client dashboard full of client information, including a progress bar showing how the status of their matter is proceeding. One very interesting aspect of this is the ability to place a client matter “on hold.” When the client logs in to the app, the display is colored red and shows the message, “Your matter is on hold.” It also indicates what the client needs to do to take the matter off hold, e.g., complete a client information sheet, schedule a doctor’s appointment or make the retainer payment.
The service recognizes a phone set to a language other than English and translates the messages to that language. It also has mass messaging capabilities, so you can easily wish all your clients a happy holiday or let them know the office will be temporarily closed for bad weather. There is no payment app included, but you can easily use the service to send a client a payment link via messaging.
Another interesting feature is having clients give the firm a rating at various stages in the representation. If the client is giving a higher rating, like a Net Promoter Score of 9 or 10, they are encouraged to write a Google review. Conversely, if you are receiving an NPS of 5, the app prompts the law firm to contact the client to see what can be done. But this is not cheap. While a price quote from the company depends on several factors, a subscription for unlimited users in a small law firm could cost $350-$400 a month.
In my opinion, the best practice today with text reminders is to be a bit relentless:
- Send a reminder message a few minutes to an hour after the appointment is scheduled to help a client or potential client get it on their calendar,
- Then send another reminder 48 hours before the appointment (or hearing) and
- A final reminder on the morning of the consultation.
As you can see, there are several methods of text message interaction with your clients available with today’s tools. Whatever tool you employ, I believe you will see a financial benefit from confirming your clients’ appointments, particularly when it is a new client deciding whether to retain the firm. Cutting down on “no-show” appointments or failure to appear in court situations is in everyone’s best interest, clients and lawyers alike.
[i] Some of the rates noted above require an annual prepayment.
Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal — January, 2023 — Vol. 94, No. 1