Properly marketing a law firm online is a lot of work. It takes time, money, and resources to build a presence that delivers phone calls and requests. I am amazed when I hear stories about law firms investing resources to get website visitors, who request to speak with the firm......and then don't bother to have anyone contact them back right away.
There are simply no excuses for this. In my humble opinion, the business side of a law firm is just as important as the service side. In other words, the excuse that you are too busy practicing law to respond to a new inquiry doesn't hold water. Now don't get me wrong, for a solo attorney busy wearing many hats it may be an impossibility to respond right away if you are meeting with a client or in court. However, my view is not that a lawyer should drop everything to respond. Instead, your firm should implement a system that touches the potential client, lets them know you received the request, and that you will be contacting them shortly. Since your competitors are only a click away on the web, don't kid yourself that a potential client will wait around for 24-48 hours without a response. What happens is that they are going to the firm across the "virtual" street.
A Few Suggestions
Virtual Receptionist - I spoke with a client the other day that mentioned he had stayed late at the office a few days over the last week and noticed a large volume of phone calls coming in after hours. Since normally no one is in the office, the machine was picking up. However, there were rarely any messages with potential client inquiries. That means all those after hours calls were falling on the floor.
I understand that hiring an in-house receptionist may not be in the cards for every firm, but that's ok. There are solutions out there for virtual receptionists that can make a big impact on on the bottom line. Even converting one or two more clients a month can make a big difference. Having a live person answering the phone, even if it is just to take a message and assure the potential client that someone will get back to them shortly, will keep the searcher from bouncing to the next firm immediately. If you are looking for a reliable virtual receptionist service, that has experience with law firms, I recommend Total Attorneys Virtual Reception Service.
Auto-Response Email - When someone submits a request through your website, setup an auto response email. Use the email as an opportunity to let the client know you received their request, that it is important to you, and that you will get back to them as soon as possible. Provide your direct contact information as well and possibly another person to try if the matter is urgent. Most forms or email clients have the ability to send an auto responder, so it shouldn't be difficult to setup.
Live Chat - Live chat services are becoming more prominent on law firm websites. Not only can they help convert more visitors into inquiries, but they also provide a way for the client to interact with a live person. It's the instant message equivalent of a virtual receptionist. Services such as ngage provide the live chat software for your website as well as 24/7 support to answer inquiries through your site.
With the various options available to help you nurture a potential client request until you are able to contact them directly, there should be no excuses for not responding right away.