man typing on laptop

Making Inroads with Out of Office Messages

Thank you for your e-mail. Please note that I leave the office each day at 3:00 p.m. during the school year to spend the afternoon with my children, Ava Grayce (12) and Mason Michael (6).  While I will receive emails, I may not be able to respond until evening or the following day. I will make every effort to respond quickly; however, my focus will be — as it should be — on my children. I sincerely appreciate your understanding of my work and family schedule….

 

All my best,

 

Stephie

Are you reserving your email out of office assistant for basic verbiage that just includes the dates of your vacation and how to reach the front desk in your absence? If so, then you could be missing a major opportunity to connect with current and potential clients by the one thing lawyers aren’t always known for—being human.

Share Personal Details About Yourself

Maybe it’s the emphasis on being dispassionate in law school or fear of coming across as vulnerable, but many attorneys shy away from sharing personal information with others. Practitioners who do, however, consider it a game-changer. Stephanie Prestridge, an elder law attorney who shares information on her family’s schedule and signs off with her nickname, says her out of office message (see above) helps her foster better relationships with clients.

“There is an actual human being underneath this lawyer garb,” said Prestridge. “My clients know as much about my children as they do our work. My children are growing up with an extended family of clients. It made perfect sense to me (and to my clients) to share with them the change in my work schedule so that they would know my absence was not a lack of affection for or attention to them, but, rather, an acknowledgment that my babies need my time, too.”

Enhance Your Communication with Clients

Considering that the number one grievance filed against lawyers is for a lack of communication, using every available avenue for responding to emails is a wise choice. Prestridge said her outgoing message has succeeded in establishing clear expectations for clients on her response time to emails.

“This auto responder has been one of the best tools implemented in my office,” said Prestridge. “Much to my utter surprise, my clients and my professional colleagues started submitting emails or making calls ONLY within the time frames allotted in the auto responder. Or, if a call or email was submitted when my responder noted I was out, each contact started with, ‘I know you are out so I will talk with you tomorrow …. enjoy your babies.’”

Help Your Clients Be More Open with You

Prestridge found that using out of office messaging and personal anecdotes didn’t just help her come across as more relatable. It also helped her clients open up, making the process of identifying their goals that much easier.

“The business of estate planning is utterly personal in that we ask each client about their family, their finances, and their worries and goals. I spend meetings learning about family dynamics and, often, sharing stories about my own family,” said Prestridge. “I cannot tell you how many times I have had to say, ‘I am going to say something from a mommy perspective– so it’s not formal legal advice–just an alternate view…’ Those conversations have generated the best estate plans because we spoke as parents and then used legal tools to protect and lift those who matter most. That — that is what estate planning is all about.”

Prestridge found that an effective out of office prompt isn’t just about effective communication. It also serves an underlying, fundamental need for anyone seeking legal help.

“My clients love this attention — because, in the end, all they want is to be heard and to know that someone is paying attention,” said Prestridge.

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