Being a good host: essentials for law office waiting rooms

When a client enters the offices of a large law firm on the upper floor of a large downtown building and sees wall-to-wall cherry wood, uncomfortable-looking chairs, shelves of law books, and an empty reception desk staring back at them, they’re not likely to feel welcome or comfortable.

Offered no refreshments and left with nothing intelligible to read, they’re more likely to become increasingly annoyed by any delay in their appointment.

By the time they are escorted back to their lawyer’s office, they may no longer feel at ease talking about the legal situation that they are in, and instead may be searching for the closest exit.

Does this describe the way clients are received in your law firm?

Unless the attorneys in your firm practice corporate or securities law, there is a good chance that the clients who come to your office have never spoken to a lawyer before, and probably have never set foot in a law firm, particularly if you specialize in personal injury or criminal defense.

First impressions are extremely important, and your mission should be to make clients feel at home, imparting positive feelings and impressions while they wait. Fortunately, there a few quick and simple steps you can take to keep your firm’s guests happy.

Comfort & design

The look of a law office waiting room speaks volumes about the firm itself, along with its culture and success. Many law firms, bound by tradition and precedent, are firmly entrenched in the traditional office layout, which typically includes three or four straight-back chairs, a magazine rack or table, a lamp, and a coat rack.

However, adding a comfortable upholstered sofa and/or chairs, an area rug, some tasteful art on the walls, and a vase of fresh flowers can go a long way towards making clients feel at ease and welcome at your firm.

Refreshments

At minimum, visitors should be offered water as soon as they enter your office. Soft drinks are a refreshing alternative, especially on a hot day or after a long, grueling meeting. So keep your fridge stocked – it’s an added touch that won’t go unnoticed by the stressed out client who will appreciate a pick me up after a particularly pressure-packed day. Snacks are optional but often welcome, especially for a client who is swapping his or her lunch hour for a meeting with their attorney.

Coffee is a necessity in a law office, closely connected to survival for lawyers, staff, clients, and pretty much anyone who spends time there. The Keurig K-Cup System has become a staple in many firms, but an AeroPress, a Nespresso machine, or a French press can give your clients a cup of coffee they might otherwise find only at a good coffee shop. Don’t forget the fixings: sweetener, creamers, and swizzle sticks. And for those who like hot beverages but aren’t coffee drinkers, offer a nice assortment of teas, including black, green, and herbal.

Reading material

Sitting in the reception area of a law firm with nothing interesting to read (full-color brochures detailing the firm’s eloquent history and areas of practice don’t count) makes any waiting period seem interminable.

While the local daily newspaper is sufficient, having current issues of national publications like The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, or The Washington Post available is a much better option. A sampling of popular, up-to-date magazines – Time, People, Sports Illustrated, and Vanity Fair – can also be a welcome diversion for waiting clients, who are likely mulling over their legal issues and wondering if your firm can really help.

A smiling face

Perhaps one of the most overlooked essentials in law office waiting rooms is the first person the client sees: a friendly, approachable receptionist. Nothing makes a better first impression and helps a new client feel more welcome than a cheerful greeting, genuine smile, and a simple, “How can I help you?”

After all, the sight of a vacant reception desk might give a client the idea that if the firm doesn’t have someone there to greet visitors, what other important aspects of the practice might be missing?

It’s the little things that add up to create a positive or negative impression of a law office, and it all starts in the waiting room. Spend some time focusing on how to be a better host in those first few minutes, and your attorney is more likely to start the meeting with a happier client.

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Are there specific things you like to see in the reception area of a law firm? Tell us about them in the comments!

Paperless law office

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