As business people go, attorneys might be the worst offenders at doing things just because it’s what everyone else does. One example of this that recently dawned on me is the way they use their receptionists. Most park them in the lobby, and that's a terrible arrangement.
In most cases, your receptionist should not be sitting in the lobby area. A big firm might have to suffer this necessary evil, since many people will be flowing through the lobby and the receptionist must act as a traffic controller, but for smaller firms it makes no sense for a number of reasons.
1. It makes clients waiting in the lobby privy to all phone calls.
I recently attended a deposition in Los Angeles, and the four attorney firm had the usual set up with a receptionist parked in the lobby, behind one of those curved reception desks. My client and I sat in the lobby for a few minutes waiting for opposing counsel, and heard every phone call that came in. In most instances that might not be a problem, but someone called who was obviously upset about not hearing from one of the attorneys, and we heard the receptionist apologizing and offering excuses. Not very professional.
2. It creates a mess with whatever project the receptionist is working on.
Few receptionists at small firms are so busy answering phones that they do nothing else. So if your receptionist is updating a practice guide or assembling exhibit books, why does that need to be spread out in your attractive lobby? Further, there is the issue of privacy. Can you be certain when someone is talking to the receptionist, that they are not seeing some confidential document?
3. It’s a waste of a perfectly good conference room.
In our lobby, there is a seating area away from the entrance door. If a client comes in for a brief discussion, perhaps to drop off some documents, and the conference rooms are in use, we have a place to meet. (Meeting clients in your office has its own set of problems.) Having a receptionist in the room could make the client uncomfortable if they are going to discuss something personal, and incoming phone calls would be a distraction.
Best solution? Hide your receptionist. Our receptionist has an office adjacent to the lobby, and the lobby has a small security camera. When anyone enters, a chime rings in her office (and in a couple of other offices in case she is away) and she looks up at a monitor to see if it is just one of the attorneys passing through or a client she needs to greet. If it’s a client or delivery person or whomever, she steps out of her office to greet them. This arrangement solves all of the above problems.
As an added bonus, I have a free iPhone app that lets me access the password protected security camera. I put my iPhone in a charger on my desk, and I have my own view of the lobby so I can make sure no clients are left waiting. We have on occasion had an angry opposing party or strange walk-ins show up, so I like the added security this arrangement provides.
Your lobby is the first impression you give to your clients, so make it the best it can be. Go to the excellent article by attorney Lee Rosen, entitled 18 Tips for Making Your Lobby Work for You to see if you are making the best use of your lobby. He agrees that your receptionist needs to be moved out of the lobby, but suggests a wall with a window, like you see in a doctor's office. However, that still can provide a view to the clutter, so I like the monitor arrangement better.