If scheduling meetings requires that you or someone else in your firm must go back and forth via email or phone calls to negotiation availability, consider using an automated scheduling tool. Whether initial consultations, client meetings, or other appointments, you can make it easy for someone to book time on your calendar – without having to go through you or your support team. It is vital that you are using and on top of an electronic calendar such as Outlook or Google calendar for these types of tools to be effective. Could this work for your firm?
There are many tools available to handle automated bookings. Calendly (see Heidi Alexander’s review in Law Practice Magazine), Bookings through MS 365, X.ai, and Acuity are all freemium products that let you hook into your Outlook or Google calendar and let people see free/busy times and book their own appointment with you. Some video conferencing tools, like Legaler, can also connect to your calendar to let people schedule an appointment with a video conference. You can also charge for appointments, send text or email reminders and other features. To effectively leverage these tools you will need to assiduously manage your calendar.
Microsoft Bookings comes with Microsoft 365 Business Standard (f/k/a Office 365 Business Premium). The feature set is comparable to other similar paid products. To get it set up go to Office.com, log in with your Microsoft account and click on Bookings from the Microsoft 365 app list. When you get to the Booking app you can set up multiple Bookings sites. If your firm has multiple practice areas, you can create a different Booking pages for each one. If you create a Bookings page for each practice area you can then create different services for each. For instance, for the Bookings page for your family law practice you could create an “initial consultation” booking, four-way settlement meeting, status meeting, etc. These will appear as options to pick from on the Booking page or you can just share a link to a specific type of meeting. Each type of meeting can have specific parameters you set.
Set up your new Booking page by going to “Add New” on the main Bookings page in the left navigation pane. Then type in your business name and business type. If you type in “law” for business type you will see that several firm types are already available, though choosing one doesn’t make any changes to your set up. You will get an email confirmation that your bookings page has been created.
You will then be prompted to add Staff. You can add other attorneys so that people can choose to book with a specific person from a drop-down menu on the public-facing booking site. Different people can have different available hours. Or you can add someone on your support team as an “administrator” to get help managing your calendar or a “viewer” who have read-only access to the calendar. Each person, listed as “staff”, including the person creating the bookings page, will automatically have their MS Outlook calendar tied to the page for availability (free/busy time). Each person can choose to adopt the firm’s business hours or create their own custom business hours.
Each Bookings page can have multiple services. Examples of services might include “initial consultation” “strategy meeting” “contract review” “closing discussion”, etc. You can send a client a link to a specific service to book time or have them all listed on your Bookings page. Each service can have its own parameters, including staffing, duration, default price and payment requirements, default location, (including online), and maximum number of attendees. Each service can also have a “buffer time” so that you can restrict how closely meetings can be scheduled. For instance, you can allow an hour before and after any booked service.
For each service, when someone books a meeting you can require fields such as email, phone, address, and notes. You can also add custom fields, including text fields and drop-down boxes. You can set reminders to send in advance of a meeting via email to just the customer or all attendees with customized messages in reminders. You can also set up multiple reminders. You can set up text (SMS) reminders as well (subject to change).
When you have set up your business information, staff and services go to the Booking page. Here you can finalize your Bookings page and publish it. You can check a box to disable search engine indexing of your bookings page if you prefer to keep it private and just send links to people to book certain services. You can create an overall scheduling policy including time increments (30 minutes, etc.) and minimum lead and maximum lead times. Lead times help manage bookings so that someone can’t book at appointment late in the evening so that it appears unexpectedly on your calendar first thing the next morning. You can also restrict how far in advance a booking can be made, which is useful especially if you are in a practice that has an ever-shifting docket. You can also choose a color scheme. Once you are finished making these final changes you can publish your Bookings page and share the link, put it in your signature block, or add a button to your firm’s website. You can also add a “Book Now” button to your Facebook page. Open your page to preview and test to make sure everything works as expected. Once your booking page is “published” you can share links to specific services or to all the services on one bookings page.
While the person who books a meeting will get an email with a link to let her manage the booking and add it to her personal calendar and the administrator of the booking service will see an appointment on his Outlook calendar, to manage appointments you will need to go to the Calendar page in Bookings and NOT the Outlook calendar to reschedule or remove an appointment. This is likely due to the “team” aspect of the tool.
Self-booking tools have been very popular in other service professions. When sending a link to someone to book an appointment introduce it as a convenience, and most people are happy to use it. It can get you out of the business of negotiating availability and reminding people of appointments. The most important thing to realize if you use a tool like this to make sure that you use the buffers in the booking tools settings and also block time on your calendar that you don’t find that your calendar becomes unmanageable. Learn more about managing your calendar in the “Defensive Calendaring” CPM Webinar. If you already have Microsoft 365 Business Standard, it would be worth seeing if the built in Bookings works for you. However, there are plenty of other services to test that include synchronizing with other calendar types (like Google), integrations with other products, and more.