Client Intake is Critical to Solo Success


Personal Productivity for Lawyers

This quick-start guide to Getting Things Done and Inbox Zero also includes two shortcuts for those who want the benefits of GTD without having to learn the system.

Starting your own solo practice can be an exciting and overwhelming endeavor (just ask Josh). Things like marketing, a sudden loss of confidence in your legal abilities, and effective time management can easily derail a day or even a week.

The multitude of responsibilities can also lead to less focus on a critical element of a successful solo attorney: client intake.

Your voice is the first impression

According to my unscientific math, at least half of all solo attorneys answer their own phone. That means their voice, their demeanor, and their patience (or lack thereof) will set the tone immediately.

If you are overwhelmed and crabby, that will come across to the potential client. If you are desperate to take any client that has a checkbook, that will come across to the client.

I have a simple rule: if I am in the middle of something important or if I am crabby, I won’t answer my phone. Even if I can’t help them, I have no interest in developing a reputation as a crabby attorney who is curt with potential clients.

Sure, there is a danger that the client will call someone else, or think that I can’t/won’t answer my phone. For the most part, I have discovered that clients who actually want to hire an attorney (and specifically me) are willing to leave a message. It’s not an exact science, but it has been effective so far.

Be an active listener and pay attention to details

With the overwhelming surge of technology, it is easy to talk to a potential client’s story while simultaneously responding to e-mails. Don’t fall into that trap; that just means you are simultaneously doing a poor job at two things.

Initial phone calls are critical to determining whether it appears you can handle the case. Perhaps even more importantly, they will help you spot bad clients or clients you can’t work with.

You don’t need to play interrogator, but you need to ask questions about the client’s story. Why did they do that? What happened in between? Why did they decide to call you now? Potential clients like to tell their version of the story and leave out potentially negative details.

Picking up on little details—like when a client tells you what the law means—are a great way to screen out armchair lawyer clients that can make even the best case unattractive. Don’t forget that your time is valuable—use initial phone calls to make sure they have a case and they have a personality that you can handle.

Every existing client was a potential client at some point

On the days when client intake is driving me crazy, or feels like it is taking up my entire day, I remind myself that a couple of these potential clients will turn into actual clients. That goes a long way towards snapping me out of the intake funk.

Granted, you will likely turn away more potential clients than you will actually take. But some of those people will turn into clients, probably great clients, and they may turn into repeat or lifelong clients.

Remind yourself of that the next time you find your patience quickly fading or notice your charm has left the room. Lawyers are professionals and we are also professional service providers. The success of your firm starts and ends with creating strong attorney-client relationships.



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  • ian

    Great post! I called an employment law lawyer who had published an article (with his phone number) regarding Cobra Health coverage the other day and I was so turned off in the first 3 minutes that I got off the phone. I regularly get employment law referrals at work (I work at a large corporate law firm and people often post requests for lawyers) and he would be the LAST person I would use myself or refer anyone to. Perhaps he was having a bad day.

  • Guest

    One of the best pieces of advice that I got from an older lawyer is to read books on sales.

    The difference with a law close, as opposed to closing in another branch of sales, is that the distinguished attorney must not come off as a salesman. You must be more subtle. Body language, eye contact and tone of voice are the most important things. You must exude confidence. Not brash, cocky fake confidence. Develop a relaxed a relaxed sincere confidence.

    When I started, I used to meet every new call, even the ones that I knew had little money or a bad case, just to get practice talking to people and selling. It’s like a young ADA or PD doing indigent jury trials; the experience is priceless.

  • Guest

    Another piece of valuable advice:
    1. The purpose of advertising (direct mail, yellow pages, internet) is not to close the client. It is to generate a phone call. Be friendly in the advertising and offer a free phone consultation.
    2. The purpose of a phone call is not to close the client. The purpose of the phone call is to generate an office meeting. The only exception to this is when you sense the client doesn’t have enough money to be worth your time for an office visit; then you just quote the price over the phone. (Remember you don’t just close leads, you also qualify them; or you’ll get stuck with a bunch of shitty half paid clients).
    A client wants to call 10 lawyers and ask 1. What can you deliver?, and 2. How much do you cost? He’ll then hire whoever can deliver the most for the least price. You don’t want to do that, because you will leave money on the table.
    3. The purpose of an office meeting is to close. Take your time at an office meeting and build comfort and rapport with the client.

  • Guest

    Sadly, I’m still at the point in my career where most important part of the client’s personality is their willingness to hire (and pay) me.

    But I aspire to one day be able to decline cases based on whether the client is going to suck to work with.