Three Ways to Improve Client Intake

There is nothing more exciting (and potentially draining) than daily client intake.

One call might be a twenty-five minute test of your patience that ends in a non-client. Another might appear to be your next big case.

Client intake certainly gets easier with experience, but there is always room for improvement. Here are three ways to improve your client intake .

A niche practice makes client intake easier

I have a niche within a niche practice: I practice consumer law but I only represent consumers against abusive debt collectors and I defend consumers in debt collection lawsuits.

In general (as detailed below), that means most of my potential client inquiries deal with one of those two issues. That makes it much easier for me to dig deep into potential issues over the phone.

When I first started my practice (the ancient 2011), I might spend half an hour over the phone, followed by a half hour free consultation trying to diagnose a problem. Now I can usually get to the bottom of an issue within a ten-minute call.

It also makes me much more authoritative (and likely more appealing) to potential clients. For example, I’m happy to explain potential options over the phone, but I always explain that without seeing document X and Y, it is impossible to fully evaluate their options. In contrast, when you are stumbling around your way in the dark on an unknown practice area, it usually comes across as, well, stumbling around in the dark.

A niche is good, tunnel vision is not

If you spend < 2 minutes on my website, it’s pretty clear what I do. Despite that, I regularly get calls from potential clients who found my site and have a consumer issue that I do not handle. For example, they purchased a product that does not work as promised. Or they are having issues with some service provider (internet, cellphone, etc.).

My potential client inquiries and my actual case load balance are almost direct opposite. Specifically, my caseload is about 75% FDCPA cases (suing debt collectors) and about 25% defending consumers in debt collection cases. My potential client inquiries (for cases I can take) are probably about 85% involving a debt collection lawsuit and about 15% involving harassment by a debt collector.

With most of those situations, I either learn about something other than what the person was calling about, or I am able to help them with issue 1 (debt collection lawsuit) and they eventually end up with a situation involving a debt collector (potential debt collection harassment). If I had 100% tunnel vision (or 75% based on the makeup of my caseload), I would lose out on a ton of clients and/or potential clients.

If I only asked about talked to people that called about debt collection harassment, I would turn away probably 85% of potential clients.

It’s ok to bend your rules

I have a couple of “rules” for potential clients to become clients. One, if you miss a meeting, you are on not-secret double probation. I’ll give the client a chance to explain themselves, and if the explanation is reasonable (and believable), I may still consider representing them. Two, for my non-contingent cases, I require payment upfront. I don’t negotiate my fee and I don’t take payments. Three, if I give a potential client some homework between our initial call and initial meeting, and they don’t do it, I will generally turn down the case.

Of course, some of my best clients and best cases have involved violations of some or all of those rules. That’s because I use my brain and my gut to disregard my own rules. And hopefully you do the same thing. I’m usually ok with a client who misses a meeting but then calls or e-mails shortly thereafter to explain why. I’m about 99% not ok with someone who does not show up, and only explains why after I contact them. But even then, there are situations where I will bend the rules.

Most of my clients are in difficult financial circumstances and they also have additional issues that require their more immediate attention (potentially losing a job, sick child or family member, other more pressing financial issue). As much as I like to think their meeting with me is the most important thing in the world, I know that it is not.

To be fair, there are also clients and cases where I bent my rules and it turned into an absolute trainwreck. Fortunately, that has not happened for quite some time. To be fair, I’m sure it will happen again. As a whole, however, I am quite certain that the number of cases that have worked out far out outweighs the number of cases that have not.

Randall Ryder
Randall Ryder is the Director of Appellate Advocacy & Lecturer in Law at the University of Minnesota Law School.

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