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The Value of Law Firm Intake Procedures
Every single client deserves to have a seamless and professional experience from the moment they engage with your office until their case is closed out. One of the places where the ball is too often dropped is around the client intake process. Your client intake process is not just about making things streamlined for your office- it’s about giving the client the confidence about choosing you as their lawyer.
Client intake is one of the most important processes for your client’s journey. Intake is where first impressions are made. It’s often your initial contact with a prospective client, the first opportunity screen for potential conflicts, the first opportunity to build trust, and to start providing a great client experience.
Client intake has to go beyond getting clients to fill out a form or jotting down information on a legal pad that later gets passed around the office. That’s how clients fall through the gaps or worse, become forgotten (and disgruntled). Client intake is an opportunity for attorneys to begin checking for conflicts, to gather data to make sure the client is a good fit, and, most importantly, to start building rapport with the client.
How to Create Your Firm’s Intake Procedures
The first stage of a solid intake process is collecting the right information from the client. Brainstorm the information you need each time you start working with someone:
- What key info do you need to know about a client’s case to help you determine fit?
- At what point do you need what information?
- How does that information fit into your customer journey map?
Once you’ve answered these questions, take some time to think about what you want your potential clients to go through during intake. How are they finding you? Will the intake process be different if a client fills out a web form vs makes a phone call? What happens afterwards? What should your client be feeling during each step of the process?
Your client intake process should be an easily repeatable system that you can hand off to a team member to ensure that each client gets the same onboarding experience. Having a consistent process in place makes sure that no client falls through the gaps and saves a lot of time in a typical day-to-day.
To develop an effective client intake process, it’s helpful to think about the steps to client intake. The steps to client intake generally look something like this:
- A New Potential Client Reaches Out and Provides Information
- Screening the Client
- Initial Consultation + Conflict Check
- Fee Agreement + Client Onboarding
A New Potential Client Reaches Out
No matter how clients find you, they’re likely reaching out to your office, either online through your website or social media, or over the phone. To ensure your office is ready for that incoming communication, ask the following:
- Are you prepared to gather the information you need to move forward with a potential client no matter how they get in contact with you?
- Do you have a list of questions and a way to gather the answers to those questions in an organized manner?
- Do you have a standard form in place for either you, your staff, or your clients to fill out to capture the initial information you need to prepare for a first meeting or pre-screening?
- Is it online, over the phone, or paper? (hint: you shouldn’t be using paper)
- What information do you need before your next step? Asking questions regarding whether a client has worked with an attorney before, the nature of the matter they’re seeking help with, along with basic contact information, is especially helpful as you screen clients.
Whether you’re capturing client information online or over the phone, the process should be simple for your staff and clients. If the barrier to becoming your client means filling out box after box of information that doesn’t seem pertinent to an initial consultation, a client may get overwhelmed and give up. It’s a balance between making it easy for potential clients to share their information with you and getting the information you need to know to move forward.
Screening the Client
Your initial intake forms should gather enough information so you’ll be able to screen potential clients to determine if they’re a good fit or to determine if there are any initial conflicts that would prevent you from taking the case. Knowing whether someone is a good fit early on means you’ll be able to refer the client to other attorneys or an organization that may be able to provide the information they’re looking for. This move not only saves you and the client time, but also leaves the client with a good and professional impression of your firm.
Initial Consultation + Conflict Check
After determining that the client is a good fit, you can schedule an initial consultation to gather more specific information about the client and the client’s case. Bonus points if the client is able to schedule their own appointment online. This is your time to listen to your client. You’ll want to respond appropriately to your client’s situation, to make them feel heard and cared for.
This is also another opportunity to make sure that the potential client is a good fit for your firm. Insider and attorney Alex Hess likes to give clients “homework” in his initial consultation sessions – just a short list of documents and info he needs to move forward. This way, he’s able to weed out clients who may not be as serious about moving forward.
Once the initial consultation is completed, you’ll be able to conduct a thorough conflict check to make certain there isn’t a reason you can’t work for a potential client.
Fee Agreement + Client Onboarding
When your client is ready to hire you, it’s helpful to discuss your fee arrangements and billing with the client before anything is signed. You’ll want to explain and make sure your client understands your firm’s billing policies along with any caveats.
Once the fee agreement is signed, expectations for communication and interaction should be set, too. To make things simple for yourself, creating a welcome kit for new clients so they know what to expect.
For a good law firm client intake process, make it easy for clients, easy for your team to find the forms, and find a system that’s easily repeated for each client.
How to Streamline Your Law Firm Intake
Whatever the process you want to take for your intake, you’ll want to make sure those processes are well documented. Having a documented intake process is an easy step to take towards making your intake more efficient. You’ll want to make sure everyone in your firm knows how to handle calls and emails from prospective clients, how to schedule appointments, and where client intake forms can be found. This information should be in a centralized location so the entire team can locate it quickly.
Another easy way to streamline your client intake is to automate as many of the more manual tasks as you can. For example, you can easily design your website with calls to action that make it easy for clients to get in touch with you. If clients can fill out an intake form or even schedule an initial consultation with you through your website, you’re able to make your intake that much more streamlined and provide an easy and modern experience for that potential client.
A lot of the information you gather from online forms or through phone calls can be automatically added in your law practice management software. This way, you’re minimizing any potential error from duplicate data entry and you’re putting client information into a system that allows you to do more with that data, like conduct conflict checks or nurture client relationships.
However much you choose to automate your intake process, don’t forget the human touch. While it’s important to make your intake easy and streamlined for clients, they should still feel like you care about their needs.
Tech and Tools to Use for Law Firm Intake
There’s a lot of great software out there to help automate and streamline your intake process. If you’re interested in taking a look at some of those, we have guides on Law Practice Management Software, Client Relationship Management Software, Virtual Receptionists, and Document Management and Automation Software.
It’s important to have a system in place that works for you so you aren’t winging it all the time. Maybe this means you want to pay for the top of the line end-to-end software that does almost everything for you, or maybe this means using Google Forms that integrates with your website.
Speaking of finding the right solutions for you, have you joined Lawyerist Insider? Our community of innovative and entrepreneurial small-firm lawyers is full of great ideas to help you improve more than just client intake for your firm.