When a potential client calls your firm, submits a web form, sends you an email, shows up for an initial appointment, or walks in off the street, what does your firm do? Who answers the call? Who greets the prospective client? What questions do you ask? What issues do you address?
Your law firm client intake process sets the tone for your relationship with your client. Effective client intake can be one of the most difficult skills to learn. It may also be the difference in obtaining a favorable outcome for your client, avoiding malpractice, and can have a significant impact your overhead.
Unfortunately, the client intake process at many firms either goes largely ignored, handed-off to folks without much guidance or experience, or becomes an inefficient resource suck for the attorney.
Fortunately, there are a lot of great resources available to attorneys for free.
First, I recommend contacting your State Bar. Many of the State Bar websites that I have come across provide very helpful resources on the law practice management, including sample client intake forms. While I encourage you to put some thought into tailoring a client intake form (read process) for your own practice, these sample forms are a pretty good starting point.
Second, contact other experienced lawyers you know. Most lawyers should have intake forms. Whether they’ll be willing to share is a different story. On the other hand, even if they’re unwilling to share their actual form, they’ll probably be willing to describe their intake process and some of the mistakes they have made over the years.
Didn’t have time to get through all these? Here are a couple of best practices:
- Trust your instincts on first impressions.
- Get multiple points of contact. Provide name, email, address, telephone number of potential client, as well as, relationships and contact information of people specifically authorized to give updates on the matter.
- Has this potential client worked with another lawyer on this matter?
- Ask Yourself: Is the matter within my primary area(s) of practice?
- Ask Yourself: Are there any imminent deadlines or time limitations?
- You should have both an intake form and an intake checklist.
- First, truncate questions to determine whether this is potential case you want take. Once you determine that it is, get as much detail as possible so you do not have to go back and obtain more information a second time.
- Ask Yourself: Do calls from prospective clients go to the top of the pile of messages or the bottom?
- Outline the scope of proposed representation.
You might be surprised by how many firms don’t have a comprehensive law firm client intake process that they periodically review. Then again, maybe you’re one of them.
Even if you’ve set a client intake process, you should periodically review and test it to make sure it’s being executed the way it was intended. One broken link in the intake chain may mean loss of new business or even exposure to malpractice liability.