The Value of a Client Intake and Onboarding Process
Law Firm Clients
6 min read
Part of the ‘Lawyerist Healthy Law Firm’Learn more
Every 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 gets 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 you make the first impression. It’s often your initial contact with a prospective client, the first opportunity to screen for potential conflicts, the first opportunity to build trust, and to start providing an outstanding client experience. It’s also when you can educate your client on how they can best work with you and your team. This time sets you up for a successful working relationship.
The first stage of a solid intake process is collecting the correct 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 or makes a phone call? What happens afterward? 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 client onboarding experience. Having a consistent process ensures that no client falls through the gaps and saves a lot of time in a typical day.
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 contact 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 on 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 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.
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 any initial conflicts 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 saves you and the client time and leaves the client with a good and professional impression of your firm.
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 can schedule their 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 ensure 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 can weed out clients who may not be as serious about moving forward.
After completing the initial consultation, you’ll be able to conduct a thorough conflict check to ensure there isn’t a reason you can’t work for a potential client.
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 and any caveats.
Once the fee agreement is signed, you should also set expectations for communication and interaction. To make things simple for yourself, create a welcome kit for new clients, so they know what to expect.
For a good law firm client onboarding and 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.
Whatever the process you want to take for your intake, you’ll want to make sure those processes get documented clearly. Having a documented intake process is an easy step to make your intake process 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 to find client intake forms. Centralize this information 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. Suppose clients can fill out an intake form or even schedule an initial consultation with you through your website. In that case, you can 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 phone calls can be automatically added to your law practice management software. This way, you’re minimizing any potential error from duplicate data entry. 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.
There’s a lot of great software 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.