Client intake is an important process within a law firm. Just as with other industries and in our personal lives, first impressions speak volumes. According to the 2019 Clio Legal Trends Report, 42% of consumers surveyed say that if they like the first lawyer they speak with, they won’t need to speak with any others. Consumers also value timeliness and a clear understanding of how to proceed. Implement these tips to streamline and make your intake process more effective:
Establish a consistent intake process. Below is a chronological list of steps involved in a general intake process. Firms may differ in their approach, but whichever process is used, be sure that each step remains consistent.
- Initial contact- Establish a process for each type of initial contact, whether through the firm’s website, phone, email, walk-in, or other method. Who responds to which types of contact, and does the responder take information and schedule a consultation, or pass the information along to someone else? The process will differ depending on your firm structure and practice area. It is important to effectively manage potential clients’ expectations by providing information such as when will be the next contact, from whom, and by what type of communication.
- Capture contact and basic case information- Capture contact information for the potential client, as well as basic information about their case.
- Initial screen- Use the information gathered to determine whether to schedule a consultation. While the particular issues aren’t always clear from the initial contact, try to determine if there may be a conflict or other issue and whether the case fits within the types of legal services you provide. If you are not able to assist, you may then be able to refer them to another attorney.
- Schedule initial consultation- After the initial screen, schedule a consultation. Determine how the consultation is scheduled, whether online, by phone, or some other type of contact, and by whom.
- Gather all necessary information using an all-inclusive intake questionnaire- Ideally before the initial consultation, use a detailed intake questionnaire to gather all necessary information to ensure an effective consultation. First, this will help you determine whether you are able to represent the client. Second, it makes the file-opening process more efficient if the client hires you. Include information such as potential client contact information, emergency contacts, matter information, and deadlines. See our sample intake sheet for reference.
- Post-consult screen- After the initial consultation, run another conflict check using the information gathered. If you decide not to take the case, be sure to document the declined client in your conflicts list, and send a nonengagement letter. Use our sample nonengagement letters for reference.
- Establish attorney-client relationship- If you and the potential client have agreed to move forward, take the necessary steps to establish an attorney-client relationship, such as signing a fee agreement, sending out an engagement letter describing the scope of representation, and setting forth a timeline of events. Go to the PLF’s website for sample forms, such as brochures providing administrative and billing information for new clients, and sample fee agreements and engagement letters.
- Open client file- Use all information gathered to then open a client file, as well as calendar all deadlines and important reminders.
Track progress. Often a client will meet with an attorney, but the hiring process is delayed for various reasons. Maybe the client is hesitant about whether to move forward, is considering another attorney, or hasn’t yet signed the fee agreement. Establish a process for following up with potential clients, and send a nonengagement letter after a period of nonresponse.
Ensure accountability. At every step in the intake process, have systems in place to ensure accountability. For example, note that each step has occurred, such as checking conflicts, signing the fee agreement, and calendaring deadlines. Consider using an intake checklist to ensure that all steps have been accomplished before the file is deemed open and set aside.
Consider using software programs to automate your intake process. Depending on your practice area and client base, you may want to consider using software programs to automate your intake process. This will allow for more efficient completion of intake tasks. Some programs can also assist with tracking how clients find you in order to adjust your marketing strategy. Some programs can also help with gathering data about how many consults actually turn into clients to possibly adjust your overall intake process. Below is a list of various software programs:
- Standalone intake apps- Create specific forms to use throughout the intake process, such as intake questionnaires and fee agreements. Options include Intake 123, Gravity Forms, and TypeForm. Allow clients to schedule consultations online through programs such as Calendly and Acuity Scheduling. Some applications, such as ClientRock, allow for both creation of intake forms and scheduling consultations, as well as gathering the necessary information to establish an attorney-client relationship and open a client file.
- Integration apps- You can also use integration applications to connect your intake forms with your other systems, such as your website or a practice management software program. For example, website services like DirectLaw or LawLytics can connect your intake process with your website. Another program called Zapier can create a link between different applications, such as between your website and your practice management software program.
- Practice management software- Many practice management software programs include templates for client intake forms and built-in systems that allow for easier scheduling of consultations. The ABA has a helpful website with information about various practice management software programs. See also the discounts provided by the PLF.
- Client relationship management (CRM) apps- These applications are built to create, maintain, and strengthen relationships with potential, current, and former clients. They allow for automated processes for scheduling consultations, filling out forms, maintaining communication, and extracting data for marketing purposes. Options include Clio Grow and Lawmatics.