Many attorneys view client intake as time-consuming. Because the hours spent on intake aren’t typically billable, it’s easy to consider intake a low priority.
However, client intake can actually be a vital building block to a law firm’s health and success. When intake is handled well, it results in prospective clients starting to build trust and rapport with your firm. A well-designed client intake process helps you build a stronger client list that in turn attracts better clients and cases.
Read this guide to building an effective client intake process that provides great client experience while also setting your firm up to thrive.
The Legal Client Intake Process
The client intake process encompasses all the steps a law firm takes when considering a prospective client. It continues through the process of onboarding the client, and is complete once your firm turns its attention to finding solutions for that client’s problems.
The client intake process is also a well-honed way to screen out clients whom your firm may not want to represent. In addition, it gives clients a chance to consider whether your firm is the right choice to handle their needs. Designing a process that allows for this screening is vital to keeping your firm on track.
The key elements of client intake are:
- Attracting clients. Whether you connect with prospective clients through your website, through personal referrals, through advertising, through a lead generation partner like Walker, or through word of mouth, this outreach is the first stage of any intake process. Without actively seeking clients, your firm can become stagnant.
- Screening clients. Not every prospective client that contacts your firm is a good fit. By collecting basic prescreening information and checking for conflicts of interest, you can save time and effort.
- Consulting with prospective clients. Meeting with prospective clients helps both you and the client understand if you’re going to be able to provide the services the client needs. During this intake stage, you can gather information about the client’s case and convey information about your free structure.
- Onboarding the new client. Your new client wants to know what to expect in their relationship with your firm. Signing the representation/fee agreement and setting expectations regarding contact about their case will help pave the road for future work with the client.
How to Make Your Client Intake Process Effective
One of the most proactive steps you can take to streamline your client intake process is automating it as much as possible. When prospective clients can fill out your intake form online, this saves everyone’s time and also collects important information upfront.
Automating your intake documentation also provides everyone who needs it with easy access to client information. Ideally, this information should transfer into your practice management software.
Here are some other steps you can take make sure your client intake process is both efficient and effective:
- Document your process. When everyone from the receptionist to the partners understand the intake process, everything flows more smoothly. Make sure your intake team all know where to direct calls and emails from prospective clients, and set up a standard process for scheduling initial consultations. Provide clear, easily accessible instructions for every step of the process.
- Put your client intake form online. Prospective clients are likely to check out the websites of several law firms when they need legal help. If your client intake form is available on your website, you’ve eliminated one bump in the road toward onboarding a new client.
- Establish prescreening guidelines. Turn initial meetings into phone calls or video chats wherever possible so you can save time while also getting the screening information you need to determine whether a prospective client is a good fit for your firm.
- Approach prospective clients with empathy. Listen closely to prospective clients during these initial consultations to make sure you understand their needs. Showing empathy during these meetings can help prospective clients make the decision to work with your firm.
- Discuss fees honestly and openly. Prospective clients want to know what your services will cost, but they may not be comfortable asking. Take the initiative to detail your billing process, including whether you offer payment plans or take credit cards.
- Track prospective clients throughout the process. All too often, prospective clients fall through the cracks and end up going elsewhere because they lost contact with your firm. Automate the tracking of clients to send you reminders of their next stage, whether it’s following up on an intake form, sending a fee agreement, or scheduling an in-person meeting.
The Client Intake Form
Revising your client intake form is a strong first step in streamlining your entire intake process and making it more efficient. When you bring your form online, you save data entry time and increase access to the information multiple need.
While firms may need to customize their client intake forms to accommodate their specific areas of practice, some basic information is always important. Your client intake form should include:
- Basic contact information. This should include the prospective client’s name, address, email addresses, and all relevant phone numbers (mobile, work, etc.).
- Financial information. You want to know up front whether your client is able to pay your fees. Your target income levels may vary depending on your areas of practice, but asking for this information keeps you from spending time on a prospective client who can’t afford your services.
- Case information. Understanding the basic outline of the client’s problem helps make it clear whether your firm can be of service.
- Follow-up information. Notes about how and when to best follow up with a prospective client helps with the onboarding process. Part of your follow-up may involve sending the representation/fee agreement for signature.
Enabling e-signatures on all your paperwork also helps streamline your intake process. As a starting place, check out this sample client intake form from the ABA.
When you establish a clear client intake process that’s easy for everyone in your firm to follow, you speed up the whole process, which in turn clears your attorneys’ desks to work with clients and generate billable hours. You create a database of client information that’s readily available to all who need it. You also ensure that your process can be replicated as staff come and go and help junior attorneys in the firm learn their way around.