Best Practices for New Client Intake

- Richard Brock

Turning potential clients into paying clients is essential to your law firm’s growth. As obvious as that statement is, many firms are missing opportunities and leaving prospective clients to go searching elsewhere due to lack of follow-up and poor intake procedures. Establishing an organized, repeatable system for client intake is essential. The following format will help you review and revise your intake policy.

A Swift Response

When a prospective client sends an email or leaves a phone message, they have already jumped the first hurdle – not only recognizing that they need legal help, but also reaching out to a firm. They need and want to be heard promptly. Responding within 24 hours is crucial, yet many firms place responding ‘on hold’ while they deal with current clients, meetings, court appearances, etc. In fact, according to Findlaw, more than 30% of firms fail to respond promptly, losing not only a prospective client but also professional face. Designate a window of each day and appropriate staff for responding to any inquiries.

A Listening Ear

The client experience should be foremost on your priority list. It ensures that the prospective client moves forward with your firm and attracts future business. ‘Word of mouth’ is still one of your best marketing tools. Make it a positive experience from the beginning by being an empathetic listener.  Ask open-ended questions like “What brings you here today?” “Is there anything else you would like to share.” “What do you hope to accomplish?” Be present. Eliminate interruptions. Express empathy. Don’t use legal jargon. At that first meeting, creating emotional attunement, the ability to sense what the client is feeling and respond appropriately, is essential. If they ask a question that you can’t answer, don’t bluff. Explain the nuances and complexities involved in answering, tell them you will get back to them on that question, and then follow through.

A Potential Conflict

Once you have the gist of the issue, check for potential conflict of interest before digging deeper. Run the names of your prospective client and any connected parties through your system. Has your firm represented anyone else related to the case? Now is the time to avoid a messy situation.

An Organized System

Establish a well-defined new client intake process. Utilize modern software. This will ensure that you not only have received all the paperwork, information, and ‘homework’ from your client but also have completed all your follow-through. It will keep track of appointments and deadlines, pending retainers, payments, and all other pertinent details.

A Consistent Communication Process

Consistent, clear communication is an attorney’s best tool for client retention. Prioritizing communication during the intake process will establish the tone of the entire matter. It’s an essential pillar of client service. From that initial call or email to the first appointment to the conclusion of the matter, keep your client informed. Provide updates on the process from what is completed to what you are moving onto next. Send notifications and reminders of appointments. Take time to answer their questions. Communicate via the medium your client prefers. An informed client is a happy client. A happy client is a retained and paying client.

A Time to Say No

Sometimes the intake process results in a need to say no. Perhaps the matter is outside your niche, or you discover a conflict. Maybe your background search revealed a person prone to unrealistic lawsuits or your gut is warning you not trust the situation. Regardless of your reason, sometimes you have to say no, but do it kindly and professionally. Treat the potential client with respect and dignity. Apologize, and when appropriate, give them a referral to another attorney.

Summary: From a swift response to an initial contact to a retained and happy client, utilizing the above points will help you create a smooth, successful, repeatable intake system. Optimizing the intake process reduces wasted time, increases your conversion rate, establishes a positive professional brand for the firm, and lays a foundation for growth.

Ultimately, a stable intake process leads to more business, which leads to a need for more attorneys.  And a law firm’s success depends on the talents of its attorneys. OnBoard Search specializes in finding the most talented attorneys for our law firm clients. It is the reason we are here. Our passion is finding the very best talent for you.  We do this through combining in-depth knowledge of the legal industry with decades of practical experience in conducting high-level searches.