Small Firm Client Intake Tips
BY MATHEW TITUSThe client intake process is the lifeblood of any law firm. It’s especially important in the personal injury world, where a lead can shop a case from their cell phone and sign with another firm minutes after they call you. In addition, us small-firm folks need to nurture our referring attorney relationships. It’s not, therefore, just a matter of signing clients up. The intake process is also about prompt communication with the referring attorney.
1. THE EXCITEMENT: YAY! SOMEONE THOUGHT OF ME!
The moment arrives, and a lead comes in. The first thing you should do is track the lead by entering it into an organized system. I believe the best kind of lead-tracking tool is one that integrates into your practice management. Most integrations will allow you to track how you got the case and your conversion rate from that particular source, as well as save notes and documents to the lead. I use Clio at my firm, but I understand that MyCase, CoCounselor and other similar cloud-based practice management tools have these features. Lexicata is also excellent and integrates well into other systems (though I believe it was purchased by Clio, so no promises on how long it remains cross-platform). If you got the case from an attorney, you should confirm receipt of the lead and make sure they know you are on it.
2. THE INTAKE INTERVIEW: FIRST CONTACT
Once a lead is entered into a system and the referring attorney has been thanked and acknowledged, it’s time for the intake interview. Ideally, an attorney should touch base and do the intake interview. This is true for two reasons: potential clients love hearing from attorneys, and you can issue-spot better than a secretary or paralegal.
The interview outline should be drafted so that you always hit the key points without having to waste too much brain power trying to remember everything. Most importantly, as you grow and others do intakes, your process can be repeated easily.
Inevitably, your firm will grow beyond your ability to handle an initial intake as quickly as you need to. As potential clients can wander to greener pastures quickly, making that initial contact quickly is crucial. Providing an administrative assistant or your paralegal with the script to do an initial intake will be important in locking down cases quickly. As good as scripts can be, there is no substitute for training. Have your assistant sit in on many intakes so they can learn your voice and how you do things. Sit in with them as they do a few intakes and provide feedback.
The intake outline should be in electronic format so that everyone can access the same document. Google Docs, Word and Adobe are all excellent choices for this. Also, you will need an answering service. Leads can come any time, and you will kick yourself the first time one calls into the office while you are gone. Ruby Receptionists and other similar companies can be provided scripts to get basic information on the case, so that communication with the outside world continues while you do things like take depositions, try cases and sleep.
If a non-attorney makes first contact with a lead, it’s always a good idea to provide the potential client with a window of time in which they can expect a call from an attorney to answer all questions they have. One hard rule worth considering: never sign a premises liability case without a seasoned premises lawyer looking it over.
3. THE CHOICE
To sign or not to sign? This will be a question you are faced with many times. You will occasionally sign a case you should not have and deal with regret (remember you can withdraw). You will occasionally stumble on something that’s better than expected. And, your gut will usually be right.
If you sign a case, I recommend using DocuSign. It’s a great electronic signature platform that you can use to sign clients up from their smartphone. Clients seem to love it, and having someone under contract quickly is always a good thing. For the most part, my firm has found that e-signed HIPPA forms are accepted by hospitals for purposes of medical record requests. Of course, you should always set up a face-to-face with clients so that they get to know you. But getting folks under contract quickly (and reporting this to the referring lawyer, if appropriate) is an important part of keeping a small firm going.
If you decide to reject a case, I think it’s always a good idea to personally call the potential client and let them know. This helps them move forward with finding another lawyer quickly. A written rejection letter should also be sent in every case you decline and should include a copy sent to the referring attorney’s firm for their file. Using a template that can be auto-filled from within your practice management system is the best route to making sure these letters go out.
As you can see, technology and training the people around you can get things moving on the intake side of life. Hopefully some of these tips allow you to sign more cases faster than you previously were! ●
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mathew Titus is the founding attorney of Titus Law in Atlanta. A graduate of Baylor University and Emory University School of Law, Mathew’s practice focuses primarily on personal injury and business litigation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.