The legal client intake process is one of the most important steps in client acquisition and retention. With a well-thought-out client intake process, your law firm can reach degrees of sustainability and growth that help guarantee your firm's success in the future.
However, many law firms fail to devote the time and money necessary to ensure that they have an intake process that not only delivers a fantastic client experience but also increases client acquisition and retention.
Fortunately, there are steps firms can take to help to convert inquiries into clients in an efficient manner that gives a great return on investment (ROI). Here are five steps for beefing up your legal client intake process that will help your firm continue to grow.
Step 1: Get Your Legal Lead
Most law firms rely heavily on marketing. From billboards to word of mouth, there has to be something that funnels clients into your office or to your web page. Without an effective generator of legal leads, your law firm will likely fold sooner than later.
The good news is there are a variety of time-proven methods of generating legal leads for your client intake process. Which ones work best for your law firm depends entirely on the specific circumstances of your situation.
Essentially, the most popular and effective forms of lead generation for attorneys used today include:
- Paid advertising in diverse contexts, ie. radio, television, and print
- Email marketing
- Social media marketing for attorneys, which is effective across multiple platforms
- Content marketing for law firms
- Reviews and referrals
Regardless of how you end up with new leads, your client acquisition and retention efforts should begin the moment your office is put in contact with them. This is where the client intake process essentially begins.
Consider Law Firm Virtual Receptionist
Prospective clients want to feel appreciated before they give you their business. Nothing sets the stage for client retention better than a pleasant voice.
However, not all law firms can afford to hire in-house staff whose sole responsibility is to field client calls. Fortunately, there's a solution that's extremely helpful for a firm's client retention efforts: the law firm virtual receptionist.
With a law firm virtual receptionist, you get a human receptionist, not an answering service, who will answer every call to your firm as well as quickly respond to clients who use the online client intake forms your firm should have on its website.
Provide Legal Client Intake via Email
Sometimes, you get a client who's ready to contract your services and needs no more information on why they should hire your firm. However, many potential clients are merely contemplating legal action or shopping around.
In these cases, it helps to nurture your leads, which will keep your firm fresh in their minds. Using emails for the intake process is an effective method of accomplishing this goal.
In these emails, you have the opportunity to nurture these leads with carefully curated content about your firm and the legal issues affecting your potential client. Details about your firm that will help build a potential client's trust include:
- Facts about your track record, i.e., how much compensation an injury firm has recovered
- Testimonials from clients
- Educational material relevant to the potential client's case
- News pieces about your firm or the potential client's legal issue
Clio Grow has a useful and convenient drip campaign feature that allows you to automate email communications over a set period. Other popular solutions include MailChimp and Constant Contact.
Step 2: Respond to Your Legal Lead
Following up on leads is just as important as capturing them. However, a surprising number of firms leave potential clients hanging; they may fail to reply to voicemails and emails for a variety of reasons.
One major reason for this lack of response is the absence of a system to easily carry out these follow-ups. There should be a mechanism that automatically kicks in after the initial contact with potential clients. Otherwise, busy attorneys and law firm staff typically forget about it until it's too late.
Sometimes, a firm may simply be stretched too thin to follow up on information obtained during the intake process. However, this information is the lifeblood of every firm. Any firm that wants to grow and succeed must have a way to communicate with prospective clients.
The follow-up phase will help you convert your leads into clients by building familiarity and trust, which will increase client satisfaction in the end.
Client Intake Process Mustn’t Take More than 24 Hours
Following up is essential to a firm's client intake, but it's useless if not done promptly. Most prospective clients that contact your firm are accustomed to timely service. They don't like to wait longer than necessary for something they may be paying for.
In fact, potential clients know that your law firm is not the only game in town, no matter how highly regarded it may be. You can be sure that they'll continue searching for competent counsel in the absence of a timely response from your firm.
For this reason, the legal intake process generally shouldn't take more than 24 hours. If you're not getting back to potential clients within a day's time, you risk losing them to other law firms.
Step 3: Schedule a Consultation
The next step after nurturing and following up with a client is to schedule an initial consultation with them. During this all-important meeting, you'll have the opportunity to demonstrate in person or over a video call why they should choose you over other law firms. You'll also be able to determine whether a particular client is right for your firm.
Although essential, initial consultations can present problems for law firms without a system in place to schedule and manage these meetings. Firms without dedicated reception and secretarial staff often struggle with the logistics of scheduling. Even staffed offices can run into problems.
Legal client relationship management (CRM) software helps many offices overcome these issues with efficient scheduling features and user-friendly tools, such as a law firm client intake process flow chart. Some of the more popular legal CRMs in use today are:
With a good CRM in place, your firm will have peace of mind that the difficulties of scheduling an initial consultation won't stand in the way of meeting with prospective clients.
How Client Intake Software for Legal Firms Makes Everything Easier
Better client experience
There's no getting around the fact that the client's experience directly affects your law firm's future growth. Regardless of the end result, a positive client experience turns one-time clients into repeat clients and leads to recommendations.
Most potential clients don't believe that only one firm can help them -- they realize they have to choose between many competent competitors. In many cases, what makes the difference is the kind of experience a client has.
Law firms can use the resources offered by CRMS to provide their clients with a positive user experience. They help avoid many of the logistical challenges that can pop up when there's no client relationship management system in place.
Benefits of CRMs include:
- General preparedness
- A streamlined, effective client intake process
- Legal software integration with the CRM, such as case management software
The easier it is for clients to get the services they need, the more likely they'll be to return for future representation and recommend your firm to others.
It optimizes your workflow
Every aspect of your firm is impacted by its workflow. As such, streamlining the manual tasks involved in your intake process can boost efficiency. CRMs automate much of the tedious, time-consuming work required for onboarding new clients. As a result, your firm will have more time to devote to more substantive issues.
CRMs also give you full access to every aspect of your law firm's business, including client intake information, and allow you to manage your operations from one centralized location.
With a smooth workflow, your potential clients will feel confident in your firm's ability to represent them.
It makes data gathering automatic
A firm's client intake process generates valuable information that can help lead to effective, sustained client acquisition and retention. But collecting this information for analysis is painstaking and sometimes leads to duplicate data entries or other errors.
Law firms shouldn't have to lose valuable time manually recording their clients' contact details. Using the data collection resources of a CRM puts valuable time back into the hands of firm employees and lets them focus on important cases instead of compiling lead information and data.
It analyzes and tracks client data
Data tracking and analysis helps your firm grow in an organic, sustainable fashion. However, the sheer quantity of information is often too much to work with manually.
With a reliable CRM in place, all the information you need regarding your firm's client intake process, such as where and how your leads are generated and which cases are worth your while, is right there at your fingertips.
You have the ability to set whatever parameters you think are most important and automate the data collection process as you see fit. Additionally, having the information displayed and organized neatly will give you insights that can help you make important decisions for your firm.
Step 4: Pre-Screen Your Client
All of your prospective clients must be pre-screened for suitability. This is done by eliciting relevant information about their case that will help you make your final determination.
The importance of this screening information cannot be overstated. Agreeing to represent a client based on missing or inaccurate information can result in serious legal liability for your firm and damage to the client.
You likely won't be getting all of the information you need to make an informed decision at any one stage of the client intake process. Instead, you'll collect vital information little by little as you go.
A standardized questionnaire accompanying your client intake form will go a long way in helping you obtain the information you need to make decisions about which clients to accept. Your firm's staff will be able to collect and manage data more efficiently with one efficient procedure in place. Furthermore, any errors or discrepancies that occur will be easy to identify and correct.
Things That Every Legal Client Intake Form Should Contain
Essential contact information is not something you want to try to get from a lead later on down the line -- doing so upfront will save you a lot of time and frustration.
Collecting essential contact information during the intake process on the client intake form will also help weed out those who have no real intention of hiring your firm, at least not in the foreseeable future. A lead typically won't give all of their contact information if they don't intend to contract your services.
At a minimum, your firm should aim to collect a potential client's:
- Full legal name
- Cell or telephone number
- Email address
- Fax and any other relevant contact information
Once a lead has given you this information, you have more assurance they're seriously considering hiring your firm to represent them.
Basic case information is also necessary for you to make decisions about clients. For example, you'll want to get some biographical information about them, including:
- Their age
- Their employment information, including income
- Their mailing address
You'll also need information about the dispute or issue your potential client is facing. This can be gathered directly from the client intake form. Make sure you include vital questions about the incident or issue, including:
- The nature of the dispute
- The injury or damages
- When the incident occurred
- The location of the incident
You don't want to bog down the questionnaire with too many frivolous questions, but the more information you can glean from it, the better prepared you'll be to determine a lead's suitability.
Knowing your prospective clients' annual income will help you ferret out the leads who can afford your services from those who can't. At the end of the day, your law firm is a business and needs paying clients to thrive to survive.
Once you've determined your firm's target revenue and set your fees, you'll know how much of a certain type of business you'll need to do in a specific period of time to be profitable.
For contingency-fee attorneys, a potential client's annual income may not be as important as it would be to lawyers who charge by the hour or have flat rates for their services. Either way, it's a crucial piece of information to have.
For attorneys who do require direct payment, it's important to be able to tell whether a prospective client will become an actual paying client. It will help to know the industry rate for services similar to the ones your firm offers.
Based on a client's annual income, you may be able to reasonably filter out certain leads who may not have the resources to afford your services. A client's assets can also play a role in your analysis -- some high-value individuals don't have impressive annual incomes but can nonetheless make excellent paying clients.
You should leave no room for doubt as to the fees you charge when speaking with a future client. They're entitled to a clear understanding of how much your services will cost them.
They should also know how your firm will be collecting payment, whether it's through a contingency-fee agreement, a flat fee, or an hourly rate.
It's vital to give the client a concrete deadline for payment. In some cases, as with clients with lower resources, you can explore alternative payment methods, such as a payment plan or periodic "balloon" payments.
You also want to inform your future client of specific costs involved in their case that are above and beyond the base-level fees for your services. Clients must be made aware that they're responsible for any additional costs associated with their claim, including:
- Court costs and filing fees, when applicable
- Costs for investigators, when appropriate
- Administrative expenses, such as copying, postage, and legal research
Occasionally, there may also be other expenses, including deposition costs, travel, and fees for securing expert witnesses and testimony.
A well-tailored retainer agreement helps ensure a smooth attorney-client relationship. Given that the retainer agreement is the culmination of a long process, it's important to confirm that the information it contains is correct.
Unfortunately, errors happen, most notably in firms that don't have an adequate retainer-management system in place. These systems significantly minimize errors in the claims intake process that can ultimately affect the retainer stage of the cycle.
A client intake services provider can manage your firm's retainer process and make sure that the retainers you require fully encapsulate the scope of your relationship with your clients. Not only will a provider reduce the incidence of error in the creation of retainers, but it will also quickly spot and correct any errors made along the way.
A client services intake provider can also tailor your standard retainers to each of your client's individual needs.
Taking advantage of the services offered by a client intake services provider will invariably leave you with more time to deal with important legal issues.
Step 5: Secure Your Attorney-Client Relationship
When you've gotten this far with a client, all that remains is to finalize the terms of payment and formalize your attorney-client relationship. The final agreement must contain every term of payment you and the client have agreed upon, as well as the scope of your representation.
As you're well aware, by signing the agreement, the client is formally committing to pay for your services. This means you can enter the client into your billing and case management software as an open account with expected income.
As such, you'll want to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible to get the client to the point of signing an agreement with your firm.
E-Signatures Guarantee a Better Client Intake Process
Nowadays, more people are using digital tools to conduct business, including signing various agreements. E-signatures are a safe and reliable method of finalizing an attorney-client relationship and guaranteeing a better overall client intake process.
By using E-signatures, it's possible to have a document signed and payment rendered in a matter of minutes; the scanning and printing involved in obtaining a traditional signature require significantly more time to complete and involve higher costs for materials and payment of services.
As far as ease of use, E-signatures are simple to execute. Depending on the specific software or platform, clients may draw their signature or type it in manually using a real or virtual keyboard. Both forms are legally binding as a hand-signed contract. Perhaps best of all, clients can finalize their agreements on the spot anywhere that they get cell or WiFi service.
Law Firm Client Intake You Want to Avoid
On the flip side, there are certain situations and clients that you want to avoid, as they can present hassles that might be undesirable or even damaging for a growing law firm.
The last thing you want to do is end up having to distance your firm from a problem client or situation following a failed relationship. One key to dodging this bad-business bullet is setting up an intelligent client intake process overseen by an experienced intake process service.
A legal client intake services provider can help make sure that any potentially problematic clients and circumstances are flagged well before the retainer stage. In fact, it's frequently possible to identify them at the initial stages of the client intake legal process.
It may be a good idea to pass on clients:
- With unmanageable expectations, such as unreasonable verdicts or prices
- Who dispute reasonable fees
- With a history of unpaid legal bills
- Who don't pay their retainer in a timely fashion
- Who have gone through multiple attorneys without resolution
- Under significant pressure from deadlines and other time constraints
- Who ask you to engage in unethical or illegal behavior
- Who demean you or are verbally abusive
- Who are also seeking emotional or psychological comfort from your firm
- With a history of lying
- Who have no visible means of paying
- Who are excessively controlling or try to manage the case themselves
This is just a short list of indications that you'd be better off turning down a potential client. A properly managed client intake for law firms can identify these and other warning signs and nip them in the bud before they become a problem for your firm.
Improve Your Processes and Grow Your Firm
Having an efficient process in place for client intake leads to increased client acquisition and retention. At every stage of the process of onboarding new clients, you should have a clearly defined operating procedure that facilitates the collection and evaluation of client information. When used correctly, this information will turn leads into clients.
A well-designed and executed client intake process will also help you cull problem clients and dodge potentially problematic cases by identifying red-flag facts that pop up along the way.
Grow Law Firm is a professional law firm digital marketing company that works with small and struggling law firms to help them turn leads into clients. Contact our office today to schedule a consultation and learn more about how our services can elevate your firm.