The intake process for any law practice or organization serves as the critical point of entry for new clients. The first meeting or consultation with a prospective client is where you get to make that all-important first impression on them. The intake process, however, usually begins at or before the first client meeting and may involve a few additional steps afterward.
Despite the hugely important role of intake, many attorneys or other professionals may rush through the process in an effort to begin work on behalf of a paying client. Because intake is often one of the last steps taken before signing a retainer, it may be tempting to overlook training your team on the importance of the process. However, it is here during the first steps that the client will begin to appreciate your organization’s structure, communication, and values. This article will describe a few easy steps you can take to maximize the efficiency of your intake system while building greater trust with your clients.
Provide thorough training for your team
You will be better able to cement your relationship with your client at this stage by presenting a smooth intake process. Critical information is gathered during this initial intake stage. Intake helps weed out frivolous cases and identify any existing conflicts. Catching these issues early will save your practice time and money while providing at least a small layer of protection against potential malpractice claims.
Some level of training should be provided to every member of your practice, including everyone from the support staff to the senior partners. Understanding what stage case is at when the matter is cleared to go beyond the intake stage, and where to direct intake questions will help provide more structure for your practice. This training should include information on:
- How to convey your practice’s values from the very first client interaction
- Detailed information to gather from each client
- A timeline for checking conflicts
- Follow up strategies
- Software training for entering new clients into the firm’s database, updating firm calendars, and tracking the intake process
Once training is provided, there should be regular reviews of the intake system to determine where weaknesses exist and review any other information that an intake metrics analysis may reveal.
Use forms for gathering initial information
The intake process tends to look similar for most clients. At this early stage, it is not necessary to draft a new intake form from scratch. Rather, existing templates can be used to gather the same information that is required from each client. A notes section can always be added to these template forms to include any special information.
Additionally, software can be used to craft intake forms that are unique to different practice areas, if that would work best for your firm. The information used in intake forms typically does not have to be lengthy. Rather, a brief summary or description of the case, the client’s contact information, the adverse party’s contact information, and any information on the adverse party’s counsel.
Use templates for fee agreements
It is often best to sign a fee agreement in advance of beginning to work on a matter. Doing so will help clear up any confusion or misunderstanding about the nature of legal services you will providing and the expectations for compensation. Having a template fee agreement will be useful to save time and increase the efficiency of the intake process. Moreover, the template will often already include important provisions and disclaimers that your client should be aware of. Standard fee agreements can always be modified later and updated to fit your client’s particular circumstance.
In addition to maintaining consistent terms in each fee agreement, it will be important to keep track of past fee agreements in order to ensure that you are receiving fair compensation for your service. If your firm bills hourly, it would also be helpful to create a master document that details each attorney’s rate. Information about attorney rates should, of course, be kept confidential and the firm administrator should carefully consider who should have access to that information. The important thing is to keep track of this information and also note how these rates change when discounted for particular situations or types of clients. Being able to quickly plug in this information will save time as these agreements are drafted.
Create a checklist for the intake process
Completing the intake process involves several important steps. It may include: the initial contact through phone or email; the initial in-person consultation or meeting; the conflicts check; signing of the fee agreement; transmittal of the engagement or retainer. Information gathered at each stage will be important, and it is often used for different reasons. For example, information about how the client contacted your firm could be used for both internal business and marketing purposes. The same information may also be used to refer your client to a different legal services provider and bolster your relationship with others in the legal community. Thus, it would be useful to create a checklist in order to make sure that staff and attorneys are following internal intake procedures and aware of steps that should be taken with the information gathered from clients.
Create a timeline
In some instances, the intake process can take longer than expected or require additional steps after the case is already. For example, if a new defendant is added to a case later on, additional conflicts checks may be required. Having a pre-determined timeline for when information should be gathered will help you move cases along and streamline the intake process. It will alert you to whether a case will be particularly complex or require additional steps. Having a timeline will make it easier to create reminders for yourself and your client while requiring you to see how other obligations on the firm’s calendar may influence the intake process.
Because some intake procedures will need to be repeated regularly, it is important to be mindful of your practice’s existing intake process. Developing these best practices early on will save you time and energy while protecting your firm easily avoidable mistakes. The steps outlined in this article will help you develop a more thoughtful and efficient law practice.