Client intake is often an overlooked part of practicing law. In the past, we’ve discussed why good client intake is key to efficiency and explained why most intake processes are broken. But we haven’t really touched on exactly what a good client intake process looks like, or why. This post will help define some of the characteristics of an ideal client intake process for a small law firm, focusing on the important goals of efficiency, organization, and providing a good client experience.
Why Client Intake Matters
Think of your client intake process as the interface between you and your clients. Much like your computer screen is an interface between you and the data and processes running behind it, client intake is the layer between your clients and the legal work that you provide for them. It’s where the communication happens and the information is exchanged.
A good client intake process is akin to a user-friendly interface on a smartphone app or website. When the interface is easy to interact with, the input of data is seamless and straightforward, and the computer program is fast, easy to use, and powerful. When the interface is confusing or buggy, problems start to occur.
Client intake is no different. When your intake process is smooth, efficient, and easy on the client, it makes your job easier and your work product better as a result.
What the Perfect Client Intake Process Looks Like
Your intake process should be systematic and repeatable. You should develop a good system that works for your firm and your clients.
It shouldn’t be complicated. It needs to be consistent, yet adaptable to different scenarios. And any good intake process will exhibit the following four qualities:
Intake should be easy for your firm, and easy on your clients. When you have good tools and systems in place, the process should be easy enough on your side. But don’t forget about the client experience.
- Tips & Tools
- Avoid asking clients to go out of their way (e.g. driving across town) to meet with you
- Keep your intake forms short and sweet
- For tech savvy clients, offer e-signatures and use online form tools (e.g. the ones Lexicata provides)
We all know the saying “time is money,” and it literally is when you’re billing by the hour. Unfortunately, time spent on client intake is not usually something you can bill the client for because much of the work happens prior to retention. It’s more like an admin function of your law office.
That’s why you need an efficient system for collecting information. When you have to struggle through multiple back-and-forth rounds of calls and emails to get everything, it’s painful and far from efficient.
- Tips & Tools
- Develop a repeatable system to use for every client (e.g. (1) initial phone call, (2) send intake form, (3) in person consultation, (4) sign engagement letter)
- Set tasks and reminders for yourself (e.g. Clio tasks, iPhone reminders, or Lexicata tasks)
- Use email reminders to help keep clients moving along (e.g. Lexicata’s auto-reminder system or comparable ones from DocuSign and others)
When you have a decent volume of prospective clients flowing into your office each month, it’s difficult to stay on top of everything. If you rely on memory or jotting stuff down on sticky-notes, you’re more likely to let people slip through the cracks and your client conversion percentage will suffer.
When you have an organized, systematic process, you will be able to keep track of whether or not intake forms were returned, engagement letters were signed, retainers were paid, etc. in order to keep people moving through the process steadily.
- Tips & Tools
- Log everything with software and don’t just rely on memory
- Use checklists to keep track of progress for each client and ensure everything gets done
- Use calendars and tasks to stay on schedule
Considering the need for ease, organization, and efficiency, it may seem that a fully automated intake solution would be ideal. Although we are firm believers in the need for automation in law firms, client intake is a sensitive area and a personal touch goes a long way.
The key is to find a balance with automation and streamlined processes behind the scenes and just enough time spent on the phone or face-to-face to make the client feel as though his/her needs are being met and that you truly care. A personal touch will also lead to a good reputation and generate more referrals and more positive reviews.
- Tips & Tools
- Avoid being too “hands off” and insisting that the client fill out a bunch of forms before ever talking to you – face time and phone time are essential to your conversion rate
- Have a set plan going into every call or consultation with specific questions to ask
- Place a time limit on calls and meetings to make sure clients don’t eat up too much of your time – let your clients know about the time limit beforehand
The client intake process is something that is often overlooked. Many firms have no real system in place and just use a hodgepodge process of back-and-forth emails, calls, Word Doc intake forms, and sticky note reminders. While this may get the job done, it is far from efficient or organized, and it’s often a pain for both attorneys and clients.
By developing a consistent, repeatable, and streamlined client intake process, you can experience many benefits:
- Less time spent on non-billable tasks
- Better organization
- Improved operational efficiency
- Reduced overhead
- Increased client conversion rate
- Happier clients
Lexicata was built to provide law firms with an easy way to develop a good client intake process that meets all of these criteria. Does your intake process need help? If so, you should give our software a try!