n efficient client intake process can save lawyers time and trouble down the road. It can enhance client service and even improve the bottom line by helping you screen out matters that aren’t a good fit. As legal tech companies target the “nose to tail” client journey, we’re seeing an influx of tools and bots that tackle lead generation, intake and onboarding. So, for this month’s Tech Tips, we asked the law practice management and technology pros for their best advice on improving client intake — from client services and workflow tips to tech tools for being more efficient and effective.
Here’s advice from Heidi Alexander, Sheila Blackford, Jim Calloway, Andrea Cannavina, Jared Correia and Natalie Kelly.
Jim Calloway: Focus on Client Satisfaction
My best tips for intake are not about technology, but about using intake and onboarding to improve ultimate client satisfaction.
One truism in life is that people, and therefore clients, are generally pleased when their expectations are met and frustrated when things do not go according to their expectations. So when a new client retains the firm, the lawyer should take immediate efforts to make sure their expectations are reasonable and in line with the firm’s procedures. This includes a realistic expectation of how long the legal process may take, particularly in litigation. A client with completely unreasonable expectations will likely be a problem client. Address these sooner rather than later.
Providing an estimated timeline is not something lawyers have typically done, but it is very client-friendly practice. Also, doing this helps your staff appreciate why internal deadlines are as important as external ones. Clients should understand how communication between lawyer and client will work during the process, hopefully including the use of a client portal. Since lawyers failing to promptly respond to client communications is a common complaint, you should articulate the firm’s goal in responding to emails or phone calls (e.g., 24 hours, end of next business day).
Discuss with your clients why it is important that they protect attorney-client confidentiality from their end and why some methods of communication are not secure in today’s environment.
You should also appreciate that many of the events that bring one to a lawyer’s office are unpleasant and create stress. Receiver stress is a barrier to communication. So, it’s always a good idea to have some handouts to give the client at the end of the initial conference, or perhaps to deliver these electronically if this is not a face-to-face engagement.
Accomplishing great client satisfaction means that you can expect referrals from this client and a return for other legal services.
Jim Calloway (@JimCalloway) is Director of the Management Assistance Program for the Oklahoma Bar Association and author of several ABA books. He blogs at Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips and co-produces the podcast The Digital Edge: Lawyers and Technology.
Sheila Blackford: Git ‘er Done
Client intake is one of the things that lawyers admit, with chagrin, that they skip when busy or don’t do a thorough job of. A lot like flossing one’s teeth, skimping on regularity and thoroughness with intake can lead to serious — and avoidable — problems down the road.
The goal of client intake is to be efficient and effective in capturing the basic details early on. How early? Before you commence working on a matter.
Done well, client intake provides you with complete contact information so that you don’t lose the ability to contact clients. That may seem obvious to you, but all too often there are scant details to be found in client files in an emergency, such as when they need to be contacted in the event of the lawyer’s untimely impairment or death.
Not to be overlooked, the intake form will also give you adequate information with which to do a proper conflict of interest search. Cases in the court record attest to the seriousness of an existing impermissible conflict of interest. Just ask the offending lawyer made to disgorge his legal fees.
And we’re while talking ethics, the elephant in the room is your potential lack of competence to provide the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation. It’s been stressed that this includes your competence in the area of technology to carefully evaluate any risks associated with the technology used.
Proper intake can alert you to red flags that may be overlooked in your enthusiasm to sign up a new client matter, especially in times of sluggish revenues. Beware! You may be about to onboard a fraudulent potential client or a serious pain in the neck.
Lawyers reflecting at the conclusion of an arduous and stressful client matter that generated an ethics violation or malpractice claim too often voice that they knew they should have terminated the relationship, or never taken it in the first place. A good client intake process may keep you from going down that unpleasant road.
There are many programs, bots and apps surrounding lead generation and tracking, intake and onboarding. Improvements to client intake have created a more efficient and effective process