Client intake—the mere act of onboarding clients and acquiring their personal information—can be an incredibly time-consuming exercise for solo and small firm attorneys. Usually, it’s also an unbillable one.
First impressions matter, especially when it comes to potential clients, so your client intake process needs to be well-organized and thought out, but it also shouldn’t take up too much of your time. According to the Legal Trends Report, lawyers in the United States bill just 28% of their total working time—just 2.2 hours per day based on an estimated 8 hour work day.
You can’t afford to be spending time on administrative tasks that could easily be done more efficiently. Streamlining your client intake process will make your clients happier, and it’ll give you more time to focus on billable work.
Client intake basics
Lawyer-client relationships are extremely important, so it’s important to start them off right. During the client intake process, you need to show that you’re listening to your future clients and that you’re engaged with their issue, while also making the process as simple as possible for them.
According to this piece on client intake from Lexicata, a customer relationship management (CRM) platform and client intake solution for lawyers, a good client intake process should be four things—easy, efficient, organized, and personal:
- Easy. Keep the intake process simple—your clients will thank you. Forms should be short, and it shouldn’t be a hassle for clients to meet with you.
- Efficient. Make sure you have one well-defined system that you can use for all incoming clients.
- Organized. Keep track of new client information and log each step of the intake process with checklists, forms, and/or practice management software.
- Personal. The web is wonderful, but don’t conduct your client intake process entirely through online forms. A little phone conversation goes a long way.
Beyond that, it’s important to listen to your client and be emotionally sensitive. Often, people come to lawyers for help facing extremely difficult life challenges, and making a prospective client feel comfortable from the start could help them choose to work with you. It might even lead them to refer future business to your firm down the line.
With that out of the way, here’s how you can streamline your client intake process:
Tips for improving client intake
The easiest way to waste time on client intake is to spend time onboarding clients that you know won’t be a good fit. Lawyers love to help, but not every problem or person will be a match for your practice area, workload, or firm size, and it’s OK to say no to those who would be better served elsewhere.
To pre-screen clients, try setting up a short phone call to assess the matter at hand. What is the person hoping you can help with? Have they worked with a lawyer before?
If you decide the client won’t be a good fit after this initial call, you can refer them to another attorney in your network, or to a website or organization that may be able to give them information they’re looking for. Even though you’re not taking this person on as a client, they’ll still remember your help, and will be more likely to refer you to friends or family who could actually be a good fit for your firm in the future.
Be sure to make scheduling these calls simple for both you and your prospective clients. For example, Jennifer Reynolds, a family lawyer and founder of Fresh Legal in Ottawa, Canada, clearly shows potential clients where to go on her home page with an “I want to become a client” button:
This takes visitors to a page where they can schedule a call or request an in-person meeting based on Jennifer’s availability. Jennifer uses Acuity Scheduling for this.
2. Use online forms
In the digital age, there’s no need to struggle with printing, scanning, or photocopying client intake forms. Solutions like Google forms can help take your client intake process online, removing the potential for lost pieces of paper and eliminating the need for duplicate data entry.
For example, Jennifer uses two online client intake forms to gather new client information: The first client intake form collects contact information for all potential clients, whether they retain her services or not, while the second client intake form collects new matter information for incoming clients.
3. Use client intake tools
Another option is to use tools specifically designed for client intake. For example, Lexicata’s client intake software puts appointment scheduling, client intake forms, and client intake checklists all in one place. When a client is ready to hire you, Lexicata allows for automated document generation and e-signatures to make the final part of the process simple.
As Lexicata co-founder Michael Chasin explains in this interview with Clio, “Between initial consultations and intake forms, there’s a lot of information gathering to do [at client intake] … What Lexicata does is track that whole process, streamline it, and make it more efficient and automated.”
Other tools include Intake123, which offers a database of client intake form templates, and JurisPage, a law firm web design and marketing firm that lets lawyers create intake forms. Read about more options to automate your firm’s client intake process in our post, 3 Alternative Ways to Automate Client Intake.
4. Integrate with your practice management software
Duplicate data entry is time consuming and leaves room for error. This is not a good situation for law firms dealing with a myriad of data fields during the client intake process.
Luckily, there’s a simple solution for this: Set up your client intake process so that all information is imported directly into your practice management software.
For example, Jennifer uses Zapier to automatically create new contacts and matters and push information from her client intake forms to custom fields within Clio. (Zapier lets people set up custom connections, or “zaps,” between different apps without the need for any coding knowledge). Here’s how it works:
Prior to a consultation meeting, potential clients fill out two online forms that I built. All of the questions on these forms link to custom fields in Clio. I created two separate forms as I wanted the “new contact” trigger in Zapier to happen regardless of whether the client retained me, but I did not want the “new matter” trigger to occur until after the meeting and only if the client retained me.
The first form asks for contact information that links to “contact custom fields.” Using Zapier, this form automatically creates a contact in Clio. The second form provides matter specific information, including names and dates, and links to “matter custom fields.” Again using Zapier, this form automatically creates a note in Evernote that I can review and print in advance of the meeting. If the client retains me, a simple copy/paste in the response spreadsheet of the second form triggers Zapier to create a new matter, and I immediately have information required for initial court forms at my fingertips.
A client fills out their information once—no painstaking double entry.
If you’d like to keep things even simpler, choose a client intake tool that integrates directly with your practice management software. Lexicata integrates directly with Clio, so you won’t even need to set up zaps! This option can offer a number of other perks as well. For example, Lexicata lets clients track prospective clients and filter them into groups in Clio, keeping your information organized.
Your client intake process is your firm’s first impression
First impressions matter. A good lawyer-client relationship is key to the client experience, and this starts right from client intake. Streamlining your intake process won’t just save your firm time and money—it’ll keep your clients happier, making your practice more profitable and enjoyable overall.