The 4 Stages of Client Intake for Law Firms

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Client intake: An illustration showing a woman opening a door and inviting a client in

Acquiring new clients is the lifeblood of any legal firm. The client intake process is an important part of law firm growth and the overall client lifecycle, particularly if the goal is to provide exceptional client service in law firms. What is client intake? Simply put, it’s the steps a firm needs to take to turn prospective clients into paying clients. It’s effectively a law firm’s sales process.

Yet despite its importance, few law firms put much energy into improving their intake process to create a better client experience, increase their efficiency, or improve the firm’s conversion rate. Many are more focused on client onboarding—i.e. the process of welcoming a new client who has already retained their services—than on the intake of prospective clients.

A poorly developed intake process can result in disorganisation, wasted time, and lost revenue as potential clients slip through the cracks.

But a strong client intake process can create a better client experience, increase a law firm’s efficiency, and ultimately improve the firm’s conversion rate (i.e. the percentage of prospective clients who become actual clients). This also means a better return on investment from any marketing efforts and improved client satisfaction at the same time. 

There are four stages of an effective client intake process. I’ve outlined them below, including some tips for ways to optimise each stage for success.

Stage 1: Acquiring and nurturing leads

The client intake process begins whenever you capture a “lead,” generally referred to in the legal industry as a “potential new client.”

Leads might come from referrals, marketing campaigns, website traffic, or a variety of other channels. Potential clients might call your office, send you an email, fill out a contact form on your website, or even knock on your door.

Regardless of where your leads come from, your client intake process should begin at the exact moment, whether you receive the initial phone call, email, or contact form submission.

It’s easier than you think to make mistakes when managing your new leads, from responding too slowly, to not tracking your leads, to not following up, and more.

These mistakes can have a severe impact on your conversion rate and the health of your business. That’s why implementing an effective lead management system is a key first step to improving your overall client intake process.

3 Best Practice Steps For Acquiring Leads

1. Track every lead in a CRM (Client Relationship Management) system

Paper diaries, Excel spreadsheets, and manual note-taking might get the job done when you’re just starting out as a solo lawyer, but they won’t cut it as your firm starts to grow and acquire new referrals and potential clients

The most important step you can take to optimise your lead management process is to implement a proper legal CRM (Client Relationship Management) system for tracking each lead, recording their contact information, and setting reminders to follow up.

2. Use a virtual receptionist to answer every call

Nothing will turn a potential client away like an unresponsive law firm. According to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the most common complaint received about firms from their clients relates to delays in responding. 

This is where having a virtual receptionist (sometimes called a remote receptionist) can be a smart monthly cost. A virtual receptionist is an online service wherein you contract a service or a single person to manage your calls, follow up on enquiries, forward inquiries to the right member of your firm, and record the details of calls and other contacts that come in. Even if you already have reception and intake staff working for you during the week, you should still consider using a virtual receptionist service to supplement your availability. By using a virtual receptionist service, you can ensure that every single call from a prospective client will be answered by a real person, even on evenings and weekends.

This responsiveness can go a long way to improving your potential client’s experience and building trust early on during the intake process. This is key to maximising the likelihood that a lead will convert.

3. Use automated drip emails to nurture cold leads

During the early stages of client intake, your actions will often depend on how “warm” the lead was when they first contacted you. (The “warmer” the lead, the more likely they are to convert to a paying client.)

Some people might call your office ready to hire you (this would be a “hot” lead), which means you can jump straight to a later stage of the intake process. 

However, your leads won’t always be this eager. Colder leads will need more interactions to nurture them and encourage them to take the next step in the intake process.

A great way to accomplish this, without spending all day following up with people, is to send out “drip emails.” These are a series of automated emails designed to encourage your lead to engage with you.

These emails can include things like educational content, testimonials from past clients, and other information that will help build your potential clients’ trust and keep them engaged.

There are a variety of email marketing solutions that offer this functionality, such as MailChimp, Constant Contact, and others. 

As always, be sure to check the advertising and contact guidelines of your local regulatory authority and be sure to keep GDPR requirements and restrictions in mind. 

Stage 2: Scheduling a consultation

Once you’ve acquired a lead and started to build their trust, the next major milestone in the intake process for most firms is scheduling an initial consultation.

The consultation is effectively a “sales meeting.” It gives you the opportunity to learn more about the prospective client’s legal requirements and decide if you can meet their needs. And if they are a good fit, it’s a chance to land them as a client. Given the importance of consultations, it’s worth spending time developing a good process for setting up these appointments and ensuring that people actually show up.

Best practices for initial consultations

1. Screen clients beforehand with a brief questionnaire

Like many consumer-facing businesses, law firms do get a number of inquiries that are unlikely to ever convert to becoming a client. These are people who may inquire about legal services without having a solid legal case or the budget to afford it. In order to efficiently deal with this issue, one approach is to ask your potential clients for some information in advance of setting up an initial consultation. One technique is to use a brief (i.e., 10 to 15 questions max) client intake form or questionnaire. You can gather some basic data such as their contact info, the names of opposing parties, their current employment status and income, and some details about their legal matter.

Collecting this information upfront enables admin staff at the firm to perform a conflict check, review the merits of the person’s matter, and ensure that they can afford the services before deciding whether or not to bring them in for a consultation with an attorney.

When sending out a client intake form or questionnaire, make it as easy as possible for your prospective client to fill it out and return it. An online intake form tool makes this process easy. For example, Clio Grow offers online intake forms that can be sent via email or SMS, so clients can fill them out anywhere, even on a mobile device.

2. Always send a confirmation email and a reminder

To reduce the possibility of someone forgetting to show up for their initial consultation, send them a confirmation email as soon as a consultation is booked.

The confirmation email should confirm the date and time of the appointment. You can also include helpful information such as your office address and instructions for where to park. If it’s a phone consult, provide the dial-in information.

You might also consider using the confirmation email to “warm up” the potential client and continue building their trust.

A good strategy is to include links to relevant educational articles from your website, positive testimonials from past clients, video introductions of the lawyers, or other resources to engage the prospect and establish your firm’s credibility.

Finally, you should also remind every prospect about their upcoming appointment either the day before, or a few hours before each appointment.

You can assign this task to a receptionist or office administrator and have them call each person to confirm that they still plan to show up, or you can use an automated appointment reminder system such as Clio Grow’s appointment booking tool.

Stage 3: Collecting information

Gathering information is the core of the client intake process.

The information collection process usually begins when a new lead gets in touch, and it continues before, during, and after the consultation.

This is a fundamentally important step for providing legal services, so your process for collecting information should be optimised for organisation and efficiency.

Best practices for collecting information

1. Use standardised questionnaires to ensure accuracy and consistency

Having incomplete or inaccurate data can cause serious problems, including exposure to professional negligence claims.

Standardising your data-collection practices and using questionnaires specific to each type of case or matter makes it easier for staff members to collect the information needed, and the process will be far less prone to errors.

Each questionnaire should include all the important details about both the client and their legal matter. This should include all contact information, birth dates, key dates and deadlines related to the legal matter, as well as opposing party names and contact info, and any other specific information necessary to provide services.

Take only what you need at this point of the process. There will be time, once the prospective client is retained, to add in extra detail—make your questionnaire too long and you risk the prospective client losing interest and going elsewhere. 

2. Capture important data in a database by using custom fields

In order to save time and keep your client information in order, you’ll need a structured format for the information. Saving your client intake information on paper questionnaires or in Word documents won’t give you this. You can start with paper files and manually re-enter the data into a case management database later, but this takes considerable time and effort.

By using automation to capture data into custom fields, you can collect your data in a structured format while also completely eliminating the manual data entry process.

Clio’s client intake software also integrates with Clio Manage, our legal case management software, so you can manage the full client journey from intake to invoice.

Stage 4: Drafting & signing the fee agreement

By this stage of the intake process, you’ve almost converted your lead into a paying client. The last step is to get the fee agreement drafted and signed, and open the matter for billing in your case management system.

Getting the fee agreement drafted and signed is one of the most important steps in the intake process because it’s where the lawyer-client relationship is formalised, and where the client agrees to pay your fees.

Be sure to make the sign-up process as easy as possible for both the client and your law firm. There are a few things you can do to streamline the process, as explained below.

Best practices for drafting & signing retainers & agreements

1. Use automation to streamline drafting and reduce errors

Law firms will pretty much always use standardised templates for their initial client care letters, retainers, or contingency fee agreements (whatever the case or practice area may be in each instance). But for each new client you take on, you will have to replace the names, contact info, fee amounts if applicable, and other details related to the specific client and matter throughout the template.

This process can be tedious and also prone to errors, especially if staff members move quickly through these documents.

Nothing is more unprofessional than sending a document out with the name of a past client in it or with a spelling mistake added during manual entry of the details. Errors like that can be costly in terms of your professionalism and reputation.

Client intake software offers easy-to-use document automation tools which can automatically replace all the information in your fee agreement templates with relevant info for a specific client.

This helps cut down on non-chargeable admin hours, and most importantly helps prevent embarrassing mistakes that can occur during the drafting process.

2. Use e-signatures to eliminate paperwork & create a seamless process for clients

Today, more and more people are using their mobile phones to do everything from ordering takeaways, to booking a taxi, to paying their bills. Asking them to download your fee agreement, print it, sign it by hand, scan it, and email or post it back puts quite a burden on them.

With e-signature software, you can streamline the process of getting documents signed by clients. Clients can simply click a link, draw or type in their signature, and click a button to submit the signed copy back to the firm.

The entire process takes a matter of seconds, compared to printing and scanning which could take hours or days, depending on whether your client has easy access to a printer and scanner.

Try to make it as easy as possible for your clients in order to ensure you get hired. You’ll also save a significant amount of money on printing costs by going paperless.

3. Open a matter to track upcoming tasks and deadlines

Once the fee agreement has been signed, this is the end of the “sales” process. Now you change your focus from lead management to client onboarding and case management. The biggest thing to take into consideration at this point would be any key events or deadlines which might be coming up for the client’s case.

Failing to calendar these events can expose your firm to serious liability. It’s a good idea to open a matter in your case management software at this point. Schedule any deadlines or events on your calendar, and assign important tasks to members of your staff.

Clio Grow makes it simple to transition from managing a lead to managing a case. It’s easy to convert a “lead” into a “client” within Clio Grow, and all the data you captured during the intake process can be exported to open a matter in Clio that’s ready for charging. This ensures consistency in your data, and also eliminates the burden of duplicate data entry.

Summary

Intake is a key part of the client lifecycle. Creating an organised and repeatable process is essential to your firm’s sustained growth.

Clearly defining key stages of the intake process at your firm makes it easier to identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies, so you can improve the process.

At most firms, the stages of the client intake process would look something like this:

  • Lead acquisition and nurturing
  • Scheduling and conducting consultations
  • Collecting and storing information
  • Drafting and signing a retention agreement

Think about each stage carefully and focus on creating a streamlined process. This will save time for your staff and also improve the experience for clients. Not only will this make your firm more efficient, it will help maximise your conversions and drive more sales and revenue.

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