What is client intake and how law firms can streamline it
Your client satisfaction ratings, number of referrals, and percentage of repeat customers is largely dependent on the first moments your clients interact with your firm — perhaps even before you speak with them.
It all occurs during the client intake process. In order for attorneys to improve this, they need to understand what intake is, what it does, and why it matters.
What is intake for law clients?
Intake is the first step in the process of working with a new client. It starts when a potential client contacts your firm and ends when your firm starts representing them. Intake for law firms generally includes acquiring the client’s personal information, performing a pre-screen, holding an initial consultation, and signing documents.
Since this is the first moment a client engages with your audience, intake matters. These are where first impressions are made and when you build trust with your client.
What does an intake form do?
A large part of the intake process is collecting information and communicating expectations. Intake forms can help with the gathering of information. Intake forms are a series of questions that the potential client answers. Typically, intake forms include questions about basic personal information (name, address, email) and the reason the individual is seeking legal help. You can use a client intake form software to create forms, gather form data, and organize it into a client CRM. This information is critical for law firms to know. They need to make sure that the client is a good fit for their firm. Additionally, the information collected in an intake form can allow law firms to check for potential conflicts that would impede their ability to provide professional law services.
Why is client intake important for law firms?
Without a well-established client intake process, law firms may run into these problems:
- Leads are forgotten about and decide to go with a different firm
- Communication becomes inconsistent and confusing, leaving the client with a bad impression of your firm
- Multiple staff members may help the same client simultaneously, resulting in confusion and wasted hours for your firm
- Miscommunicated expectations may result in clients deciding to not move forward after you’ve already spent hours onboarding them
These are just a handful of examples of outcomes for law firms that skimp on their intake planning. Conversely, a strong client intake process helps prevent leads from falling through the cracks. You’ll also be able to verify which leads are qualified and would be a good fit for your firm. By communicating expectations about payment, timelines, and services during intake, clients are far more likely to be pleased with your services — or disqualify themselves early on if you can’t provide what they are looking for.
Tips for the best client intake process
Jotting down notes on a pad and passing it around the office is not the most efficient client intake process for law firms. What is the best way to develop an iron-clad process? Here are just a few tips.
- Think through what info you need
- Determine where your client intake form will live
- Automate the next steps
- Make it consistent
- Listen, listen, listen
How much information do you need from your client before you can start working on their case? This is the question you need to ask yourself in order to create an efficient client intake form.
Know which information is critical, which is a nice-to-have, and which you can get later. You don’t want to bog down the client with so many questions that they decide to walk away. Get what you need — especially their contact information — and move on.
Create a standard client intake form, and then make sure everyone on your staff knows how to find it. It’s best to put the form on your site so that clients who land on your site can fill out the form themselves, but you shouldn’t bet on the idea that every client will do that.
Some clients may come to you from a referral, some may see an ad on social media or a billboard, and some may just drive by your offices one day and stop by. No matter how a client finds you, the next step should be to get their information in a form.
Ensure every staff member knows how to direct clients to this form, or access it themselves so they can help the client fill it out.
So now the potential client has contacted you and submitted their information. What next? You may prefer doing pre-screenings or an initial meeting next. You can schedule an automated email that prompts them to schedule a screening. Or, you can create a text notification that immediately sends the intake form to your secretary so she can filter their responses and prepare the next steps.
Automation frees up hours of your time while keeping the ball moving for your lead.
However you decide to design your client intake process, make sure that it is consistent. The steps of client intake should always be the same, and every member in your law firm should know what role they play with intake.
The on boarding process should also be uniform in order to reduce the chances of miscommunication or mistakes. Simplicity and consistency help your staff know what they should be doing and keeps inefficiencies from taking place.
Seeking legal services can be a stressful time. Law is often seen as confusing and unknown, so potential clients may come to you feeling anxious or on edge. One way to ease their worries is to show that you are listening and that you care about their case.
Listen to what they say the first time. If your firm is asking them the same questions over and over, they will feel as if you are not paying attention or taking their case seriously. Listen to what they are saying. Repeat it to them so they know you were listening and can make adjustments if you misheard or misunderstood them.
What are the steps in client intake?
Every law firm has the ability to design a client intake process that works for them. They may shift around the following steps, or add or remove some. This list of client intake steps should be used as a general guideline.
- Potential client reaches out and completes client intake form
- Firm pre-screens the client
- Initial consultation and conflict check
- Discuss fee agreement and payment options
- Deliver onboarding kit
Some law firms choose to have a basic contact form on their website in order to get their lead’s phone number or email. They may then call the lead to collect more information about their case or send them an email that asks for more specific details.
Typically through a phone call, the law firm will pre-screen the client. This is a chance for the law firm to determine if the client is a good fit for them. You should ask the potential client what they hope your firm can help with and whether or not they have worked with a lawyer before. This pre-screen may also help law firms determine if there is a conflict that doesn’t permit them to work on the case.
Now comes time for the consultation. This should be a sit-down conversation (preferably in-person or over video call) to talk with the client about their expectations, and to explain your firm’s expectations. This is also the time to perform a conflict check.
A scheduling software can help this process by allowing clients to schedule a time that is convenient for their schedule.
Fee and payment expectations may need to be brought up earlier in the intake process, but it is a conversation that must happen before the client signs anything. They need to be aware of how much your services cost, how and when they will be expected to pay, and what — if any — fees are associated with late or missed payments. Have the client sign a fee agreement before you move forward with billing them for your services.
The lead is now officially a new client. Congratulations! The intake process is not over yet, though. Your client likely has a lot of questions about your services and/or next steps. Help ease that confusion with a welcome kit that explains it all. A software with a client portal log-in is a great way for clients to access and sign documents, watch onboarding videos, and communicate with your team. This can also save your staff time from one-on-one Q and A’s.
Throughout every one of these steps, it’s important that the client understands what is going on and what the next steps are. The intake process can be lengthy, especially for clients who are reeling to get moving on a case. Over-communicate where they are in the intake process and what is necessary from you and from them to move forward. This is the best way to build long-term trust with a client.
How to save time with client intak
Even when attorneys know client intake is vital to a successful law firm, they also know the reality, which is that intake can be time-consuming, particularly for solo firms and small law firms.
Cut back on time with the following tips:
- Implement e-signatures and virtual documentation, making it easy to share documents and get signatures quickly
- Use a client intake form software that collects and organizes form data in a single place
- Leverage a case management system to create intake stages and move potential clients between them
- Create a virtual welcome kit that clients can access through their own client portal
Invest early on in a positive client intake experience in order to build trust with clients and save your team hours of time.