Take the Lead (Part I): How to Build a Modern Law Firm Intake System
By Jared Correia
The COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were like a figurative asteroid that violently crashed through the shared expectations of lawyers around client intake—in much the same way that a literal, giant asteroid sent dinosaurs scrambling in all directions. Eventually, the remaining dinosaurs evolved, and–if you believe (spoiler alert) the end of Jurassic Park–they became birds and took flight.
This analogy is almost too on-the-nose for attorneys, who have been compared to dinosaurs more than once. This is not only a commentary on the average age in the profession. Instead, it relates to attorneys’ reluctance to apply technology to their practices to gain the sort of efficiencies that other businesses leverage.
In terms of client intake, law firms were forced to adapt from analog processes to birth new digital intake methodologies. And, as law firms are going paperless, they have become more efficient and effective at the process and potential clients appreciate the convenience of a digital client intake process. If a tyrannosaurus rex can become a sparrow, law firms can modernize their client intake process!
What is the Client Intake Process?
Generating a modern, digital client intake process in the legal space involves building a process. And you may have heard of that process referenced differently, depending on your viewpoint. Internally: it’s a law firm client intake process. From the lead’s perspective: it’s a client journey–how does the lead become a client of the law firm; how do you lay that down.
Regarding technology tools: you’re managing an intake pipeline, which equates to a pre-defined pathway to close the lead and convert the lead to a client. Regardless of how you view the conversion’s creation, it has to be a sequence. There needs to be a logical order of progression from one stage to the next. And, despite what you may believe, the law firm intake system is slightly different for every business and law firm.
There is no “client intake-in-a-box”’ solution; that is a fantasy. But, once you develop that intake program, you can leverage it using the right technology. So, the first task is brainstorming. Understand how your potential clients find your firm and what steps you should take to process their conversion. Figure out how that workflow looks in the present day, and then get to dreaming. Define how you want it to look. Get the pattern down. Only then will you be able to render that down to a usable process that could be suitable for a technology application (or a few).
How to Optimize the Client Intake Process
Now, if you’d like to check your work, there are some tables stakes in place here; so these are the items that should be included in every law firm client intake program:
Lawyers are fantastic at closing leads. But, they usually don’t get to that stage without a definable law firm intake system. A phone call won’t be returned. A staff person won’t follow through on scheduling an appointment. A consulting fee won’t be collected. All of those things can stop an intake in its tracks. So, one of the primary reasons for developing a client intake law firm program is to keep the relationships moving forward to the initial consultation. The attorney can close the deal in person or via Zoom.
Potential law firm clients want a lawyer to guide them through the legal process to solve their problems. But, many legal consumers (even those that want to hire lawyers very badly) are inquisitive about how the legal process works and what the lawyer will do for them. After all, the lawyer’s job seems arcane to most regular people. This is not like subscribing to Amazon Prime, where all that matters is that you understand what free shipping means.
So, your client intake law firm process should be lined with information about how the potential client’s case will progress. There are now many media formats that allow the law firm to communicate this key information to the client. This includes video, text, and audio formats. When you envision the law firm client’s journey, understand that this includes educating the lead on your law firm’s process from start to finish.
Buying Amazon Prime (or a Netflix subscription) is pretty cheap. While that may cost $15/month, a lawyer’s time may cost $15/minute. And, even if you don’t charge quite that much, it’s still pretty expensive by comparison. So, you need to provide a clear, correct value proposition and terms of your pricing.
As part of the law firm client intake process, you’ll need to have your pricing locked down with a pricing sheet (including any discount rates you may want to offer). This ensures you know exactly what you’re charging, so you can relay that effectively to your client. Without a price sheet, you’ll be quoting rates in an ad hoc fashion. Lawyers who do that tend to aim low and lose revenue. You should have a sense of the total cost of representation. Since almost every potential client is price-sensitive, telling them your hourly rate won’t mean that much to them. Unless you can give them an idea of how many hours it may take for a result.
Signature and Payment Options
No one wants to touch your pen anymore. And, no one wants to pay to park at your downtown office or grab you a check. When people spend 25% of their disposable income on GrubHub because they don’t want to go to the local Subway, it’s clear that convenience rules the day. So, you need to include signature and e-payment options in your client intake process.
The terminus point of any law firm intake system is the signing of a fee agreement by a client.
Wait, hold up: I mean, an engagement agreement. Too often, attorneys see this as an opportunity to get paid, begin work on other projects, and not say anything to their new client for 6-9 months. Clients hate this.
Instead, consider this legal client intake form an engagement agreement—and actually engage with your new client over it. This is a fantastic opportunity to discuss the technology you use in your law firm, your communication protocols, and the attorney-client relationship expectations. This is not the end of your engagement with the legal consumer; it’s only the beginning.
Once you’ve built the foundation for your intake system, it’s time to sprinkle in some technology applications. That’s where the real magic happens.
Jared D. Correia Esq. is the founder and CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting, which provides business management consulting services to law firms.