Take the Lead (Part 2): Building a Modern Law Firm Intake System
By Jared Correia
As a business owner (unless you’re a pyromaniac), you’re not keen to light heaps of money on fire. And, yet lots of law firms are doing just that. There are a couple of traditional, significant expenses for law firm owners. Those are people and places. You need office space, so you’ve got that long-term lease. But, do you? We’re nearly three years into a global pandemic, and law firms are downsizing everywhere.
This is due to the notion that, during that time period, people had to work in physical spaces. This was crushed with vigor. So, if much of your office space is sitting unused, then it’s time to take a harder look at your bottom line. The second considerable expense for law firms is people, which includes employees and contractors. Most law firms still rely heavily on attorneys and staff to perform the most rote operations. That no longer needs to be the case.
Technology allows businesses, including law firms, to automate simple processes. And that’s especially the case with a legal intake process, which can be broken down into discernable steps—as we uncovered in the last post in this series. Now, just because you’re going to adopt more client intake technology (you will want to, after reading this piece), it doesn’t mean you have to dismiss your staff. Instead, allow them to upskill and challenge themselves in revised roles–while you rely on the intake lawyer technology to handle the easy and mundane stuff.
Once your law firm has built a legal intake process (with discernable steps), you’ll need to do two more things. First, you’ll need to add owners for each task in your aggregated list of tasks. (Even if you use intake lawyer technology, you need someone to oversee it.) Second, you’ll want to create a follow-up architecture of some kind. Each task will need ‘ticklers’ (read: reminders) to ensure those tasks are completed.
In a traditional client intake program, those reminders would go to individuals who would need to take some kind of action—like follow-up via phone with a potential client to schedule an appointment. These time consuming and inefficient intake processes can now be avoided. Modern technology tools are intelligent enough to manage the follow-up architecture in place of humans. Not only can those systems send initial requests, but many are no longer the ‘dumb’ systems that can’t adjust to circumstances. Follow-ups from modern technology tools are automatically sent until the desired action is processed—such as a received payment. From there, the system will automatically move on to the next step in the legal intake process. Creating automated workflows with client-facing ticklers at each new step can be refreshing. This is especially true for law firms that have relied on post-it notes to remind them to take those subsequent actions.
Hard to believe? The truth is the technology that helps manage and improve the client intake process is far from fantasy—it currently exists.
Necessary Tech to Run a Modern Legal Intake Process
The first step in the lead management process is engagement. The nightmare scenario for any law firm is when a lead exits due to a lack of interest or action. This can happen in many ways. Maybe no one picks up the phone. Possibly a contact form submission doesn’t receive a response. Perhaps the law firm’s website is not enticing.
The first step to getting greater lead conversion is engagement. This doesn’t mean that you are done engaging your clients with strong messaging on all marketing channels (including your website). You also need to allow your clients to engage with you, so there is a higher likelihood of retention. The notion of “speed to lead” is essential because if you can be the first business to capture a potential client’s attention, it dramatically improves the likelihood that you will convert them into an actual client. That’s why picking up the phone is a sine qua non. And, if your staff is not available to do that job at all times, you can add a virtual receptionist service for law firm intake calls. This is even for after-hours calls.
Client intake forms provide a way for potential clients to take immediate action. Ensure you send a completion notification or automated response, so they know you’ve received it. In addition, live chat tools or chatbots allow potential clients to engage on some level of give-and-take with either a human or a scripted conversation. Don’t forget to notify your client of who they’re talking to–especially if rendered via a bot. Online scheduling tools allow qualified leads to schedule meetings onto a law firm employee’s calendar without seeing particular case meetings from the attorneys or staff. Leads only see open spots. This avoids all the back-and-forth of email-based scheduling. These cloud-based tools and services can help hook your new leads more effectively.
Lead Management Tools
Per my fishing analogy, once you hook your lead, you need to reel them in. So, you’ll look to qualify that lead by taking them to the intake pipeline you’ve established. Some law firms have very simple qualifying criteria: if a potential client is breathing, the lawyers will talk to them. If that’s the case, your firm may only need a simple intake methodology—the collection of basic contact information, so that you can follow up.
However, you may need to deploy a secondary level of the client intake process if your intake process is a bit more robust. You can additional qualifying criteria (if needed) and still manage via form or chat. And, once you’ve fit a potential client into a particular bucket, you need a system to manage those qualified leads.
That’s where customer relationship management (CRM) software can help. Modern-day CRM software no longer just includes client management features. It will intake leads and run them through follow-up sequences, which can be automated and up your conversions. However, an all-in-one case management software that provides additional features (like lead management) is recommended over software with standalone products.
Once the gauntlet is run, and the potential client has been vetted as a candidate to work with the law firm, there are some super effective tools that attorneys get that deal done as soon as practicable.
Video conferencing software, like Zoom, is an adequate replacement for in-person meetings–when clients find them inconvenient or inessential. Payments can and should be managed via e-payment tools, which allow law firms to get paid more often and faster. And many law practice management software tools are now building proprietary e-payment programs in-system.
Lest we forget the engagement agreement, getting that signed in person is so passé. It’s much more convenient to opt for an e-signature product, which is built into many case management software tools, like MyCase.
Now that you know how to build an intake program and apply technology, the last thing you want to do is screw up this new attorney-client relationship you just worked so hard to lock down.
In the final post of this series, we’ll address how to keep your converted clients happy.
Learn more about effective client intake with our Ultimate Online Client Intake Guide For Attorneys.
Jared D. Correia Esq. is the founder and CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting, which provides business management consulting services to law firms. Jared is also the co-founder and COO of Gideon Software, which offers a chat, scheduling, and document assembly platform built exclusively for law firms.