Client intake is vital to a successful legal business. Your team’s primary passion may be the legal work itself. But you need to ensure a steady stream of clients coming through the pipeline to them.
An effective client intake process brings suitable business to your door, collecting and qualifying leads more promptly. And it provides a smooth and fuss-free workflow for converting these leads into paying customers - ready for your legal support.
This article explores the client intake process. What does it involve, and how is it best approached? And what role can technology play?
What exactly is client intake?
Law firm client intake involves identifying leads, screening them, and converting them (if appropriate) into paying clients. It, therefore, plays an essential role in driving your law firm’s business forward.
The manner in which your firm manages these procedures will have a dramatic impact on your business. More streamlined and seamless procedures usually mean brisker incoming business and a better customer onboarding experience.
Consider the experience of the client
Take some time to map out the current client intake procedures in your firm. What does their journey from the first approach to a paying client look like?
When doing this, consider the following questions.
How easy is it for people to understand, from your website and branding, whether your firm is a good ‘fit’ for their needs?
How promptly do leads get a response after making an initial inquiry? What channels do they use - text, email, or phone?
What, if anything, happens to non-qualified leads (where their case is not appropriate for your business)? Do they just get ignored, or are they referred to another firm on a reciprocal basis?
How easily can people arrange an initial consultation with your team?
How easy is the admin to onboard a new client? Do they have to repeat information they’ve already supplied? Is the client inundated with forms to complete?
What reminders or support do they get?
Do leads get a consistent experience, regardless of their referral source?
How does the experience your firm offers compare with your competition?
This is far from an exhaustive list; client intake covers all these and more. There are many steps involved in nurturing early customer relationships. Building such an overview may well reveal pain points. Remember, in these early stages, a lead can easily decide to take their business elsewhere if the experience isn’t great.
How well do your processes work internally?
As well as looking from the client’s perspective, think about how well your client intake processes work for your firm.
How promptly and effectively do you screen leads to identify the most qualified leads (i.e., the best fit for your business)?
How is information about people and their cases collected at each step to build a consolidated picture? Do you avoid collecting the same information more than once?
How quickly (and easily) is any onboarding paperwork prepared and dealt with? Does this delay your team getting started on the actual legal work?
How reliant is your firm’s client intake process on the know-how of just one or two team members? What if they left? How visible are procedures to the whole team?
How much of an overview of your firm’s client intake process do you have? Can you easily see how many leads are working through and where they are coming from at any given moment?
The client intake process is about pulling in clients and establishing good relationships before moving on to the legal work. But it is also about putting robust, visible, and timely systems in place.
That can result in more clients for your business, happier customers, a better overview of your lead pipeline, and an improved bottom line.
4 phases of the client intake process
Client intake involves the entire operation of attracting and onboarding new clients. It stretches from their initial inquiry to signing an engagement agreement with you. As such, it is best to break it down into several phases.
Attracting a lead
People may learn about your firm from several sources - for example, social media, finding your website following a Google search, other advertising, or a referral from elsewhere. However they reach you, ensure it is straightforward for people to reach out and make an inquiry.
That may be via a phone call or an online inquiry form. Forms need to be simple and quick - explaining what will happen next. It will be your first opportunity to collect information (albeit very top-level) about the contact - just enough to enable meaningful follow-up (name, contact details, nature of need).
Get back to people promptly. An initial phone conversation is often appropriate at this stage. Leave no more than a day or so before getting in touch. If people are left waiting longer, they may go elsewhere - taking their business with them.
Use this initial follow-up to begin building a relationship. Establish your firm’s professional, positive, and expert credentials. It is also a screening opportunity where you can assess whether the lead is a good fit with your expertise and identify potential conflicts of interest.
To achieve these goals, follow a consistent and structured approach to communication at this step. For example, a script or list of key questions is advisable. Ensure that the information gathered is added to the customer’s overall profile, reducing the need for later duplication.
Scheduling a consultation
The next step is to invite the person to an initial consultation - an opportunity to collect more detail about the case. It is a further opportunity to validate how well their case ‘fits’ your business. And, of course, to pitch to the person how your firm can support them through their difficulties.
Make it easy for customers to find a time that suits them. An online scheduling tool - reflecting your team’s availability - makes this much more satisfying. People will appreciate a simple and flexible approach to organizing this consultation.
Secure the client
Assuming all has gone well, you will move on and confirm the contact as a client.
At this stage, they will complete a more comprehensive intake questionnaire. That should cover all the details your team needs to proceed with the work. See suggestions for what this should cover below.
This phase also requires a range of other onboarding. For example, your client must agree on billing and case handling arrangements.
With that all in place, you can now get on with the legal work itself - and helping your client. An effective client intake process will get you to that point more efficiently.
Basic elements of a legal client intake form
A comprehensive legal intake form is a crucial part of the process. It ensures that all the necessary information is available to your team from the outset of taking on a client.
Using a digital format is advisable.
Information already submitted can be pre-populated on the form (saving your client time).
In turn, information entered can automatically be pulled back into your database (saving you time).
Smart forms, where a client’s responses trigger specific further questions, can draw out and capture a case's salient points.
While the details will vary, the following sections should be on every legal client intake form.
You may already have a lot of this, in which case it can be pre-populated on a ‘smart’ form to ensure it is accurate and complete. This form is an opportunity to ensure you have the client’s full name, address, telephone, email, date of birth, and social security details, plus the communication preferences of the client (e.g., preferred channel and availability).
The form should capture the facts and details about the case. These will vary depending on your area of law and the specific case. Indeed, this is where a more dynamic, 'smart' form comes into its own - offering greater scope to capture specific details.
Lead source details
Where did the client hear about your company? You want to be routinely capturing this information. It can help you understand the drivers of your business. For example, are you getting referrals from an organization or another company? Or is a particular advertisement or marketing channel proving effective?
By always capturing this information on your law firm intake form, you can gain insights about where to focus future marketing efforts. Encourage clients to be specific about these details.
Fees and financial information
Establish from the outset that the client can pay for your services. State the fees involved and check that the client is happy with these.
Having robust systems for the above can help to streamline many future tasks. For instance, when preparing retainer or engagement agreement forms, these can be populated automatically (by the right software), thus saving administrative work.
Tips to improve your legal client intake process
The legal client intake process involves a lot of different elements. However, a few general tips can help streamline your procedures to offer the best service to your clients.
First, map out and understand your entire client intake process. Build a complete picture. Understand the discrete steps involved and how each works in your firm. You can then address any weak points.
Develop a transparent and robust procedure - not overly relying on the know-how of any single team member. Create a flowchart or checklist to capture the process: what happens when? That way, everyone will understand - new and old employees alike.
Use effective content
The client intake process is, at least partly, an exercise in marketing. You need to increase awareness of your firm, demonstrate its strengths, and encourage people who may need your services to get in touch. And ultimately, you want to convince these people of the benefits of becoming your clients.
Sharing informative content is one way of achieving this. In our highly online world, this will typically be digital content. It will offer guidance and information relating to your particular area of expertise.
That could take numerous forms. It may be educational resources or guides to particular areas of the law. It may be case studies to show how your firm has supported people in crisis. It may be text-based or an infographic. And video is a highly impactful medium (albeit more investment heavy).
This content can be hosted on your website and in your marketing efforts. But also consider how it could help your intake process. For example, could people making initial inquiries receive an email signposting relevant content?
The client intake process involves much administrative work - for example, capturing and recording information. Such work is time-consuming, error-prone, and unbillable. So, it makes sense to streamline these aspects as much as possible.
Automation can help here. Using digital forms means information submitted by clients can automatically transfer to your database. And in turn, future forms can be pre-populated with this information. This saves time and reduces errors. Wherever details are submitted, automation might help streamline the process.
In addition, automation can support client communication, nurturing a positive relationship in the early stages. For example, inquiries can trigger automated emails, letting them know when someone will be in touch and pointing them to relevant content on your website.
Harness digital support
Choosing the right digital tools can make the whole operation more robust and visible. Technology helps you pull the various processes together - and, in many cases, streamline them.
For example, a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool allows you to keep all the contact information about a client and their overview in a central record, removing the need to keep duplicating. Moreover, as the next section will show, specific software developed for the client intake process can help immeasurably.
How client intake software can make a difference
Software specifically designed to support client intake for law firms can help in many ways. Here are a handful of benefits.
Supports the creation of smart (dynamic) intake forms to comprehensively capture all the required information at the start of the client-firm relationship.
Captures and consolidates information about leads as they progress through your intake pipeline, ensuring no data is lost and nobody gets forgotten.
Supports your communication with clients, allowing you to send reminders, updates, and forms via the client’s preferred communication channel.
Automates repetitive administrative tasks - freeing time for more important work and reducing the risk of error.
Provides analytics about the source of your new clients, informing your marketing planning to drive future business.
Provides an overview of your client intake pipeline. For example, how many leads are coming through? What stage are they at?
In short, it gives your processes a more visible structure, reduces the administrative burden, facilitates a more responsive approach, yields insights, and speeds things up significantly.
Level up your firm’s legal client intake
Your law firm client intake process is pivotal to your success. However you go about achieving it, the goal should be to deliver a fantastic experience to your clients as they join you - one that is polished, easy to follow, prompt, and responsive.
Get it right, and your teams will be free to get down to the legal work - helping clients - as quickly and smoothly as possible.