Improve Your Client Intake: 10 Steps To Seal the Deal
The client intake process is arguably the most critical part of your law firm management. It’s how you get clients, procure retainers, and generate cash flow. The initial client consultation sets the tone for the entire case, so make sure you start off on the right foot every time by adhering to these ten simple steps.
- Streamline Your Conflict Check Process
Anyone in your office should be able to confirm there are no conflicts of interest with an existing client. Sometimes the receptionist is out or busy, so it behooves you to train your paralegals to do it, too.
- Collect the Consultation Fee Prior to the Initial Meeting Taking Place
If you charge a fee, make it very clear, in writing, that payment of said fee is due prior to the consultation. The simplest way to accomplish this is to email a link to the client that enables them to pay online. (An online payment solution like LawPay makes this easy.)
- Instruct the Potential Client to Fill Out Their Intake Paperwork in Advance
Use an online form or email the client the paperwork and ask them to send the completed form back to you prior to the initial consultation. This saves time and works great if you offer virtual meetings. Be cognizant to not have the client email sensitive information (e.g., social security numbers) to you.
- Beware of Waiver of Privilege
Many clients want to bring a family member or friend with them to their initial meeting. This is problematic in that it could constitute a waiver of attorney-client privilege. Explain this issue and its potential ramifications to your client at the outset of your meeting before proceeding.
- Be Clear About the Cost of the Case
The retainer is not the actual cost of the client’s case, and that needs to be made abundantly clear so as to manage their expectations (and avoid future headaches).
- Give the Client a Roadmap of the Process and Realistic Expectations
Too often, attorneys make promises at initial meetings because the matter seems so simple at first. Be careful about using absolutes and making any promises at the outset of the case—no matter how sure you might be. Curveballs happen in every matter.
- Have the Fee Agreement Already Filled Out
The only thing you should need to do is plug in the retainer amount and print it out or email it to the client at the conclusion of your meeting. Having it ready to go at the meeting eliminates friction and prevents awkward pauses during the consultation.
- Have the Client Initial by the Evergreen Clause
Many attorneys utilize retainers, as opposed to flat fees, for their payment. When the retainer dips below a certain amount, the client will be sent an evergreen letter, which asks the client to replenish their retainer up to the original amount. If you utilize this practice (and you should), make sure to explain this in detail to the client and have them initial by a clause explaining the same in their fee agreement.
- Trust Your Gut
When it comes to red flags during the intake process, be prepared to decline representation. If you would be the client’s fifth attorney on the same case, chances are they will cause more headaches than they are worth. Also ask yourself: would this person be a future liability to the firm? No one ever wants to put a phone call into their malpractice carrier, so know when to say no.
- Seal the Deal
Make it very clear to the client that you do not begin working, and you are not retained as their attorney, until you receive the following: their fully executed fee agreement and their retainer payment.
Signing clients is no small feat, and your firm’s intake policy should be tailored to make the process as painless as possible for the firm and the potential client. By utilizing the above steps, you should be able to eliminate future headaches and pitfalls. You can also avoid payment-related stressors by giving potential and existing clients the option to pay by credit card. With LawPay (the only payment solution offered through the ABA Advantage program), you can easily and securely accept credit card and eCheck payments.
I hope these tips are helpful to your practice! Feel free to drop me a line at j[email protected] and let me know your thoughts.
Jordan Turk is a practicing attorney in Texas and the Legal Content & Compliance Manager at LawPay. She has a B.A. from the University of Texas and earned her law degree from the University of Arkansas School of Law.