If you’ve been practicing law for very long at all, the word “intake” may give you an instant headache. Intake can be incredibly complicated to manage, and you may feel like all you wind up with at the end of the day is a garbled mess of inaccurate information and a lot of wasted time. But implementing an intake process doesn’t have to be a nightmare.

Below, we’ll dive into why intake is so important, what your goals for the process should be, and more. Read on and learn how you can implement a seamless process that provides an amazing experience for your clients.

Why Is Intake So Important?

Having a solid intake process can benefit your law firm in a number of ways. For one thing, you can streamline your workflow. When your intake is working well, you and your attorneys won’t have to waste time with repetitive paperwork and unnecessary tasks.

Perhaps most importantly, a good intake process can improve your client communication and help to build trust. Intake is your clients’ first interaction with your firm and your first opportunity to show them how organized and client-focused you are. If your intake team demonstrates these skills, it can give your clients confidence that you’ll give their case the care it deserves.

Finally, quality intake can actually save your firm money. Being able to vet cases early can help you avoid taking on unprofitable cases and avoid certain malpractice risks. Building a good rapport with your clients through your intake process can also improve your reputation and bring in more revenue.

Goals of the Intake Process

As you start working to improve your intake process, there are a few goals you’ll want to keep in mind.

Collecting Relevant Information

One of the first goals of the intake process is to collect relevant information from your potential client. You’ll need to gather the specifics regarding their case, take down their contact information, learn their preferences for how to proceed with the case, and other such details.

Establishing Clear Communication

In addition to gathering information about your potential clients’ cases, intake is a good opportunity to establish clear communication with your clients. Your intake specialists should practice active listening when taking client statements, rather than just proceeding on autopilot. This will ensure you get the best understanding of your clients’ needs and also works toward the next goal.

Building Trust with Clients

From the start, you’ll want to focus on building trust with your clients. Often, the intake process happens at a point when clients are still shopping around for a lawyer. If your intake is good, you have an opportunity to earn their trust and convince them that you’re the attorney for them.

Overview of the Client Intake Process

There are several steps involved in the client intake process.

  • Initial consultation – This is your first contact with a potential client. The goal of this meeting is to gather some basic information about the client’s case and to let them know what services you offer and educate them about the legal process. This consultation is often free and is your first chance to make a good impression on the client.
  • Conflict check – After the initial consultation, you’ll need to check and make sure that your firm doesn’t have any conflicts of interest that would prevent you from working on their case. This should include a thorough search through any current or previous cases that could conflict with this client’s case. Being thorough in this step can help prevent ethical or professional problems later on.
  • Engagement letter – Once you’re sure you’re in the clear to work with this client, you’ll need to send them an engagement letter. This document will outline the terms of your representation and the scope of your work. You may want to cover your fees and payment terms in this letter, too.
  • Information gathering – If the client accepts the engagement letter, your firm will need to start gathering information about their case. This should include their contact information, details about who is involved in their claim, and the nature of the claim.
  • Intake form – As part of the information-gathering stage, you may choose to use an intake form. Your client may use this to provide their contact information, details about their case, and their wishes for how to proceed with the case.
  • Opening a file – Once you’ve gathered all necessary information about your new client, it will be time to open a file on them. This is where you’ll organize all information about the case, both what you’ve already received and what you’ll get as the case progresses. Make sure all team members working on the case have access to this file.

As you might imagine, there may be several opportunities in this process for you to improve your efficiency and client experience.

Common Intake Challenges

There are several common challenges attorneys may face during the intake process. Being educated about these issues can help you avoid them and keep your process streamlined.

Incomplete or Inaccurate Information

One of the most common challenges lawyers face with intake is getting incomplete or inaccurate information. This can lead to delays, mistakes, or even malpractice down the road. Ensuring that your intake process gathers complete, accurate information can keep you from wasting time and resources dealing with these errors.

Lack of Standardization

Often, when law firms first implement an intake process, they just pass the task on to some of their existing staff without having a solid process in place first. Each person handling intake will do things in a different way, meaning that the information you get will be harder to sort through quickly. This model isn’t scalable and is much more likely to cause you to miss crucial points in your client’s case.

Time Constraints

On the subject of scaling, as your firm grows, intake that’s poorly managed can start eating up a larger and larger portion of your firm’s time. You may start seeing unacceptably long delays in responding to potential clients or an uptick in missing or inaccurate information. Standardizing and streamlining your process can make this task more manageable as you grow.

Designing a Solid Intake Process

So how do you go about designing an intake process that will get you all the information you need and keep it organized? There are a few basic steps you can start to build from.

Define Your Criteria

Before you can design an intake process, you have to know what you’re looking for in new clients. Start by outlining in writing what sort of case you take and what your requirements are to accept a case (insurance coverage, severity of the injury, statute of limitations, etc.). It’s also a good idea to write down who your target audience is so you can use it as a guide. 

Determine What Information You’ll Gather

Once you know who your target audience is, it’s time to decide what information you want to get. Although you’ll need, at minimum, to get the potential client’s name and contact information, as well as their preferred method of contact, you may want to gather more information, too. Details about their case and any evidence or relevant documents they may have can make your initial investigation easier.

Design Intake Forms

Now that you know what your intake specialists will be looking for and what information they’ll gather, it’s time to design your intake forms. This is where you’ll have an opportunity to standardize your process and make sure it will work for your firm.

Decide where you’ll handle intake – through an online portal, over the phone, or in in-person interviews. You’ll need to design your intake forms based on which format you use. Online forms should be designed for client use, while in-person and phone forms can be geared toward your staff.

How to Implement Intake

Once you’ve designed your intake process, your next hurdle will be putting it into practice.

Train Your Staff

The first step toward implementation is training your staff on your new procedure. Start by educating your staff on the importance of the intake process and how it impacts client satisfaction. Once they understand why this new process is so important, they’ll be more likely to give it their best effort.

You’ll also want to spend some time setting clear expectations and roles for your team. Let everyone know exactly what they’ll be doing, give them access to plenty of training materials, and set up clear lines of communication so they can ask questions as they arise. Ensuring your staff has all the resources they need to succeed will make your intake implementation more successful.

Streamline Your Procedures

Once you’ve got your staff trained, it will be time to get your intake up and running and start working out the kinks in the system. You should have created a standardized process during the design stage, and this is when you’ll make sure those standards are being followed. You may also need to implement any automation procedures you’ll be using in your intake process.

As your intake machine gets up and rolling, check in with your intake specialists routinely and see how the process is working for them. Determine if you’re meeting your goals, and if not, make adjustments. With a little trial and error, you should get a system that runs smoothly and delivers the results you want.

Ensure Data Security

The other thing you’ll need to focus on during the early stages of intake implementation is data security. You’re responsible for making sure that your clients’ information remains confidential. As your intake machine starts running, you need to make sure your data security measures are working.

It’s also a good idea to spot-check your data to make sure it’s accurate. You don’t necessarily need to go through every piece of information you collect, but you need to make sure that your intake specialists are inputting information correctly and that your system is processing it appropriately.

Improving Your Intake Process

Even after your intake process is up and running, the work isn’t over. The road to success is paved with constant improvements, and you’ll need to keep striving for a better and better intake process. 

Set up systems that you can use to monitor your intake and make sure it’s working appropriately. You should check in with your intake specialists and make sure they aren’t running into any unresolved pain points. You may also want to request feedback from your clients to see how you can make them feel more comfortable during the intake process.

Provide an Amazing Client Experience

The key to keeping your client list growing is providing them with an amazing experience, and that starts with intake. Intake can present a lot of challenges, including inaccurate information and time constraints. But with the right process design, your intake can run smoothly, making it easier for you to grow your law firm.

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