Legal Intake: What to Know and How to Improve with Legal Tech
March 6, 2023
The legal client intake process is the initial step in the lawyer-client relationship. During this time, the attorney collects information from the client to determine if they can assist with the client’s legal matter. The intake process is crucial for gathering information about the client’s legal issue, assessing the case’s potential, and identifying potential conflicts of interest.
Typically, the legal client intake process at law firms follows a format like this:
- Initial Contact: The client contacts the law firm via phone, email or website form submission to request legal services.
- Screening: The intake team or attorney will screen the potential client to determine if their legal issue falls within the law firm’s area of expertise. The law firm may have a list of questions to understand the client’s legal needs.
- Conflict Check: The law firm will perform a conflict check to ensure they can represent the new client without any potential conflicts of interest.
- Intake Interview: If the legal team determines they can represent the client, they will conduct an intake interview. During the interview, the attorney or intake team will collect information about the client, including their personal information and background on the legal issue.
- Engagement Letter: After the intake interview, the law firm will send an engagement letter to the potential client outlining the terms of the representation, including the scope of the work, fees, and the lawyer’s responsibilities. The client must sign the engagement letter to initiate the attorney-client relationship.
- Case Assessment: Once the client has signed the engagement letter, the attorney will review the case details to determine its strength and the best course of action. The attorney may research the case and consult with other lawyers to develop a strategy for the client’s case.
- Ongoing Communication: Throughout the representation, the attorney will maintain regular communication with the client, informing them of the case’s progress and answering any questions or concerns.
In summary, the legal client intake process is the first step in establishing a relationship between the lawyer and the client. The intake process gathers information about the client’s legal matter, assesses the case’s potential, and determines whether the law firm can represent the client. By following a structured intake process, law firms can ensure they provide quality legal services to their clients.
Helpful tips for improving legal client intake
Improving a new client’s intake process means higher client satisfaction and more referrals to your firm. It’s easier to keep the attorney-client relationship on track than it is to overcome a poor first impression, so it’s important to get client intake right.
Here are some tips for improving legal client intake for attorneys:
Streamline the Intake Process: Simplify the intake process using standardized forms, checklists, and templates. A clear and organized process will make it easier for attorneys and intake staff to handle many client requests.
Smokeball has an extensive Legal Forms Library of over 20,000 jurisdiction and area-of-law-specific forms that clients can pull from to expedite the creation and filing of any legal documents.
We also created resources to help you map, streamline and scale your legal workflows by area of law:
Technology can help automate many aspects of the intake process, making it more efficient and effective. Consider using online forms, chatbots, or automated phone systems to help collect client information.
Ensure all intake staff are well-trained and knowledgeable about the firm’s legal services. Train them on the intake process, including asking the right questions and gathering essential client information.
Smokeball workflows are an ideal way to ensure the intake process is standardized for quality assurance. The documented process within your legal case management platform can also help onboard and train new legal staff.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Instead of only asking clients yes or no questions, ask open-ended questions to gather more detailed information about their legal matters. This approach will help attorneys assess the case’s strength and develop a more effective strategy for the client.
Personalize the Intake Process
Treat each client individually and personalize the intake process based on their needs. Listen carefully to their concerns and tailor the intake process to address their specific legal needs.
Respond promptly to client inquiries and keep them informed of the status of their case. Clients appreciate attorneys who are responsive and keep them informed throughout the legal process.
After the initial intake, follow up with clients to ensure they are satisfied with the services provided. This point of contact can help identify potential issues early on and prevent them from escalating.
By implementing these tips, attorneys can improve their legal client intake process, provide better service to their clients, and ultimately build a strong reputation for their firm.
What areas of the legal client intake process do attorneys need to be careful about?
Attorneys must be careful about several areas of the legal client intake process. Here are a few key areas to keep in mind:
Conflicts of Interest
Identifying potential conflicts of interest before taking on a new client is crucial. Failing to identify a conflict of interest can lead to ethical violations and potentially harm the client’s case. If there is a conflict of interest, the attorney may be unable to represent the client.
During the intake process, the attorney should ensure that the client understands the nature and scope of the attorney-client relationship, including the attorney-client privilege. Any information the client shares during the intake process is confidential and protected by the attorney-client privilege.
Scope of Representation
The attorney should ensure that the client understands the scope of the representation and what services the attorney will provide. This understanding includes the fees and expenses the client can expect to incur.
Attorneys should be careful only to take on cases that fall within their area of expertise and that they are competent to handle. Taking on a case outside of their area of law can lead to malpractice claims and harm to the client.
The attorney should communicate clearly with the client and inform them of their case status. Failure to communicate effectively can lead to misunderstandings, dissatisfaction, and potential ethical violations.
Overall, attorneys must be careful during intake to avoid potential ethical violations, protect their clients’ interests, and provide quality legal services.
The formal process of rejecting a potential legal client
Yes, if you find a conflict of interest or the needs of a potential client fall outside of your legal area of expertise, there is a formal process to reject a legal client.
The rejection process typically involves the following steps:
- Informing the Client: The attorney or law firm will inform the client that they cannot represent them. The attorney or law firm should clearly communicate the reason for the rejection to the client.
- Providing a Referral: The attorney or law firm may refer the client to another attorney or law firm to assist them with their legal matter.
- Returning any Documents: If the client has already provided documents or information to the attorney or law firm, they should return them to the client promptly.
- Protecting Confidentiality: The attorney or law firm should ensure that the client’s confidential information is protected and not disclosed to third parties.
- Avoiding Conflict of Interest: If the law firm or attorney has identified a potential conflict of interest, they should avoid the conflict of interest and protect the client’s interests.
- Following Ethical Guidelines: Attorneys and law firms must follow ethical guidelines when rejecting a potential client. These guidelines include ensuring that the rejection is not based on discriminatory factors such as race, gender, or sexual orientation.
Overall, the rejection process should be handled professionally and ethically. Attorneys and law firms should strive to provide alternative options and referrals to rejected clients where possible and protect the client’s confidential information.
How does legal technology improve the client intake process for law firms?
Technology can create a better client intake process for law firms in several ways, but it’s important to adopt technology that’s integrated with each other and has key automation features. Otherwise, your legal team will be working in disparate systems, still needing to execute all tasks manually, which does not help increase efficiency or save time. So, when you’re evaluating legal technology, make sure you look for a comprehensive case management platform that allows your team to tackle most legal tasks with fewer software licenses.
Download the complete guide to implementing or changing legal software here. >>
Online Intake Forms
Law firms can create online intake forms that clients can fill out and submit electronically, saving time and reducing errors compared to paper forms. Online intake also allows clients to complete the intake process at their convenience rather than having to schedule an appointment to meet with the attorney.
Legal software can automatically screen potential clients for conflicts of interest, service eligibility, and other factors. This automation can save time and reduce the risk of errors compared to manual screening.
Law firms can create client portals that allow clients to access information about their cases, communicate with the attorney, and view and sign documents online. Smokeball’s secure client communication portal, Communicate, boasts security superior to email yet provides a text-message-like interface to share files and documents and have cyber-secure conversations. This improved communication and transparency make it easier for clients to stay informed about the status of their cases.
Legal technology can manage documents associated with the intake process, such as client intake forms, engagement agreements, and other legal documents. Legal document management software can make organizing and accessing these documents more straightforward, reducing the risk of errors and improving efficiency. With Smokeball, document management becomes easy because documents are automatically saved to the relevant client file, whether they’re shared through email or the client communications portal. Everything is always in one place, accessible remotely on any device, when and where you need it.
Technology can help law firms streamline their intake processes, reduce errors, improve communication, and provide better client service. Law firms can use data analytics tools to analyze intake data and identify patterns, trends, and areas for improvement thereby can help law firms optimize their intake processes and provide better client service. By leveraging technology for better data insights, law firms can become more efficient, effective, and competitive in the legal landscape. For example, Smokeball’s Law Firm Insights can show legal teams which lead referral sources and cases are most lucrative, enabling smarter decision-making on where to spend the marketing budget and which clients to take on.
How does technology create a better client experience during the legal intake process?
Technology can create a better client experience in five key ways during the legal client intake process.
- Convenience: By providing online intake forms and client portals, clients can complete the intake process at their convenience rather than having to schedule an appointment to meet with the attorney. Law firms and their clients save time and reduce the need for in-person meetings, which can be especially important for clients with busy schedules or mobility challenges.
- Transparency: Client portals can provide clients with real-time access to information about their case, including the status of their case, upcoming appointments, and documents related to their case, which can help clients feel more informed and engaged in the legal process.
- Communication: Technology can improve the client-attorney relationship by making it easier for clients to communicate with their attorneys, whether through secure messaging systems (Smokeball’s Communicate), video conferencing (Smokeball’s integration with Zoom), or other tools like Microsoft Outlook.
- Personalization: By using data analytics tools, law firms can gain insights into clients’ needs and preferences, allowing them to tailor the intake process to their unique needs, enabling a more personalized and engaging client experience.
- Efficiency: By automating certain parts of the intake process, such as conflict checks and data entry, law firms can reduce the time it takes to complete the intake process, which can help reduce clients’ stress and anxiety associated with the legal process.
Overall, technology can help law firms create a more convenient, transparent, personalized, and efficient client experience during the legal client intake process. By improving the client experience, law firms can build stronger relationships with their clients and ultimately provide better service.
Legal Client Intake Trends
Several trends in legal client intake have emerged in recent years. If you still need to implement these, we recommend you do so. Leveraging legal technology will make the client intake process easier for your firm and optimize it to meet consumer-client expectations.
- Digital Intake to make it easy and painless for potential clients to fill out forms at their convenience.
- Chatbots to basic questions, collect client information, and schedule appointments, freeing up attorneys to focus on more complex legal issues.
- Data Analytics to glean insights about where attorneys and law firms should spend their time on cases and money regarding on marketing programs.
- Client Portals to securely communicate with legal clients and colleagues with ease.
- Artificial Intelligence to analyze intake forms and other client data to identify potential legal issues and suggest legal strategies.
- Mobile-Friendly Intake to make it easier for clients to complete the intake process from their smartphones or tablets.
From Intake to Onboarding to Winning
Overall, the trend in legal client intake is toward greater efficiency, convenience, and personalization. Law firms can optimize their intake processes and provide better client service by leveraging legal technology that provides a comprehensive case management experience with automation features and data analytics like Firm Insights. By implementing these legal technology trends and recommendations, law firms take the first step toward streamlining operations, reducing errors, and providing better service to their clients.
However, this is just the first step. Once a potential client becomes a retaining client, technology continues to support efficiency, productivity, and profitability, all while boosting attorneys’ job satisfaction and work-life balance. While firms have been adopting legal technology like wildfire since the start of the pandemic, Smokeball’s industry survey found that more technology doesn’t equal greater productivity. Choosing the right technology that allows you to integrate systems and automate tasks is where the real ROI comes in.
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