Your website is up and looking good. The bios are strong, the expertise and areas of practice are well explained and cross-linked, it’s running fast, and now the phones are ringing. You’ve attracted and landed a new corporate client with an interesting case, so let’s put a team together and get to work.
But, wait a minute, it seems like everyone has questions.
- Accounting wants to know where, when, and who to invoice. Any special fee arrangements?
- Your team leader asks who is the “real” client – the person who interviewed the firm, the general counsel, another in-house counsel, an insurance company, an operations manager, an accountant in the home office?
- There’s an urgent conference call tomorrow – can we attend; is the engagement letter signed?
- Marketing wants to send a thank you basket – who do we send it to; is that ok?
- We had a very similar case for a competitor of the new client – can we put the same people on it?
- Your team leader needs to know who is available for the project, now and six months from now.
The time, tasks, and decisions between that sweet moment when you get the call telling you that you have been selected and the time you actually get to doing legal work on the file is usually referred to as the intake process. It is important to the firm, the client, and the smooth progress of the case.
The original purpose of the intake meeting was to simply identify legal conflicts, sign an engagement letter, and get the client’s contact information; many firms still don’t do much more than that. Smokeball can not only help you streamline this basic information-gathering exercise, but use it to enhance case management, profitability, marketing, and trust-building.
Pitfalls and common mistakes
- Being disorganized. This is a very important meeting for the client, especially an individual, so treat it as such. Be organized in your approach, give enough time, avoid interruptions, etc.
- Failure to listen/talking too much.
- Assuming you know the case or its potential too soon.
- Not asking broad and open-ended questions.
- Paperwork. Don’t have the client fill out any more paperwork than is absolutely necessary. Use confidential, on-line forms that can automatically upload into Smokeball, sorting information into integrated, easily searchable custom fields.
- Inconsistency in the information gathered and saved. Smokeball’s automated client information tracking system ensures that information will be available throughout the case to everyone in the firm that needs to see it. Using Smokeball’s robust Document Automation features, critical information is entered once and is not subject to miscopying, misfiling, or mysterious mutations.
Examples of intake forms
These form examples are illustrative of a few points:
- Confidentiality – doing intake off of your public web site may give new clients a feeling of insecurity. Web sites are for marketing and communication, intake is a confidential, one-on-one undertaking. On-line forms avoid transcription errors and can upload automatically into your cloud-based law firm software, just be sure to provide them separately from the public website.
- Consistency – you can see how the various forms are subject to a variety of interpretations, similar information can be put in a number of different areas, etc.
- Incompleteness – they miss an opportunity to easily gather additional useful and even necessary information.
Enhance the process
Whether the intake/kick-off meeting is in person or remote, here are some ideas to enhance the experience for both the firm and the client.
- Confirm the client’s choice. Because this is a new relationship, both sides are looking for confirmation that their decision is a good one. The attorney might be wondering, “Is the case a good one; can they pay; are they telling me the whole story?” The client may be wondering, “Was this firm the best choice; are they organized and ready to go; what’s the plan for the case?” Filling out some forms is not going to help resolve these doubts. Preparation and allowing enough time for the meeting, on the other hand, can yield surprising results.
- Understand the nuances of who, how, when, and where to communicate.
- Get to know the client’s business in general terms, not just the aspects related to the case.
- Obtain information about future projects, contracts, disputes, etc.
- Obtain essential information about client policies, such as invoicing, gifts and entertainment, conflicts of interest (including representing competitors of the client, not technically a “legal” conflict), etc.
“We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Thomas A. Edison
Don’t miss a great opportunity to improve your law firm’s performance by doing a bit of work on the intake process – it could yield some long-lasting benefits.
Contact Smokeball today to get started on getting a great start with that new client.