If you’re opening your own law firm, or simply looking for tips on how to optimize your legal intake processes because you feel you might be lacking in that regard, then let’s establish the number one rule of legal intake: Being Prepared. The key to making sure that your legal intake goes smoothly is being prepared and having a systematic approach. Here are some things you should have in preparation for preparing a legal intake.
- A New Client Intake Form
- A Designated Phone Answering Protocol
- A Follow Up Plan of Action
The New Client Intake Form
Your new client intake form should ask the most important questions of your callers. The information you obtain from these answers is paramount in determining the progress of the case, and performing a legal intake will, in some instances, let you know whether or not you should pursue the matter further or let the caller know that he/she does not have a case. For example
If you are a Bankruptcy Attorney and your caller tells your receptionist that he/she would like to file for bankruptcy, you’ll need to ask how much money the caller earns, as this is an important determining factor for whether or not the caller must file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. If the caller’s answer indicates they make too much money, then you’ll know they have to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
Here are some surefire things you’ll want to include in your legal intake. You don’t need to use them all, but some of these are great pieces of information to have. Items marked with a * are our recommended mandatory information.
- Phone Number
- Email Address
- Reason For Calling
- Date the Incident Occurred
- Next Court Date
- Referral Source
- Best Callback Time
- Current Employment Status
- Mailing Address
You’ll need to get more specific based on the area of law that you practice, but these are the best pieces of information to obtain in order to get in contact with your callers.
Ensuring that you design a script that includes all of the pertinent questions to ask the caller is the first thing you should establish, especially if you are training an employee to handle the phones for your firm.
Designated Phone Answering Protocol
The first step in performing a legal intake is answering the ringing phone! That is why it is extremely important to have a designated person to answer the phone, but if you can’t afford to hire a designated receptionist yet, you still have options.
Forward your calls to your cell phone when you leave your office.
If you’re a busy solo practitioner and need to leave your office frequently, learn how to forward your calls to your cell phone when you leave (Call Forwarding Tutorials) so that you can answer the incoming calls even while outside of your office.
There are some drawbacks to forwarding calls to your cell phone, which include the dreaded “straight to voicemail” phone call that we’ve all experienced at one point in time. That’s why we’ve created this next step for you.
Hire an answering service that handles calls when you can’t.
If you can’t afford to hire a receptionist, then it’s clear that you need to get some new cases so that you can start to afford one! How do you do that? By capturing new clients! But how do you do that when you’re missing phone calls? An answering service! An answering service might seem like an additional expense at first, but if you think about it, an answering service is the most affordable way to capture new client cases while you’re just starting out your practice.
An answering service can capture new clients for you while you’re out of the office, make your firm’s image seem ultra-professional even without in-house support staff, and is more affordable than having a part time secretary while you get 24 hour phone coverage!
If you can afford a receptionist, great!
Train your receptionist in the art of handling your legal intake using the questions you have determined based on the areas of law that you practice. Your training should include your receptionist practicing with the intake form you designed. If you convert most clients by having them come into your office for a free consultation, you’ll want to train your receptionist to get your callers to agree on coming in for a free consultation!
Follow Up Plan of Action
You’re not going to immediately convert everyone who calls into your law firm. It’s just not going to happen that way. However, if you have an effective follow up plan you may be able to increase the number of callers you convert since you’ll be including those who don’t convert immediately into your new cases! Here are some ways you can strengthen your follow up game:
Send automatic email reminders!
You can use inexpensive email softwares like mailchimp, constant contact, or act-on to automate your emails to callers who don’t convert right away. Make sure this is a warm, friendly reminder that they called you for advice and that you’re there to help!
This can also be used to remind your callers that you need their signatures on paperwork, that their appointment is coming up, or that their court date is coming up! Remind them they can sign online, remind them where your office is located and what time you are meeting them, and remind them where the court is located, what time they have to be there, and what they should wear, respectively!
Have your receptionist make phone calls!
If you’re low on cases, making outbound phone calls to remind callers about their call to your office and seeing if they’d like to come in for a free consultation could end up benefitting your firm. You could even make follow up phone calls yourself! Using a personal touch is never a bad thing.
Email and Call Everyone!
If at first you don’t succeed… try, try again. If your callers don’t respond to your emails, call them! If they don’t respond to your calls, email them! Make sure you at least try to convert them into new clients.