Client Intake Forms: The Basics

Last week we discussed the New Client Experience and went over processes to use when first interacting with a potential client on the phone, in your office, or through an online channel.

The next, and one of the most critical steps to increase retention but also set your firm up for long term success is intake. Properly recording, tracking and measuring the information you collect during the intake process allows you to utilize your contact list in the future to generate repeat business and referrals.

Building your Intake Questionnaire(s)

For firms that serve multiple practice areas, first define the basic information you will need for any new client. This can include, but isn’t limited to: Full name, phone, email address, home address, birthday and whether or not they have already been represented, county where the matter occurred.

Next, determine the questions you’ll need for each individual practice area. This will result in a different intake questionnaire for each segment. Family Law, Divorce and Estate Planning questionnaires may include information about the spouse, children and assets, while Bankruptcy or Tax law may require financial data.

Bar Association Intake Forms & Resources

Balancing between too much information, and just enough to get started

We’ve all been to the doctor”s office and grumble when we’re handed a clipboard of 6 sheets we are required to fill out, have of which ask for information the office already has.

Don’t overburden your clients with lots of paperwork, but do make sure to collect the most valuable pieces of information that allow you to get a jump start on the work at hand without chasing the client.

Make sure you get paid

Including billing information, even if it’s just a credit card number or a stapled voided check. Doing so upfront can save you a world of time & headaches later.

Remember that you provide a valuable service, and asking for payment information before you start racking your brain and hours is a good business habit to adopt.

Should a client raise concern about the payment information required, you can assure them that they will not be charged until you have both mutually agreed on the services to be provided and terms of payment.

Extra credit: Limited Services Engagement Agreement or Consultation Disclaimer

Consider creating a one page supplement to your questionnaires, it may be a Limited Services Engagement Agreement, or just a short paragraph covering your relationship during the consultation phase. Using an umbrella agreement up front can protect you or help convert prospects into clients even faster.

Law firms who generate business through their website, will often use such language inside of the “Terms & Conditions” section of their client portal registration page so that they can move smoothly through the online consultation without worry or having to issue an agreement and slow down an excited potential client.

Delivery: In office, online or via email?

Experts recommend attorneys avoid exchanging paperwork via unsecured email. The use of a client portal to share an intake form, or handle the consultation through a series of messages can be a convenient and secure way to exchange information.

In office visitors should be greeted by a package of ready to go paperwork. Preparing for guests the day before they arrive allows you to collate the packages you’ll need for each meeting in advance, along with a pen that works.

The Checklist

An internal lifesaver and generally good practice, complete the intake process with a practice area or case type specific checklist.

This will ensure, that not only have you collected the critical information you need, but that the firm has also completed other imperative steps. Such as; conflict & jurisdiction checks, receipt of related documents and signed consultation disclaimers, engagement agreements or payment authorization forms.

The Canadian Law Society of British Columbia has an extensive list of law practice checklists for intake and various other procedures. (Some steps may not apply to US attorneys, please consider your local bar’s guidelines.)

Collect & Organize

Whether it’s an excel spreadsheet, or full featured Practice Management System keeping track of your clients, and the information you”ve gathered in digital form is imperative.

Carrying around stacks of folders, and digging through piles of paper every time you need to find a piece of information is not being organized. Having information available to you instantly via the web or mobile device will save time and lessen stress.

If entering the information into a system, or spreadsheet just doesn”t seem to be happening, stop the pattern and get some help. There are inexpensive tools, awesome and affordable on demand support services available for any size project, or amount of daily maintenance.

Analyze and Utilize Your Data

Data isn”t just a word used by techie people. Data is a set of facts, statistics and information collected together for reference or analysis.

Properly storing then sorting the information your business collects empowers you to make educated, and impactful business decisions. Once in digital form you can start playing with reports or sorting your clients & potential clients into groups and look for areas to dig into deeper with a specific accomplishment in mind.

Here’s a quick example of the process for a Family Law practice.

Example Goal: Grow the Divorce section of my practice through a targeted email campaign

  • Sort the master contact list into two segments, potential clients & current clients
  • Separate the potential clients into a list of their own.
  • Sort the potential client list by type of potential case identifying everyone who contacted the firm for a divorce consultations, questions or related pre-filing concerns
  • Separate this group from the master list, this will be your first group of potential clients to target.
  • Refine the list further based on the message you plan to send
  • Create your message & include something unique which can be traced back to your efforts. Example: Send to the selected group with a call to action, such as “Call # to schedule a free consultation”

Timing is everything

Effectively time your communications will impact the overall success of each message. Avoid send mistakes like sending a new business email on a Friday afternoon, or an overdue invoice reminder at 8am on Monday.

Identify optimal times such as the rise in Bankruptcy filings during tax return season, divorce filings after the holidays. Paying attention to seasonal opportunities and sending reminders, or offering consultations to those groups can help you maximize the impact of your efforts.

Measure, Refine & Repeat

These steps are not one time activities. Keeping a steady stream of traffic into your business requires continued, consistent effort.

Your first campaign or round of messages may garner a few new clients or cases, but by growing your lists and tailoring regular messages to each group will generate more first hand and referral business over time.

Other ways to utilize your current & potential client data

Announcements

Opening a new office? Hired a new associate? Expanding your service offerings or now offering new practice areas? Send messages to all of your contacts, or just the group who needs the update most.

Newsletters

Sending a newsletter to your list helps keep your law practice at the top of mind when legal needs arise.

Holiday or Seasonal Greetings

Use groups to send targeted marketing messages or offers; Small Business Legal Checkups, Trust & Estate Plan Review, Family Estate Plan Package, etc.

More Client Intake Advice

Do you have intake advice or a practice management tip to share? Please post it below!