Better Ways to Gather Information from Clients (Part 1)

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Whether during pre-screening, intake, or representation your firm will request a lot of information from potential and current clients. There are many tools that can help streamline the process, allow you to gather information efficiently and securely, trigger workflows and let you re-use information so you do not waste time re-keying information to generate documents. So what are they and where do they fit in with your practice? Part 1 examines your workflow and the tools that can help you manage information when working with potential clients.

Potential Clients

Client intake is an opportunity for attorneys to begin checking for conflicts, to gather data to make sure the client is a good fit, and, most importantly, to start building rapport with the client. The workflow starts from how they find you – Call? Email? “Contact Us” form on your website? It may be helpful to map the process to ensure that your firm has a system to contact the potential clients immediately and pre-screen to make sure they are a good fit.

Pre-screening and Initial Interview

Pre-screening questions may include determining if the matter is something your firm handles, whether the potential client has previously hired a lawyer (or fired a lawyer) for this matter, whether they can afford your services, whether there is a statute of limitations pending, and assess their expectations. Pre-screening includes some intuition, so a phone call or video conference may be the best approach.  Be clear in all communication that you do not yet represent the person.  If the client seems like a good fit for your practice you can run a conflict check. If they do not seem a good fit for your practice or there is a conflict you will send a non-engagement letter.  If they do not present a conflict and seem like a good potential client, you can move forward with scheduling an intake consultation. You may choose to send an intake questionnaire in advance of the consultation. You may be having the consultation via video conferencing or in person. Based on the new opinion from the ABA Formal Opinion 492, NC RPC 1.18 Duties to Prospective Clients, RPC 246 (1997) Duty of Confidentiality Owed to Prospective Client and NC 2006 Formal Ethics Opinion 14 Payment of Fee for Consultation, law firms should limit what information is gathered from a prospective client.

Once you have discussed the matter with the client you will send an engagement agreement that details fees, communications and how you will work together. Once signed they will move from potential client to client!

All these touch points with the potential client represent an opportunity to communicate, to gain their trust and add value. They also require that you gather information. How you gather that information will help you move through the workflow with as little re-keying of information as possible, as well as providing documentation. What tools can help make this process easy for you AND your client?

Technology for Intake

Many practice management applications have CRM (client relationship management) features. Some with built in CRM features include PracticePanther, ZolaSuite, MyCase, and RocketMatter. Clio Grow is a Clio product that integrates with Clio Manage. Lawmatics is a stand-alone CRM that integrates with practice management applications. These features and products are purpose built to help firms establish a workflow for potential clients, create forms, and capture information that can be re-used in the practice management application including generation of documents like non-engagement letters, fee agreements and other initial documents. They capture the information so that the firm’s marketing lists are more robust. Many include e-signing tools to make it easy to capture a signature from a client who may not have access to a printer. Some have scheduling tools to make it easy for a client to book time on your calendar. Automating the workflow also keep the process moving forward.

Alternatives to a CRM application for client intake could include using tools like Intake123 or Community.lawyer to create intake forms or interviews online. These tools help collect data, generate documents, and integrate with practice management applications like Clio Manage or via Zapier to other practice management applications so you can automatically add information into the database. You could gather information using live chat via a service like Smith.ai on your website or a chat bot like LawDroid.

Low Cost Options

Of course, there is a cost to many of these options. If your budget is tight, examine your workflow and see how you can add some automation and efficiency. For instance, if your website “Contact Us” form sends you an email you could create an email rule that auto-responds with a link to your “schedule a consultation” with additional questions for pre-screening. Once you have the information and the consultation booked take the information and put it into your time/billing application as a potential client and check for conflicts. During the consultation you can add the information you gather into your client database, a spreadsheet, a practice management application, or time/billing/accounting system. You can generate letters (non-engagement, engagement, fee agreement, etc.) with the information pulled from your existing software via an export to Excel (if the product does not offer document assembly) and use MS Word’s mail merge to generate the document with variables filled in, instead of re-keying the information.

Conclusion

There are many tools on the market for lawyers to help streamline your pre-screening and client intake process, while capturing information in such a way that it becomes business intelligence so you can run conflicts, capture leads, generate documents, and start working on the matter. Identifying your current workflow, where it breaks down and where it bottlenecks is key to identifying where you can add technology to help and establish return on investment for the tools you may purchase. The Lawyerist has an excellent overview on client intake.

Part 2 of “Gathering Information from Clients” focuses on working with your clients to securely and easily collect information that is necessary for the representation.