Like any other service-based business, your law firm needs strategic game plans to attract, onboard, and retain new clients. One such plan is your legal intake process: all the efforts you take from the moment a potential client contacts you with a case, to the point they convert to a new client.

A solid legal intake process can ensure a steady flow of revenue for your practice.

However, most law firms struggle to set up, much less maintain, one.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

Putting legal intake on the back burner can be devastating for your firm in the long run.

You can have the biggest rock star attorneys on your team, but it won’t matter if you fail to effectively onboard new clients.

If your workflow feels broken or inconsistent at any stage, it’s likely that you’ll lose leads.

To put it in perspective, consider this: 87% of those seeking legal representation hire the first lawyer they reach.

Every law firm already has some sort of a legal intake process in place. However, most of them aren’t getting it right.

Even if you believe that you have a solid framework in place, remember that there’s no such thing as a “perfect process.” There’s always room for improvement. 

Below, we’ve shared some tactical tips that can help you establish or improve your legal intake process:

1. Develop a Solid Qualification Process

Before anything else, you need to start by either creating an airtight lead qualification process or overhauling your existing one.

To be sure we’re on the same page, lead qualification is the initial screening process that helps you decide if it’s worth moving forward with a lead or not.

That decision mainly depends on one critical question: Is there a good chance that this lead will convert into a paying client?

Of course, a lot more goes into the qualification process than just chasing new cases (like asking yourself if you can truly help the client), but the underlying goal should be to increase conversions.

While there’s no single formula for setting up the perfect lead qualification process, we recommend experimenting with the following practices:

  • Create a questionnaire that helps determine if the lead is actively looking for legal assistance and willing to pay for it. 
  • Solidify clearly-defined rules for determining if a lead is a good fit based on the answers they provide.
  • Define the steps to be taken for both scenarios (rejecting and accepting leads), as well as moving things forward.

Document it all and share with your intake team.

2. Ask All the Necessary Questions

Asking the right questions of leads is an important part of the qualification process, which itself is a critical component of the legal intake process.

There are two main reasons for doing this:

  • Determining the likelihood of a conversion
  • Developing a firm understanding of the lead’s legal issue

Start off with the basics, such as their name, contact number, email address, etc., and then work your way up to the screening process.

Here’s a list of generic screening questions to put forth during that first phone call (including why they’re important):

  • How can I help you today? — this question, although simple, will make your firm seem more approachable and put the potentially stressed lead at ease. You need to show them that you’re there to help them out.
  • Can you tell me more about your case? — in most cases, leads will briefly share their reasons for contacting you right off the bat. From there, you need to probe further, collect vital details of their case, and get more visibility.
  • Have you ever worked with an attorney/law firm before? — this question can help reveal the person’s knowledge of how legal matters usually play out and how much you may need to educate them throughout their time with you.
  • What outcome are you looking to achieve? — this will help set realistic expectations from the beginning.
  • Do you require immediate legal assistance? — this will help you gauge how serious the client is about getting legal assistance and how soon you could/should begin. 

Train your staff to ask additional probing questions along the way (instead of simply following down a script) to get all the vital information you need.

3. Hire Bilingual Legal Intake Specialists

This is vital for onboarding as many clients as possible.

Your legal intake process should also account for non-English speaking leads to avoid losing them to your competitors.

For this purpose, whether you outsource to an answering service, build an in-house team, or a mix of both, make sure to hire bilingual staff.

You don’t have to (nor can you) hire linguists for every language that might be spoken in the U.S. However, you should consider hiring people who speak fluent Spanish, as it’s the second most common language spoken here. 

Finally, make sure that the caller has the option to select the language they’d like to speak in, so that their call may be routed to the bilingual specialist.

4. Be Available Around-the-Clock

Accidents, misfortunes, and epiphanies can happen at any time. 

Because of that, potential clients may contact you at any given moment. If they’re unable to reach your firm, they’ll just try one of your competitors. As a result, you should be available around-the-clock to cater to those leads.

Realistically, it’s not feasible for all firms and attorneys to have in-house specialists deal with prospects outside of regular business hours.

To fill this gap, consider hiring a third-party legal intake service that can take calls 24/7.

In addition to offering services around-the-clock, look for services that don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. They should be willing to work with you to create a custom experience based on the specific requirements of your law firm. 

Ask them about their processes, other firms they currently work with, and their success rate.

5. Build Rapport with the Person Who Calls

Considering the nature of their work, legal firms and attorneys have to work very closely with their clients.

Depending on the case, they may have to share personal information (even including sensitive details) with their attorneys. The way to build trust is to communicate with them in an approachable, polite, and genuine way right from the start.

In fact, according to the 2019 Legal Trends Report by Clio, 52% of leads won’t hire a law firm if the attorney they speak to isn’t “likable or friendly enough.”

All things considered, your legal intake specialists should strive to genuinely connect with your leads and hear their concerns.

The goal is to make them feel comfortable and confident when speaking with your staff.

Here are a few tips to instantly build rapport with your prospective clients:

  • Be genuine, friendly, and courteous when speaking with your leads. To get feedback, you can have your leads rate their calls.
  • Expand the conversation by asking probing questions. Not only will this help collect important information about their case, but it will also show them that you’re actively listening.
  • Completely (and to their satisfaction) answer any questions that they might have.
  • Be professional and show empathy (more on this later).

Even if a lead doesn’t convert into a paying client, you will have at least left a good impression on them.

6. Hire Someone Who Responds Quickly

Effective communication is key to getting more clients for your law firm (and retaining existing ones).

When it comes to legal intake, someone — whether in-house or outsourced — should always be available to quickly respond to phone calls and messages. 

Remember that many people who contact you may be impatient. They just want to get ahold of an attorney. Every second counts, so don’t make them wait too long.

This doesn’t apply only to that initial contact — you should also be swift in getting back to them with the next steps. If you take too long, they may end up contacting another firm.

According to the American Bar Association, 42% of leads have to wait 3 or more days to get a response from law firms.

That number implies that you have the opportunity to get an edge over competitor firms. 

7. Look for People Who Don’t Give Up Easily

All successful salespeople have grit. 

In other words, they don’t give up easily, are resilient, and don’t like to take no for an answer.

At the end of the day, legal client intake is a sales process.

Just like skilled sales folks in other industries, your legal intake professionals should do everything they can to convert a qualified lead into a paying client.

If qualified leads take too long to get back or don’t answer your calls, your staff shouldn’t just give up and wait for other prospects.

They should periodically follow up with them for a reasonable amount of time (depending on the case). Generally speaking, until they explicitly confirm that they’re no longer interested in pursuing their case or have found another firm, keep trying to get in touch.

8. Make Your Staff Empathetic

While all firms deal with clients looking for help, if you specialize in a practice area (such as personal injury or divorce law), almost every person that comes to you will be under stress and experiencing a range of emotions.

Considering that, it’s your intake specialist’s job to be empathetic.

They should have the emotional intelligence to put themselves in the shoes of the person on the other end and understand that they’re going through a difficult moment in their life.

The only way to do that is to listen to them, be courteous and respectful, and constantly reassure them that they’re in good hands.

9. Don’t Leave Leads Hanging

As hard as it may be to believe, a report by Clio revealed that 64% of law firms never respond to the leads that contact them.

Clearly, if you never return the calls of most of your prospects, you’ll have a hard time getting referrals…and staying in business.

You don’t want to be known as the law firm that leaves people hanging, so make sure that a staff member gets back to them as soon as possible. 

Even if a lead doesn’t qualify as a promising client, be upfront about it and let them know the reason(s) why you can’t serve them. A little bit of upfront honesty is preferable to radio silence.

10. Get Attorneys Involved

If you have a medical complication, you would prefer discussing it with an actual doctor.

Similarly, a person in need of legal assistance would be much comfortable speaking to an attorney about it.

Yet, according to ABA, less than 10% of leads speak to an actual attorney when they contact a law firm.

While it may not be realistic to have one of your attorneys handle calls all day, you should have them answer questions and evaluate leads as much as possible.

11. Leverage Automation Tools

Legal tech has come a long way and has interesting things in store for attorneys in the future.

When implemented correctly, you can use it to automate your day-to-day administrative and business tasks — including legal intake.

You can either opt for a standalone tool or look for a modern law practice management software (LMPS) that offers intake as a feature. These tools make it easier to collect lead information. 

Most LPMS also offer document automation tools, which make it easier to develop engagement agreements using templates.

Furthermore, consider integrating your intake system with a client relationship management (CRM) system. This will make it easier to track and manage your leads.

If you’re not sold, consider this: In 2020, law firms that used client intake and CRM solutions saw 20% more cases than those that didn’t.

12. Consistently Monitor Your Intake Process

Last but not least, make sure that you have a framework in place to monitor and assess your legal intake process.

Create an auditing process for intake calls that helps you evaluate the performance of your staff in real-time and provide constructive feedback.

If you’ve hired an answering service, make sure to get the recordings of the calls they have with your leads and audit them regularly for quality and consistency. 

Also, use data to gauge where your intake process stands. Some metrics you can use to assess the performance of your legal intake staff include:

  • Number of new consultation appointments made
  • Number of new cases opened
  • Time-to-respond
  • Call-to-case ratio (number of calls you take to the number of cases you open)
  • Cost per case

You can also use additional data points that you feel would make sense.

Ending Note

Taking the time to optimize or build a near-perfect legal intake process for your law firm can go a long way, both in your firm’s profitability and your clients’ satisfaction.

To summarize, you can guarantee better clients by:

  • Pre-screening leads right off the bat
  • Improving the workflows in between
  • Empowering the staff responsible for legal intake
  • Being empathetic, genuine, and efficient
  • Using technology to your advantage

Before you know it, you’ll have more open cases than you can handle.