Law firm intake staff are the first people to have contact with a client or potential client. A prospective client’s experience with intake staff sets the tone for the relationship and for all further communications. Therefore, you want to ensure that the intake staff sets you up for success, so you need to provide these pivotal members of your team with thorough and proper training on the intake process.
Defining the Intake Process
In law firms, the client intake process is necessary to onboard new clients and obtain the personal information required to open a case. The intake process includes attracting new clients to your firm and having them fill out an intake form to determine whether they are a good fit for your firm. Ultimately, the goal of this process is to persuade them to sign an engagement letter with the firm.
Client intake is time-consuming and expensive, and it can quickly become complicated, particularly in mass tort litigation where you’re handling a large volume of prospective clients. Having highly trained intake staff is often key to determining whether your law firm flourishes.
Why is the training process for intake staff so important?
Prospective clients may approach law firms with mistrust. When contacting a law firm, a prospect needs to immediately know that its staff will treat them with respect, honesty, and transparency because this will give them a preview of what to expect with their lawyer. An improperly trained intake staff can cause the intake process to go sideways quickly, resulting in your firm losing clients.
When it comes to training intake staff, your law firm should avoid taking shortcuts. Scrimping on proper training can not only lead to high employee turnover, but it could also result in losing the business of many prospective clients, which in turn costs your firm in lost revenues. Training processes set the standards and procedures for delivering the best services to clients from the outset.
Additionally, intake staff are more invested in a company when they believe it’s willing to invest in them. According to a LinkedIn workplace report, 94% of all employees report they would stay with a company longer if it trained them to help them learn and improve in their jobs.
Creating the Best Training Process
Your firm should take several steps to create the best training process for your intake staff, including:
- Designing the process
- Establishing the process
- Creating the forms
- Getting feedback from clients
- Getting feedback from staff
Designing the Process
The intake process includes numerous steps, all of which present potential challenges. A good intake process is clear to clients, efficient for intake staff, and effective in capturing data. Additionally, the intake process should be inviting and offer a personal touch to clients. A properly trained intake staff will know how to address challenges that arise throughout the intake process.
When different intake staff members handle different parts of the client intake process, confusion can arise over what is and isn’t complete, and data can get lost or relayed incorrectly. It’s crucial to have a central place online, such as a case management system, where your staff can make notes for each client. The company should train its staff to access this information and determine and carry out their responsibilities effectively. Also, your firm should decide how many intake staff members it’ll need for each step of the process.
When contemplating the design of your law firm’s intake process, consider the following:
Obtain the prospective client’s personal information
A prospective client usually contacts a law firm by phone, email, or an online contact form. The intake process should have procedures for documenting and dating each of these forms of contact, with the information going to a centralized, online file that intake staff can access.
Most firms have a contact page on their website where the client can leave their name, email, and phone number. Intake staff should respond to the prospect promptly after initial contact. An automatic tickler system can remind intake staff when to reach out and record the dates of contact.
Pre-screen the prospective client
During pre-screening, the law firm determines whether the client is an appropriate fit for the law firm. During the pre-screen phone call, intake staff should ask important questions, such as what happened, where it happened, and who caused it to happen. It’s also important to learn how the incident directly affected the client and what type of remedy they’re seeking.
Check for conflicts
Conflict checks are essential to prevent legal malpractice and can help avoid numerous headaches for the firm. Most firms can automate these checks but just need to acquire the opposing party’s name and other pertinent information. It’s also imperative to confirm that another attorney doesn’t currently represent your prospect to avoid dual representation issues.
Schedule an initial consultation
The next step is for an intake staff member to schedule an initial consultation with the prospective client. The intake staff is the face of the law firm at this stage, so this interaction is critical. Most clients who contact personal injury attorneys are under significant stress. Therefore, a company should train its intake staff to actively listen to the client with patience, compassion, and interest.
If the potential client feels rushed or unheard, they might be wary of hiring the firm to represent them. Law firms need to employ enough intake staff members to have ample time to communicate with each client. Otherwise, a prospective client might feel slighted and move on to the next firm.
Obtain and record relevant client information through an intake questionnaire
A new client questionnaire is a great way to consolidate all relevant information for a legal case in one place. Intake staff should also have a checklist for new clients, so they know exactly what’s expected of them to help build their case file. Law firm staff can use this list to determine and indicate to the client what information is still needed. Lastly, it’s helpful for intake staff to have one place online to make notes about each client during the onboarding process.
Prepare a fee agreement form and have the client sign an engagement letter
Most law firms have online, standard client agreement forms, which helps to make the process more efficient. Staff can tweak the forms according to the client’s circumstances or the firm’s preferences. Intake staff should be able to access these forms to understand each clients’ needs and the extent of the firm’s representation of them.
Provide transparent billing information to new clients
The final step of the intake process is providing new clients with information about billing, including when the firm sends invoices and how to pay them. Clear communication is important because clients need to feel that they’re being treated fairly and honestly regarding payment of fees. If your firm maintains a good relationship with the client throughout the billing process and other intake steps, there’s an increased likelihood that the client will refer your firm to others and bring in more business.
Establishing the Process
Once the design is complete, implement your strategy into a comprehensive training program for your intake staff. You can do this through videos, handbooks, online presentations, or in-person training. You know your firm’s culture, so you should use the approach that works best for your team. Create clear learning objectives and communicate your firm’s training goals and expected outcomes to staff.
Creating the Forms
Having a software-generated or made-from-scratch intake form to present to each prospective client as part of the intake process is essential to creating an effective and quality working relationship. The form helps determine the client-firm “fit” and gathers the necessary information to start a legal case. These forms can also help streamline the work, saving time and edits and providing a focus for the lawsuit and your services to the client. You’ll need to describe essential elements of the forms to intake staff so that they can access, interpret, and use the information accurately and efficiently.
Consider the following elements when creating an intake form for your law firm:
- Always ensure you’re asking for basic client information (e.g., name, address, contact information).
- Gather information about the client’s needs (i.e., Why are they reaching out to you? What do they need? How can you help them?).
- Receive information about the opposing party to the lawsuit to check for potential conflicts.
- Make sure your form is easy to follow, straightforward to complete, and not overly detailed or long, as that can be overwhelming for your prospect.
- If your form is digital (which might be easier for your firm to track, store, and input data), make sure it’s user-friendly and easy to navigate.
- Keep your form focused on the subject matter and avoid asking for information that isn’t relevant.
- Update your form as needed to make the process more effective or efficient.
Getting Feedback from Clients
After your firm creates and implements a client intake system, it’s imperative to get feedback from clients by asking the following questions:
- Did they find the experience pleasant, engaging, and informative?
- Did they feel that the intake staff treated them with honesty, transparency, and respect?
- Are there things that your firm could improve that would make the experience more positive?
- Was the firm responsive and transparent in communicating billing practices?
Getting Feedback from Staff
It’s important that your staff feels heard. Intake staff feedback throughout the process is crucial. Your firm should request honest input from its staff on what’s working and what needs improvement. For instance, ask the staff what the firm could do to bring in more clients or how the process could be more efficient.
Sometimes, it’s a clear fix. For example, if you haven’t hired enough intake staff, there might be delays in making initial client contact, and your team might be unable to take enough time during initial consultations to obtain important information from prospective clients. In that case, you’d need to hire more staff, according to your budget. However, other problems requiring fixing might take some more time to determine effective or practical solutions.
Encourage your intake staff to be up-front about the most challenging or frustrating aspects of the intake process. You may want to create a system for anonymous feedback to ensure full transparency. Then, use staff feedback to make changes that will improve the process so that your staff feels valued and continues to perform well.
Tips for Implementing Effective Training Processes for Intake Staff
A personal injury law firm can take numerous steps to better implement training processes for intake staff to improve its overall quality in servicing its clients. Hands-on training, specifically, is essential. Have your intake staff practice mock rounds through the entire intake process, from initial client contact and data gathering to client engagement letters and contracts and opening a new client file. Go through different scenarios with client situations. For example, create a client who distrusts lawyers and train the intake staff to address them with compassion and patience.
Software and products training is also critical. Train your intake staff to use the tools provided to make the process more efficient by communicating each tool’s purpose, how it works, and the problems it can solve.
Consider the following tips to effectively train your intake staff on your firm’s processes:
Being proactive with your intake process is crucial. By actively seeking continual input from your intake staff, you can ensure that you’re addressing problems early on and in a way that furthers your staff’s, your client’s, and your firm’s success. It’s not enough to simply gather feedback but find effective solutions to meet everyone’s needs best. When you’re proactive about growing and looking for ways to improve, you’ll ultimately help create a better system.
Use Business and Training Metrics
Your firm can use business and training metrics to evaluate the performance of the training process and its effect on the firm. For instance, you can gather data on conversion rates by comparing the total number of visitors to your firm’s website to how many of those visitors sign on as clients. Doing so can give you a good idea of the effectiveness of your firm’s intake process so that you can address any shortfalls in the current process that might be preventing prospects from becoming clients. You can then determine whether implementing new intake training increases your conversion rates as your team learns how to best serve your prospective clients.
Be Receptive to Feedback
Receiving feedback isn’t always easy, but it’s necessary to improve processes, develop skills, and avoid repeating mistakes. Therefore, being receptive to feedback, both from clients and intake staff, is crucial. The only way to ensure your intake methods are effective is to learn what works and what doesn’t for the integral people to the process. Always have checkpoints with your intake staff to determine areas of improvement.
Also, after working with clients, reach out for their thoughts and input. Look for trends to discover if there’s a consensus on anything that stands out, whether positively or negatively. Inquire about their experience and ask if they’re willing to recommend the firm to others or if they’d use your firm again. If they were satisfied, have them detail what was exemplary about the process. If not, ask what you could do to retain their business or acquire the business of people they know who might need your services.
Don’t just guess what you think your clients and intake staff want – find out from the sources themselves.
Practice Effective Communication
Having good communication skills and providing feedback to intake staff and clients is extremely important in managing your practice. Communication can be informal or formal, but all forms of effective communication begin with active listening. Actively listening to others involves digesting the message internally while externally paying attention to your body language, including maintaining level eye contact, avoiding crossed arms, facing the talker, and eliminating physical barriers or distractions to show your engagement in the conversation. As you focus on others’ perspectives and needs, you can better address existing problems and prevent future roadblocks in engagement and productivity.
With all feedback, be specific rather than general. Additionally, be sure to frame your conversations with an intent to improve systems rather than criticize individuals. Lastly, determine the best means of communication to reach your intake staff and promote learning. Provide an accommodating space for your team and clients to communicate with the firm and pay heed to your firm’s culture. You can practice effective communication for all by implementing clear goals, setting realistic and well-defined expectations, and offering positive reinforcement to empower rather than frustrate your staff.
Formalize the Process Using Tools
Law firms can benefit from using automation tools in their intake process. Automation tools can help:
- Make the intake process more organized and efficient
- Prevent duplicate data entries caused by human error
- Ensure a smooth and quick initial client experience (i.e., filling out online forms)
- Lead to higher attorney satisfaction because attorneys can devote more time to billable hours and less time to non-billable administrative tasks
- Decrease overhead costs, including staffing and other costs
- Improve communication with clients
Many companies sell software specifically for client intake at personal injury law firms handling mass tort litigation. Your team can also use automation throughout the intake process. Automating the initial consultation forms and other client contact and data compilation services can make the process more efficient. Clients can input their personal information, schedule online services, use customizable forms for client engagement letters and billing agreements, and provide their signature electronically for necessary document signing. Of course, if your firm implements automation tools, you will need to train your intake staff to use them properly.
Have a Clear Purpose
Clearly state the firm’s goals, expectations, and purpose to intake staff. The support staff will understand that the ultimate goal is to onboard more clients. Still, you should also explain the reasons behind the intake process design and its importance in solidifying conversions by making an impactful first impression. The client intake process is essentially the sales phase for a law firm. Without a proactive and unified intake staff, you might be losing potential monetary gains.
Figure Out Your Capacities
Your firm also needs to determine the capacities of your intake staff. For instance, you need to hire enough intake staff members to reach your firm’s goals and effectively serve your clients. An overworked intake staff tends to be less patient with prospective clients during the initial contact and consultation. Contrarily, if your intake staff feels they have ample time to devote to each prospect, they’ll likely convey patience and caring throughout the introductory and onboarding process.
Intake Staff Success Factors
Intake staff success factors should include measurable results, such as low turnover rates, glowing client feedback, reduced costs, and increased profits. Fortunately, many companies specialize in intake processes and have intake staff training and procedural implementation down to a science.
Case Works provides expert case management and development support for personal injury law firms. Case Works’ mass tort methodologies and intake processes can help your firm maximize efficiency throughout your client intake process. In addition, we offer bundled or individual services specifically tailored to your law firm’s needs.
Contact Case Works today to learn more about how we can help your law firm onboard new mass tort litigation clients.