6 Client Intake Mistakes Your Law Firm Needs to Avoid

11 minutes to read

In 1977, the US Supreme Court heard the case of Bates v. Arizona, attorneys were given the right to advertise, and lawyering has never been the same.

Ever since, it’s not been enough to simply practice law and hope a steady stream of clients will come to you.

Now it’s about being a business owner, a leader, a marketer.

It’s about ensuring that your clients choose you over your competitors and then, once they engage, that their experience with you is outstanding from beginning to end.

To do that, you need consistent, scalable processes. You need to get organized, track where your cases come from, and train your team to deliver that amazing experience.

And the intake team is the front line — the start of your business growth process.

So if you aren’t handling the intake process properly, it could be costing you clients and money.

Here are six law firm intake mistakes we see firms still making today, and what you need to be doing instead if you want to stay competitive.

In it we’ll cover:

Intake Mistake #1: You’re Still Relying On Paper Processes

Your law firm’s success is heavily dependent on how efficiently your team works. Wasting time on manual processes like paper intake means your team isn’t prioritizing more important tasks like following up with clients, analyzing campaign successes, or conducting case research.

And it means you’re wasting billable hours.

Let’s assume you represent a smaller firm handling 30 intake processes a month. Each time you run intake on a new client you have to:

  • Create the document or pull out a legal pad
  • Take down the prospective client’s name, number, and email
  • Note the details of the potential case
  • Transcribe most of the call, including what they need and what happened
  • Ask where they heard about your firm
  • Get off the phone and create a file for the client
  • Scan or transcribe documents, and add them to the file
  • Create a notes section for any additional information
  • Send the file off to the person who will be contacting them next

Even if the phone call only takes 20 or so minutes, your team could be wasting an hour or more on manual processes each time they pick up the phone.

How to fix this intake mistake:

It’s time to move your intake process into the 21st century.

Use software to streamline the intake process, such as a CRM (customer relationship management) tool, which can deliver your firm an average of $8.71 for every dollar spent.

In addition to saving time, a CRM or intake management tool can increase accuracy and give you access to critical data about your business.

A few legal-specific CRM tools to consider:

Intake Mistake #2: Your Intake Process Lacks Consistency

If you’ve ever studied statistics, you’ve likely heard about source bias.

It boils down to this: when you don’t use consistent methods to gather data, the answers can be skewed. 

For example, say you are trying to figure out what to get for dinner with two friends. You ask friend A, “What do you want for dinner?” and you ask friend B, “Do you want pizza or Thai for dinner?” Their answers are going to be impacted by how you phrased the question.

Similarly, imagine one member of your intake team asks prospects how they heard about your firm (in general), and another asks prospects if they heard of your firm via a social media ad campaign, word of mouth, or from a Google search.

The second question is both more specific and prompts your potential client’s memory, as well as giving you more specific, valuable data you can use to develop your law firm’s marketing strategy.

When multiple people are doing intake with different approaches or questions, you won’t have the same data for all prospective clients.

But it also means you might miss asking really critical questions such as, “How was your experience speaking with us? Did we provide value regarding the challenge you’re facing? What was the deciding factor in choosing us?”

These questions can make all the difference in understanding how best to improve your client’s experience, and get them talking to their friends about your firm.

How to fix this intake mistake:

What’s the fix to the inconsistent intake process?

Start by having a dedicated person to answer the phones. If you have longer office hours or a large practice, this might be two or three people, which is great. But make sure they all have the same training and understand why each step is important.

Your intake process checklist could include: 

  • Answer the phone using the firm’s full name.
  • Ask for the client’s name and number immediately so you can call back if you get cut off.
  • Have set questions for gathering information to determine if they are a good fit (these will vary by firm, target audience, and type of law you practice).
  • Spell out the firm’s website URL each time.
  • Give a firm call back time whenever possible so the lead knows when they can expect to hear from you (and don’t call another firm while they’re waiting).

Quick Tip: Ideally, your firm’s attorneys at law should not be responsible for following up with leads. It’s not the most efficient use of their time and isn’t scalable.

Your firm’s partners and attorneys should be leading and using their experience where it’s most useful (face-to-face client communication and trying cases).

Intake Mistake #3: Your Intake Process is Too Long

When was the last time you signed up for an email list?

How long did it take you? Today, these forms seem to fall into two main categories: Those that ask for a single email address, and those that ask for every detail under the sun.

Seriously, no one has the time or patience to fill out a 25-question form.

And your clients don’t want to either — especially if they haven’t even decided to choose you yet.

The goal of intake is to qualify clients, not keep them on the phone for an hour and a half. It’s not the best use of time for either of you.

The potential client needs to understand that you’re easy to work with, and if you have 50 questions on your intake questionnaire, you won’t be communicating that.

How to fix this intake mistake:

At intake, clients want to understand if you are able to help them, if you’re interested in helping them, and why they should choose your service.

That’s it. The rest can come later. 

When someone contacts your firm, there’s a good chance it’s on one of the worst days of their lives. Don’t interrogate them.

  • Only ask for information you need to qualify a lead.
  • Let them tell their story; don’t rush through your questions.
  • Show empathy — but make sure you get the information you need.

Intake Mistake #4: You Take Too Long to Follow Up

A study by The Rainmaker Institute found that clients who contacted a firm and promised a call back only heard back from those firms 48% of the time.

That means that 52% of legal firms never called back.

How can you expect to get hired if you never call prospective clients back? 

If someone fills out a form or calls your office, you can’t let them sit for two days. There’s a good chance they are going to go with the firm that they talk to first.

In fact, the longer you take to call back, the less likely you will be able to make contact at all, much less land the case.

Research shows if you don’t call a lead back in the first five minutes after they submit an online contact form, your conversion for contact and conversion for case drops by 72%:

That doesn’t necessarily mean you need a full team working overnights to call back clients who fill out a web form at 1am. But it does mean you need effective systems in place to ensure leads are always followed up with in a timely manner.

How to fix this intake mistake:

Have one person accountable for callbacks — and make sure they stay on top of calls.

Consider varying your call times to determine when your potential clients are most likely to be available. Is there a certain time of day you’re more likely to connect and get that lead on the phone? Is there a certain day of the week you’ve found to be the most responsive?

Experiment, document, and iterate.

Finally, don’t quit after just one call back. Be persistent. Aim for around seven attempts before calling it quits.

Automation can help you with that. The legal CRMs we shared above can also help you send automated, personalized emails — a great place to start when it comes to consistent, timely follow up.

Intake Mistake #5: You Aren’t Tracking Critical Data

One of the major issues with relying on a paper intake process is that you have no access to accurate data — data about where your clients tend to live, why they called you, or where they heard about you.

And that is a costly mistake. 

That data can tell you how your marketing is working or whether your brand is attracting the right kinds of clients.

Do you know your historical conversion rate on leads that become clients? Have you used that information to predict how many leads you need to fill your caseload for the next month? Are you aware of how many prospects are currently in the intake pipeline?

These questions help you work backward toward your goals. What will it take to meet them?

How can you create a strategy to double your firm’s caseload unless you know how many leads you’ll need to do it? And to answer that question, won’t you have to know at what rate you’re turning leads into clients?

You can’t drop the ball on intake data if you want your firm to grow.

How to fix this intake mistake:

In addition to using a digital intake tool, make sure you are asking the right questions and gathering the data you need.

For example, consider tracking:

  • Contact information (this is one of the biggest missed opportunities)
  • Average time from contact to first call
  • The average number of leads generated per day/week/month/quarter
  • Which cases are likely to meet specific qualifying criteria (potential case value, strength of case, etc.)
  • Who your target clients are — or who they should be based on which cases bring in the greatest amount of revenue

Make sure your staff understands how critical this data is to the future of your firm — without accurate data, you’ll be making critical business decisions based on your gut rather than quantifiable evidence.

Intake Mistake #6: You Are Not Differentiating Your Firm

Why should clients choose you over the hundreds of other firms that offer the same legal service?

Keep in mind that the intake process goes both ways — it’s when you qualify clients, but it is also when you need to convince prospects that you are the best firm for the job.

Your intake team should be focused exclusively on selling your firm to that prospective client. They should be laser-focused on getting them to come in and choose you above all other options.

Remember, you’re not the only firm out there:

(Image Source)

Your firm needs to differentiate from the other 1.3 million attorneys in the country.

Several years ago, a number of firms were asked about their intake process.

Do you know the most common response when they were asked why a client should hire their firm? 

“We have a lot of experience,” followed by, “We care about our clients.”

(Image Source)

If you are trying to use any of these differentiators — they don’t work.

As Crisp CEO Michael Mogill says in his bestselling book The Game-Changing Attorney:

“Your value propositions shouldn’t be based on things like price, services, or years of experience. That’s what everybody else says. If your firm has over three hundred years of combined experience, that’s great.

However, what happens when your competition has 301 years of combined experience? Does that make them better? If that’s what you’ve chosen to compete on, then the answer, at least in the eyes of your market, is yes.”

How to fix this intake mistake:

Instead, make your firm the obvious choice by focusing on those unique factors that truly set you apart. Share your backstory. Show who you are as a person and as a firm. Differentiate yourself from every other firm in your area.

One of the best ways to differentiate your firm is with a video that tells your story, like this one from Joseph Shannon at the Shannon Law Group:

This video empathizes — it shows how Joe understands the issues that his clients are facing. And it shares his reasons for practicing. It discusses his desire to champion the underdog and take care of his neighbors and community.

During the intake process, make sure the person answering your calls can provide at least two to three reasons why your firm is the best choice — and not just because you’ve been at it a long time.

Final Thoughts

Your law firm’s intake process can make or break your firm.

And when the intake process takes too long, doesn’t showcase how you stand above your competitors, or wastes precious time, your bottom line suffers.

Do you know how clients are treated when they call your firm? Find out. Call your own firm right now and see how the process is handled.

Does it go to a general voicemail? Ring and never get answered? Do you get promised a callback that never comes?

Here’s the thing — you can’t win the cases you never get. You can’t help the people who never hire you.

If an inefficient intake process is holding your firm back, it’s time to make some changes.

Are you ready to set your legal practice apart from the 1.3 million other attorneys out there?