The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” can certainly be applied to your firm’s intake procedures. If you get it right on the front end, you won’t have to withdraw from a case you should never have taken in the first place. It is important to write down procedures with specific steps to follow for every potential new client.
When a potential new client calls, the firm employee should obtain sufficient detail from the individual to run a conflict check and to provide enough information for the attorneys to decide if it is a case they can take. At a minimum, the employee will want to get the potential client’s name, email, phone number, a statement of the nature of the case, and the names of any involved parties, particularly any adverse parties.
During this call, the employee should also explain the consultation process, fees for same (if applicable), and the need to complete a conflict check. If the situation warrants, the staff should inform the potential client that no attorney-client relationship will be formed until a conflict check clears, AND an attorney has reviewed the relevant information and determined he can offer legal services.
Initially, the names of all parties should be searched through all firm systems to determine if there is any conflict. Then, email the conflict information, including a brief description of the matter, to all firm attorneys to determine if anyone has a conflict. Each attorney should respond to the email with either “no conflict” or by confirming a conflict exists and what that conflict is. Save responsive emails to the potential client’s file.
If the conflict check clears, and the lawyer believes the matter is one the firm may accept, the employee should then contact the potential client to set up the consultation. We recommend having an initial attorney-client consultation before offering services, though it is not specifically required by the ethics rules. If, during the consultation or any point thereafter, the client mentions additional parties, the assigned attorney should check those names for conflicts as well.
If there is a disqualifying conflict during the initial conflict check, the employee should contact the potential client, indicate the firm is unable to assist, and, if possible, provide a referral to another firm or attorney.
Additionally, your intake staff also functions as a gatekeeper. They are on the front lines and can get a sense of the potential client from initial conversations. This evaluation relies on the firm employee to use knowledge of the firm coupled with their experience as well as their instincts to determine whether they believe the potential client is a good fit for the firm. The intake staff may sense that the potential client is high maintenance or has unrealistic expectations. This insight is invaluable and may help the firm’s attorneys determine whether to offer services or how to manage the would-be client’s expectations.
Firm employees should receive training relative to the intake process and the attorney’s obligations under the Rules of Professional Conduct. You should have written guidelines regarding what can and should be said in the initial call, as well as what should not be said. The staff needs to be careful not to provide legal advice. Many times, potential clients will pepper the intake firm employee with legal questions and try to push them to answer. The firm employee must decline to answer and firmly state they are not an attorney and cannot provide any legal advice.
Another pitfall for firm employees is making promises about the outcome of the potential matter. It’s human nature to want to reassure a potential client; however, the employee must resist and urge the caller to discuss the matter with the attorney.
The best way to ensure staff consistently follows intake procedures is to use a client intake form, which includes spaces for all the pertinent information and a checklist for each stage of the new client intake process.
Training, education, and supervision of your staff are the keys to a successful intake. We are happy to assist you with training or putting together your new client intake process and the accompanying documentation.