According to the 2018 ABA tech report, a whopping 93% of law firms don't use any online intake. What’s more,71% of law firms don't have any formal intake process. When we surveyed Lawyaw users, we discovered that most firms are still using legal pads and email as their primary methods of capturing client information. We know there’s a better way.
It’s worth asking why small law firms haven’t widely embraced the many digital tools on the market for making legal work easier — especially considering that attorneys are pretty demanding customers.
At the same time, new technologies can also be useful in dispelling a common misconception among clients: That lawyers choose to be inefficient so they can bill more hours. Even if we know that our tried-and-true methods are rooted in a good-faith attempt to gather information and build trust, many clients prefer to see that we’reacting with their time and budget in mind.
The good news is that there are many smart, simple ways to improve efficiencies in client intake if you’re willing to try them.
Prospective Clients: More Than Just An Intake Form
First off, client information gathering falls under two big tents: prospective clients and clients.
When it comes to prospective clients, we’re truly at the relationship-building stage. They haven’t signed up yet, so we’re still screening, evaluating and doing conflict checks. There's extra sensitivity to a prospective client's value of time; if the attorney calls the client and spends a half-hour going through a list of questions, only to call back a few days later with additional questions, the client may view this as an inefficiency.
The value of a good framework here is that it helps strike the balance between streamlining the process and building a meaningful relationship with your potential client.
Traditionally, firms have thought about solving this stage by using a basic client intake form. These are helpful, but there are new tools that can save time at every stage of the process—from screening to fee agreement generation.
Most of the tools we’ve seen our customers use during the screening process can be categorized as “receptionist services,” such as Smith.ai and Ruby. These services have different features that can screen for various criteria, which then gets passed on to attorneys.
Another category of software that helps qualify incoming leads is chatbots. These are conversational tools that greet visitors on your website and do a light version of intake by asking questions to filter leads. Gideon and Lawdroid are two examples.
A quick and easy way to add some process to your screening is to use an online form to build a simple digital questionnaire. Google Forms, Typeform and JotForm are tools we’ve seen firms use to help screen and evaluate prospective clients. Lawyaw also has Questionnaire functionality that will allow you to gather information from clients that can be sent directly to the templates you store in our platform.
Fee Agreement Generation Tools
Once the screening process is complete, then it’s about building efficiencies into the generation of your fee agreements.
Most practice management and CRM platforms (Customer Relationship Management) have the ability to handle simple, mail merge-like functions where a contact can be dropped into a template. Clio Grow, PracticePanther and Lawmatics have features like this. But those platforms are really oriented toward broader areas of legal practice rather than focusing specifically on simplifying time-consuming document generation for small firms.
To go beyond elementary mail merge,many firms choose to adopt a document automation platform. Lawyaw’s solution offers you the ability to seamlessly move from client intake to document creation and then finish with built-in e-sign. You can gather information,generate a packet and send it out for signature with just a few clicks once you’ve got your templates and questionnaires set up.
Firms that benefit from adopting technology to improve the efficiency of client intake are growth-oriented. We’ve seen firms get a lot of value out of implementing technologies like these in working with prospective clients. Estate planning, immigration law, and family law are just a few examples of practices that we’ve seen benefit from both saving time and reducing errors, but there have been many other types of practices as well.