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’re acting 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.
Gathering Retained Client Information
Once the client has engaged the services of the attorney , it’s time to build on the trust and rapport you developed during the intake stage. Efficiently and accurately gathering the information needed to move forward with pleadings, discovery and other drafting is critical. Eliminating unforced errors is within our control, so putting up guard rails to reduce easily avoidable errors boosts the quality and consistency of our work.
At this stage, clients are focused on responsiveness, turnaround time and the quality of the work. They want to understand what’s going on and where they are in the process. Even if they don’t fully understand the work, they’ll notice if something looks strange to them.
It's that shift in priorities that happens once we formalize the attorney-client relationship that requires a different approach to information gathering.
Not surprisingly, many firms rely on their assistants and paralegals to collect information from new clients. Notes are collected during a brief phone call, or they rely on a back-and-forth chain of emails. That information is then synthesized and relayed to the attorneys.
For solos, we see fillable Word and PDF documents as the primary replacement for that human touchpoint. These documents essentially act as a client information sheet that the client downloads, adds their information and returns. Even though it’s common, it’s generally not a great experience for the client. That’s because these documents often break, or the client has trouble entering information into them because they lack the correct software, for example.
Similarly, most of the digital survey software that currently exists—like Google Forms or Typeform—tend to break down. That’s because they are generic rather than legal-specific, and don't allow us to be agile enough to address unique situations with clients. They're also tough to integrate with other software. That’s important, because one of the main benefits of collecting this information online is the ability to use it to seamlessly populate the documents you'll generate for your client.
The timing is right for a better way to do things.
Modern Tools: What to Look For
After you capture client data, it’s always available to add to any document you choose. It’s all automatically inserted after you choose the form or template and select the client in your Lawyaw dashboard.
One document that is common to most law offices is the fee agreement. After you add your fee agreement template, simply choose it and assign the client, by name. Lawyaw then adds all relevant client data directly to a draft copy of your fee agreement template. All inputs are highlighted for you to quickly check and edit, if necessary. Now the document is ready to generate.
Step Three: Begin generating all other necessary documents
When looking for client information gathering software, you’ll want to make sure it’s web-based. Not only does this make it easy for anyone in the firm to access it remotely, but it also means you can embed it on your website or send it as a link to a client.
These days, it’s also essential that online tools are mobile-friendly. Clients and attorneys alike seem to be spending more time responding to requests from their phones, so it’s essential to give them the ability to respond wherever they find some time. That’s key to improving the client experience.
Since clients may have a lot of distractions, the tool must give them the ability to save their work and comeback later to finish it. There is nothing worse than seeing that empty page and having to enter the same information again. Make sure you adopt tools that avoid those types of pain points.
A good solution should also give attorneys an easy way to review the information collected. Having the ability to login and review it before it is used in a document is an essential step in situations where typos could invalidate a document or lead to other embarrassment.
Finally, using the information gathered to populate and generate documents will save an enormous amount of time. Document generation tools need to go beyond mail merge-like functions because many of the documents at this stage need to preserve pronouns or insert more complex matter-specific information properly. These are the types of solutions Lawyaw provides with its document workflow solutions.
Remote information gathering tools can make things easier for you and your clients.
If your firm doesn’t have a process in place or the tools to collect client information remotely, there are many easy ways to get started. Not only will more efficient communication with your clients benefit you during COVID-19, it will help build relationships, improve the quality of your work, and improve the overall client experience. That’s a win-win situation.
Want to know more about how Lawyaw can help you streamline remote information gathering and document workflow automation?