How much money are you spending on your law firm’s marketing efforts? Trying to catch a potential client’s attention when they need you. Trying to burn your brand into the backs of their minds. So what happens when those potential clients do call you, email, or initiate a chat online? How “over-prepared” is your law firm to convert them into a paying client?

A study of law firm intake processes around the country reveals some disturbing statistics about how many leads are slipping through the cracks. The ABA Law Practice Division’s Social Media, Legal Blogs, and Websites Committee placed hundreds of calls to law firms to evaluate their intake processes. In a nutshell, they found:

  • In more than 90 percent of cases, the prospective clients did not get to speak with an attorney when they contacted the firm.
  • In 42 percent of cases, the law firms took three or more days to respond to a voicemail or online contact from a potential client.

If you think your law firm may have holes in its intake system, don’t put off addressing the problems. Every call you miss is money down the drain (both in marketing dollars and potential cases). Take the time to shape this aspect of your customer service, and you’ll be glad you did.

Are There Pitfalls in Your Process?

You should have an idea of the path a potential client takes when calling, emailing, or initiating online contact with your firm. For example, the receptionist answers and takes basic information, letting the potential client know someone will contact them within 24 hours to review the details of their case. The receptionist immediately passes the case information to a paralegal, who contacts the potential client to conduct a prescreening and explain the next steps. If the case warrants a consultation, the paralegal immediately passes the information to the attorney for scheduling.

Whatever your process is, put that information into an intake checklist. Include expectations for turnaround time at each step. Review the checklist with your staff to ensure every person involved understands his or her role, and discuss any disconnects they may see, including who is responsible and response time expectations for responding to interest. You may even want to include the checklist with each case file to keep tabs on where delays may be occurring in the process.

Also, take a serious look at the calls you are missing. If you have call tracking for your marketing campaigns, most software will show how many calls you’ve missed. If the number is high on certain campaigns or days of the week, review the “rules” of your phone system to see where calls are directed. You may find that certain call tracking numbers are being sent elsewhere or not ringing through at all. Whatever the case, consider implementing a 4-ring rule, where the call goes to a live answering service so the potential client can at least speak with a real person, not a machine. Most web leads will move on as time passes and other law firms call them back.

Are You Documenting the Information You Need?

Whether you are still a pen-and-paper firm or have gone completely electronic, documentation is key to the intake process. Review the fields on your intake forms to ensure your staff is collecting the right information. If necessary, customize your forms to your different practice areas. Remember, staff are unlikely to ask a question if it’s not on the form, so include any questions you may need answered, particularly ones to help with conflict checks. Ideally, if you are recording on paper, you have a process for transferring to electronic filing systems (e.g., case intake/management software).

Think about intake forms as more than the initial step in a case.

Particularly with the abilities of customer relationship management (CRM) programs, you should make the most of the information you collect. Document where the leads come from, such as by asking how the caller heard about your firm. If possible, make notes about birthdays, upcoming doctor visits, etc., so you can add the personal touch of reaching out to clients during important times in their lives. Expanding on your intake process in this way can help you make improvements in other areas of your practice.

Is Your Goal Clearly Different from Your Potential Client’s Goal?

It’s common sense that your intake staff should be polite and professional, but is that enough? The ABA study found that in many cases, the feeling of empathy was clearly lacking in calls with potential clients. In fact, in a majority of the calls, the intake staff members never introduced themselves by name, and they often did not ask for the potential client’s name. Talk about making a person feel like a number! Your business’ long-term profitability and success is largely dependent on the energy and personality that answers your initial intake. First impressions are everything.

Your intake staff should be client-focused rather than attorney-focused. Yes, they need to get the information you need to make a decision about a potential case. But they should also be compassionate, try to answer questions, and give the caller helpful information. Potential clients should feel like they are getting something out of the interaction with you firm, rather than just answering a series of rattled-off questions. Often, showcasing empathy during this conversion is pivotal to the likelihood of signing that potential client.  

Is the Way You Turn Down a Case Coming Back to Bite You?

Of course, you are going to get leads that won’t turn into a case. How you deal with those people can show a lot about the overall level or service your firm provides. Many of the great client-focused law firms we work with have come up with systems for helping people they know they won’t represent. This may include providing a list of referrals to other attorneys, giving some basic instructions for filing a property damage claim, or simply explaining how the law may not be on their side in this case.

Why should you take the time to go the extra mile? Simple: Grow your stream of continuous introductions and referrals. Those people may not have a case now, but they could in the future. Or they could have family members or friends who will need a lawyer. If they feel like your staff took the time to talk and help, they are more likely to send business your way.    

Whatever you do, don’t ignore messages. Maybe you received a late-night message from a person who needed help outside your practice area. Maybe you could tell from the message the person doesn’t have a case. It seems like a waste of time to call them back, right? Wrong!

This goes back to being client-focused rather than attorney-focused. The person who left that message (and probably called a couple times after that) is distressed, worried, and now frustrated. They may not be able to talk to you, but they can talk to the whole world by leaving a negative review(s) of your firm online. It’s worth a return call just to avoid that type of payback. Your intake should take advantage of talking to the people who contact you and help to build a constant stream of referral opportunities for your firm.

Is It Time to Re-evaluate Your Intake?

The world of law firm intake is always changing, with new software and channels popping up all the time. Right now, we’re seeing law firms roll out texting as a way for potential clients to connect, chat live from your mobile website and regularly communicate after a case has been signed. It’s important to regularly review how your intake process is working so you can identify problems and ways to improve it.

Just as you would jump on a problem if your billing department had stopped sending bills and processing payments, you should treat it as if it is the lifeblood of your new business – because it is!


As Vice President of Business Development for Consultwebs, Tanner Jones oversees all business development opportunities for Consultwebs and its clients. He has the privilege of speaking with virtually every law firm that contacts Consultwebs and working with them to determine if and how they will be able to accomplish their goals from internet.


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