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What is it like to be a prospective client searching for legal representation?

For many, it’s arduous, frustrating, and fruitless.

At least that’s what an ABA committee found when they undertook a benchmark study for law firm intake. To understand the other side of legal intake, members of an ABA committee posed as prospective clients in hundreds of law firm phone calls. They also analyzed thousands of inbound phone calls to law firms across the country. What they found is a “shocking” lack of follow-up, leaving many prospective clients out in the cold without a path forward.

Prompt, effective legal intake is necessary to give people the legal representation they need. But it can be incredibly disruptive if every time a potential lead comes your way you have to drop everything to chase it.

That’s where automation can help.

Intake automation gives prospective clients the attention they deserve, while at the same time taking stress off of intake staff, reducing errors, and cutting out duplicate data entry.

To learn how to automate your own intake process, follow the 8 steps below:

1. Take it one step at a time.

Don’t try to completely automate your intake process in one go. Instead use an iterative process. Focus on steps that will provide the greatest service for your potential clients and will relieve bottlenecks in your intake staff.

Implement these changes one at a time, allowing you to test, double-check, and refine your efforts. A phased approach will allow you to track progress and identify errors more easily.

2. Create entry points to your intake funnel.

With the funnel model, you want to cast a wide net for potential clients. You can attract attention through a variety of ways: a strong website, helpful blog post, podcast guest appearance, newspaper article, social media post, digital advertisement, and more. Obviously, many who see or hear you won’t become your client. But a smaller subset will take a step further and initiate contact with you.

This first contact might be a phone call to your firm or your virtual intake assistants. But it could also begin with filling out an online lead form, where the potential client gives you their email address or phone number and requests more information. The form is a great way to gather contact information without requiring any extra work from your staff.

Not all of these contacts will be right for your firm. For those that aren’t a good fit, see step 7.

3. Establish your acceptance criteria.

Determine whether you can boil down your acceptance criteria into clear parameters. If so, you can qualify your leads within a fully-automated intake structure. Criteria to consider include:

  • Time frame—What statutes of limitations or deadlines do you need to consider in order to take on a case?
  • Area of law—What kinds of cases is your firm looking for, and which ones can you refer out to trusted experts?
  • Financial considerations — Will your client be able to pay your fee? If you’re paid on contingency, is the amount of damages likely to make it worth the time you and your staff will have to put into it?

4. Pursue leads automatically.

Chasing down leads is often the most time-consuming part of the intake process—not to mention the most tedious. Firms on average attempt contact 6 times before successfully signing a lead to representation.

Set up automatic chase attempts to stay on top of slow-moving leads with text messages and emails. Consider using custom message templates to keep the communications from becoming repetitive.

5. Gather more information with lead forms.

Even after you’ve qualified a lead, you need more information before you pass it on to an attorney. Instead of playing phone-tag with a potential client to track down the details, you can allow potential clients to input the information themselves.

Automatically send lead forms to qualified leads, and begin gathering information immediately. Design relevant lead forms for all of your firm’s practice areas, so all potential clients can rapidly deliver their case information to you. Include file upload fields so potential clients can send you photos, receipts, and all other documentation that will help build their case.

Lead forms allow potential clients to send information while it’s still fresh, instead of waiting for an appointment time with intake staff. They also give potential clients time to re-read and edit their responses, and pause to hunt down any details they need, which is more difficult on the phone or in person.

If they sign on as your client, all that information can automatically go into their case file, cutting duplicate data entry and helping you hit the ground running with their case.

6. Make it easy to sign on.

Your entire marketing and intake strategy leads toward new clients signing on with you. That being the case, it’s shocking how many law firms introduce friction into the process, requiring new clients to come to their office or print, scan, and email signing documents to them.

To make it easier on everyone involved, meet leads where they are: on their smartphones. If a case meets your criteria, you can automatically text them signing documents. Lead Docket integrates with the legal eSignature platform Vinesign, enabling you to achieve rapid signature response times and start moving forward on new cases.

7. Send unwanted leads to your referral network.

What about those unwanted leads from Step 2? Just because they don’t fit your practice area doesn’t mean you should ignore them. You can help them get qualified representation that better suits their needs, and collect referral fees while you’re at it.

Set up an automatic referral process for the leads that have been screened out of your intake process. With tools like Lead Docket, you can establish a preferred order for your referral partners—if the first on the list doesn’t accept within a given timeframe, it automatically moves to the next lawyer.

Another workflow that benefits from automation is referral tracking. Let your software track the status of cases you refer out, automatically requesting referral fees where it complies with the ethics rules governing your jurisdiction.

As the system follows up on tracking and collecting referral fees, you can free up support staff and ensure that referral fees don’t fall through the cracks.

8. Follow the data.

As you introduce new automations into your intake flow, track how they’re affecting your bottom line. Are you qualifying more leads? Are you generating more revenue from specific sources? How is that affecting your marketing ROI—as well as your total revenue?

Allow your data to guide your future decisions with intake automations. Lead Docket users can find valuable visual reports in the ‘revenue by marketing source’ graph, and hone their intake process to meet their financial goals.

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If you follow all these steps, you can reach a fully automated, contact-free intake system. But even if you implement only one or two of these steps, you’ll free up valuable time and help your new clients get the help they need faster.

To learn more about how automation can help your intake process move forward seamlessly, take a deeper look at Lead Docket today.