Another year is ending and a new one is just around the corner. For lawyers, now is a great time to reflect on what’s working and what isn’t when it comes to current firm practices, specifically your prospective client intake procedures.

A little time spent reviewing and improving client screening and intake practices now could save you valuable time and help avoid unnecessary headaches in the New Year. Here’s what you should know:

Effective Client Screening Has Big Benefits

When it’s practiced consistently, good client screening can reduce the risk of engaging in representation with an undesirable client or on a matter inconsistent with the firm’s areas of expertise. No firm wants to get bogged down chasing unpaid bills or trying to attend to the needs of a high-maintenance client. With a well-developed initial client screening process, you can help avoid potential headaches and save time by capturing vital information.

Client Screening Template Resources

With client screening, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Templates available through most state bar associations can serve as a good starting point for the development of a firm’s own unique intake form. If you already have an existing form, compare these template to the one you have in place. Use them to refine and better your own process. While one size does not fit all, template forms still offer a great starting point to ensure that key questions are addressed and not forgotten.

Intake Form Questions to Ask

Ensure your client screening intake form fully addresses three key areas:

  • Motivation
  • Expectations
  • History

From the outset, it’s crucial to understand a prospective client’s motivation and expectations. A strong list of open-ended questions, such as “Knowing that there are no guarantees, what outcomes can you accept?” can provide valuable information. Here, responses that suggest a motivation of revenge or retribution should set off warning bells.

Prior history on the matter is also something to scrutinize. Inquire about prior representation to help get a sense as to whether the potential client will be difficult to satisfy. If a potential client has already been through three lawyers before contacting your firm, it could indicate unrealistic expectations or a payment-avoidance strategy. Either scenario is best avoided.

Client Interview Questions to Ask

The initial client interview offers another important opportunity to assess the fit and risk of a case and client with questions addressing:

  • Goals for representation
  • Practical expectations
  • Ability to pay

The interview is the time to let the prospective client talk, asking them open-ended questions and applying additional assessments of their responses. Try to understand what the client wants to accomplish by means of the representation. Listen carefully to their responses to gain insight into expectations and any underlying issues that could factor into the firm’s decision to take on the matter. Don’t discount a “gut feeling” about the prospect and make note whether the client appears truthful, consistent and cooperative.

The interview should also assess whether a client can afford the firm’s legal services. It’s simply due diligence to gauge the potential client’s reaction when discussing a reasonable estimate of fees and expenses.

Good Prospect Risk Assessment Is Worth the Effort

The little time you spend here at the end of the year reviewing and improving your client screening and intake practices can preclude many major problems for your firm down the road. Come January, you don’t want to find yourself saying “I knew this client was going to be trouble!” or “I knew I shouldn’t have taken this case!”

Instead, make sure your firm has an established, repeatable intake process. You’ll capture the important information you need to help avoid taking on undesirable clients or matters. Remember that a lawyer always has the right to decline a case or client.

With a thorough intake procedure, you can have a clear conscience knowing you’ve given every potential client and matter a fair evaluation.

 

Information provided by Attorney Protective is not intended as legal advice. This publication provides best practices for use in connection with general circumstances, and ordinarily does not address specific situations. These best practices are not intended to meet or establish the standard of care, and sometimes recommend practices that exceed the standard of care. Specific situations should be discussed with legal counsel licensed in the appropriate jurisdiction. By publishing practice and risk prevention tips, Attorney Protective neither implies nor provides any guarantee that claims can be prevented by use of the suggested practices. Though the contents of Attorney Protective’s Best Practice Database have been carefully researched, Attorney Protective makes no warranty as to the accuracy, applicability or timeliness of the content. Anyone wishing to reproduce any part of the Attorney Protective Best Practices Database content must request permission from Attorney Protective by calling 877-728-8776 or sending an email to erin.mccartney@attorneyprotective.com. Additionally the rules cited in the contents of this article may have since changed. You should check the laws and model rules in your state for specific information on the topics addressed here.