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.
3 Client Screening Tips for Lawyers
1. Find existing templates
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 your firm’s own unique intake form.
If you already have an existing form, compare these templates 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.
2. Create an intake form
When creating an intake form, ensure it addresses three key areas:
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 red flags.
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.
3. Interview clients
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.
Client Screening: Worth the Effort
The little time you spend reviewing and improving your client screening and intake practices can preclude many major problems for your firm down the road. In the future, 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, a lawyer always has the right to decline a case or client.
Information provided by Lockton Affinity is not intended as legal advice.