5 Qualities That Define a World-Class Law Firm Intake Department

Imagine your marketing worked perfectly. Thanks to a well-produced and perfectly placed TV ad, a potential client with a high value case calls your firm to ask about representation. Your marketing taught the client that your firm has a great reputation, a proven ability to handle cases like theirs, and a drive to get them the settlement they deserve quickly. Now that they’re on the phone with your firm’s intake department, this case is as good as signed, right?

Not so fast. While a strong marketing strategy is essential to drawing new clients to your firm, without a world-class intake department you will miss out on some of your best cases. Why? Because of human errors, missed communication cues, and other small delays that add up to a mediocre intake experience.

Alternatively, a world-class intake department can not only help you engage and sign more high quality clients, but also provide long term insight into new kinds of valuable cases that will drive your firm’s future. In this post, I’ll describe the characteristics that set a world-class intake department apart from the forgettable crowd.

#1: Great Intake Departments Take Training Seriously

The stakes for intake are high. If you handle a caller with a good potential case well, chances are you will sign the case and make money down the road. If you don’t handle the call well, you will probably lose the case to a competitor. You are not likely to get a second chance. Once a case is in your office, you will have a much longer period of time to solve the problems and work the case to resolution. But first, you have to expertly handle intake—and that takes great training.

You cannot schedule when a high value intake call will come in, but you can train your staff to know what to say and do when the call happens. Ideally, you have dedicated, highly-trained intake specialists if you have enough volume to justify those positions. If not, you need to train anyone on your staff who might handle intakes to do so with professionalism, empathy, and attention to detail. This is a much harder proposition, but remember this: Intakes need to be seen not as interruptions, but as the most important thing a law firm does.

Even if you have a dedicated intake department, you will want to train some of your staff to handle overflow to ensure you continue to engage and sign high value clients. You also need a competent call center to handle phone calls, web inquiries, and chat leads that come in after hours. Shop around and get a service that understands and focuses on personal injury intakes. Don’t try to save money here. The cost of a good case slipping away will be measured in the thousands of dollars, dwarfing any savings you would gain by hiring a cheap but substandard service.

#2: Great Intake Departments Provide a Quality Experience for the Caller

The intake call is likely the first experience a potential client will have with your firm, and first impressions matter. I cannot begin to tell you the number of clients who have said it was the professionalism of our call center and receptionists from the very first call that put them at ease and made them want to sign with our firm.

Remember, you are probably not the only law firm the caller is considering, so your team should make every effort to treat the caller with empathy and respect. This can be as simple as saying, “I’m sorry that happened to you,” once a potential client has finished describing a personal injury or loss. Beyond listening with empathy, your intake staff needs to gain the caller’s confidence. Is your staff professional, do they ask good questions and get quality information? Good questions help gather key case details quickly and put the caller’s mind at ease because they are relevant and to the point. In addition, asking good questions can also give you information on whether you want to take the case.

#3: Great Intake Departments Easily Identify and Prioritize the Clients They Want

The kind of cases and clients you want are up to your firm to decide. That said, there are universal qualities that high quality clients share: they’re organized and motivated, possess strong evidence, and have the potential for a large settlement. Your intake department needs to know how to verify these details quickly on the initial intake call. Identifying cases you want in real time is necessary, but can be challenging. Our law firm can have 100 intake calls coming in most business days, often in rapid succession. We have to be organized and mobile to identify and sign the cases we want.

Because you don’t know when high value clients will call, you also need to be able to identify the priority inquiries you receive after hours, and respond immediately to them. Great cases can come in on nights and weekends, but the injured person is not likely to patiently wait for a return call. They’ll probably leave the same message with several law firms and sign up with the first firm to answer their questions and reassure them that they are the right choice. Speed of response matters outside of business hours, and knowing which cases are likely to be good ones allows you to focus on those instead of wasting energy chasing cases you don’t want.

Once your intake department identifies a case you want, you need to reassure the caller you are interested in the case and focus on signing them up. Potential clients want to know if they have a case, and whether the law firm is interested in representing them—so tell them so on the initial call if possible. If it takes too long for the client to get answers or if they have to wait on a call back, they are likely to call someone else. Many injured people will call three to four law firms until they get the first satisfactory experience. If you can gain their confidence and reassure them this is a case you want and are able to expertly handle, they usually will end their search and sign with you.

There are times, however, when you are not sure you want a case, and you need more information about the caller, the incident, or their insurance situation first. A great intake department excels at getting this information quickly so that you can make the decision on whether you want the case or not. Again, if you take too long or seem indecisive to your caller, you will probably lose most valuable cases. Those with bad cases will have a hard time finding someone to take their case, so they will likely still be waiting for you—but that’s not much consolation.

#4: Great Intake Departments Excel at Workflow Management

Intake at its heart is a business process—the more you can clarify which steps to take when and how to respond to different situations, the more cases you can handle and the more revenue you will earn. In short, great intake departments excel at workflow management.

There are a lot of moving parts when your intake team handles multiple calls a day and dozens of potential cases requiring different follow-up actions. Your intake team need to be able to clearly see what needs to be done on each potential case, when it needs to be done by, and who is accountable for doing it.  As a manager, you need to be able to recognize if follow-up action is drifting or delayed, and how to get on top of it and make sure it gets done right and on time. When all these things come together in a smooth and elegant intake workflow, you will show your incoming clients the urgency and focus they deserve by default.

#5: Great Intake Departments Find Cases Clients Didn’t Know They Have

One more reason to listen closely to your potential clients on intake calls is you can help them find cases they didn’t know existed. Sometimes callers call about one legal problem, but they also have another claim they would never find without your help. For example, recently someone called our firm complaining their landlord did not maintain their apartment in good condition, which was exacerbating respiratory problems. That apartment maintenance case wasn’t of interest to us, but our follow-up questions revealed the caller’s underlying respiratory problems were caused by mesothelioma. We signed the asbestos-related mesothelioma case and estimate that it will be worth over a million dollars.

The challenge with these hidden cases is they aren’t always easy to recognize. You need a combination of well-trained staff who will listen for the right terms on the phone, and smart legal software that can recognize keywords in case records and alert you to follow up. When we were unable to find software that did this, we developed our own intake software and designed it to do so by parceling out data. 

Finally, great intake departments need to be able to go back and search their databases to find cases that develop over time. For instance, when medical products like knee implants get recalled, mass torts can appear that could earn significant payouts for your clients after you’ve already spoken with them or taken their case. Your intake department needs to be able to search its records and find callers who have a good chance of meeting the criteria for the new mass tort opportunity. If we find that a mass tort exists for a type of knee implant, we can instantly search our records to find clients with knee injuries, knee surgeries, and/or knee replacements—and then market to them. That allows us to inexpensively find new cases that our clients didn’t even know they had without spending another dollar on ads.

Prioritize Intake to Power Your Firm’s Future

As your firm works to perfect your marketing strategy, you cannot neglect your intake team’s role in signing new clients. Invest in the training, practices, and technology you need for your intake department to fulfill its potential in growing your firm for the future. The result is the powerful one-two punch of marketing and intake working hand-in-hand to establish your firm’s reputation as the best in your jurisdiction.

A smoothly-running intake department can take your firm a long way, but it’s definitely not the end of the story in law firm efficiency. In my next post in this series, I’ll take a closer look at the art and science of running your cases better and faster.

Jim Farrin is CEO of GrowPath.  He is also Founder and President of the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin.  His law firm has recovered more than $750 million for more than 30,000 clients over the last 20 years.