To Sign or Not to Sign? How to Assess Which Cases Your Firm Should Accept
Law firms receive calls from prospective clients daily. When the phone rings and a person is looking for legal assistance, you need to be able to quickly assess whether your firm can help the caller and also whether your firm should take the case. The can portion is mostly dictated by your firm’s professional ability and capacity, as well as the applicable law. Do you have the legal expertise on staff to handle that type of case? Do you have the bandwidth and resources to devote to it? Is the potential case viable under existing law? And the should portion is usually determined by an assessment of the value of the case and whether you can expect to achieve a reasonable return on your investment of time, money, and effort.
Determining the Potential Value of a Case
How do you assess the value of a case before you sign it? Your case value assessment process should have both an objective and a subjective component. You need technology that prompts your team to ask the right questions and then impartially analyzes the answers they input. And you also need a defined process that guides your intake specialists to look and listen for important information, as well as identify red flags. In this article, we will provide both.
How Technology Can Help You Assess Your Intakes
“The most important things in a law firm are intakes.” These words were spoken by GrowPath’s Chief Innovation Officer and Co-Founder Eric Sanchez in his intakes masterclass How to Convert More Callers to Clients.
Eric designed GrowPath’s arsenal of intake tools to optimize the case management assessment process and help law firms evaluate intakes accurately and sign the ones they want on the spot. These tools include:
- Smart questionnaires which provide the person taking the initial call with the right questions to ask, eliminate irrelevant questions, and populate additional follow-up questions in a logical fashion
- A Lead Scoring Tool which assigns a lead score based on the answers to the intake questions and customized criteria for the law firm and prompts the intake specialist on proper next steps, such as patching the prospective client through to an attorney or signing the client immediately
- BuzzwordsTM pop-ups which alert intake staff to possible new cases and lucrative mass torts and prompt follow-up questions when customized trigger words are entered
- Text and e-sign retainers which allow intake staff to sign clients mid-call via text or email
Hopefully, you can rely on your case management software to facilitate your firm’s case management assessment techniques. If not, we suggest that you seriously consider contacting us so we can demonstrate GrowPath’s groundbreaking abilities.
Six Steps for Assessing Whether or Not to Take a Case
In addition to relying on technology, you must have a process in place to help your intake staff assess potential cases as the calls come in. We spoke with Mike Jordan, who leads the intakes team at one of the most profitable personal injury firms in the US, and he outlined six steps that his firm follows when determining whether or not to take a case. These non-sequential steps can serve as a checklist for anyone taking intake calls because they provide valuable information needed when deciding whether or not to sign a case. We also encourage you to listen to the Reaching the Right Prospects podcast in which GrowPath Co-Founders Jim Farrin and Eric Sanchez provide insights on how to turn the cases you want into signed cases.
Step 1 – Define the type of case.
First and foremost, you need to find out relevant information about the type of case because each type of case has a different protocol in how it should be handled. Is it an auto wreck? Is it a dog bite case? Is it medical malpractice case? Is it a slip-and-fall case? Is it a case that involves multiple areas of law such as Social Security Disability and workers’ comp? Once the type of case is defined, ask questions that will establish details and a fact pattern. For example, with a car accident case, were multiple cars involved, did it involve serious injuries, what time of day did it occur? (In the following steps, we will simplify the discussion by assuming we are assessing a car accident case between two male drivers.)
Technology can help here. Does your case management system have smart questionnaires that will prompt you to ask a car crash victim if they were driving for work? Does it have pop-ups that prompt your intake specialists to ask additional questions if the caller mentions an illness that may be tied to a mass tort case? GrowPath does.
Step 2 – Look at liability.
It is important to get a handle on how clear liability is in the case. If you are in a contributory negligence state, such as North Carolina, you can rarely win the case if the potential client is at fault, even 1%. Have your intake specialist listen closely to the caller’s story for indications of who may be liable to discern whether he may share some of the fault. Also look for clues about liability in the police report. Train your intake team to read between the lines and make reasoned assumptions.
Step 3 – Analyze potential coverage and recovery options.
The police report also provides valuable information about the other driver, the car he drives, and the potential recovery value of the case. Social media (Facebook, Zillow, LinkedIn, etc.) is a rich source of information, as well. Your intake specialist can make assumptions about what types of insurance and coverage the defendant may have based on the type and age of car involved and his residence. Does he drive a shiny new BMW and live in a mega-mansion on the golf course or does he drive a 10-year old Kia and live in a single-wide in a trailer park? Defendants living in expensive homes and driving luxury cars tend to have better coverage and resources. It also helps to check pending criminal charges and prior convictions for both the potential client and the opposing party. Encourage your intake staff to do this online research and draw reasonable conclusions about each caller’s recovery options.
Step 4 – Research your potential client.
Your intake staff should search on social media sites and peruse the police report for insights about the caller as well. When speaking to a potential client, an intake specialist should ask about car insurance policy limits and any additional policies that may apply, such as underinsured motorist coverage (UIM), medical payments coverage, or personal injury protection (PIP). Health insurance and medical providers will get paid first out of any settlement so you need to get a picture of what obligations are out there. Instruct your intake staff to explain how health insurance liens work and inquire about health insurance coverage. These factors impact the compensation a potential client can expect from the case, and that should factor into any decision about taking on a case.
Check out this client intake checklist that will help guide you through the intake assessment process.
Step 5 – Review the potential value of the damages.
Your firm exists to help people – and turn a profit. Each case must be worth a certain amount of money for you to spend your firm’s time and resources on it. Instruct your intake team to ask about all the harms and losses each caller has suffered. In our car accident example, the intake person should ascertain what the caller’s needs are. How serious are his injuries? Does he need surgery or rehab? How long will he be out of work? Is he already on Disability? Answers to these questions will help determine the potential value of the case.
Hopefully your case management system can assist your intake team with this step. For example, GrowPath’s smart questionnaires guide intake specialists to ask relevant questions that provide the information needed to value the case. And then its Lead Scoring Tool analyzes the caller’s responses and assigns a score based on your firm’s criteria. Your intake team knows immediately when to sign a case.
Step 6 – Understand any causation issues.
It is important to learn about any complicating factors regarding causation. It’s not always a simple equation, such as Driver A’s back was injured when Driver B ran a red light and hit his car. What if Driver A had been in a wreck the prior month? Now you could potentially have two insurance providers arguing over which policy should pay. Or what if Driver A has had on-going back issues since childhood? Now you are dealing with a past medical history defense. A solid understanding of causation issues should be factored in when assessing whether or not to take the case.
Following these six steps will provide your intake staff with the information needed to decide whether it’s worth your firm’s investment of time, effort, and money to take the case.
Red Flags That You Should Not Take a Case
Many firms do not pay enough attention to the warning signs that a case may not be worth taking. Here is where you must rely a bit more on subjective factors. Listen to the people on your intake team and weigh their instincts as valid input. We have listed some red flags to watch for that may indicate that your firm should not take a case.
Questionable Character of the Potential Client
A great question intake attorneys should ask themselves when speaking with potential clients is: “Would I be comfortable sitting next to this person in trial and representing him in front of a jury?” You don’t want (or need) a dishonest or unreasonable client.
Examples of things to take note of during the intake call:
- The caller complains of being poor, yet you notice exotic vacation Facebook posts
- The caller treats you or your staff rudely or has an entitled manner
- The caller seems bent on seeking revenge versus just compensation
- The caller has unreasonable expectations of the outcome of the case
- The caller has jumped from law firm to law firm
- The caller has an extensive criminal history that will undermine their credibility
- The caller misrepresents injuries or other basic facts to you
These are all warning flags that the caller will be difficult to work with and represent.
Multiple Injured Parties
If the case involves multiple injured parties, look at the injury codes on the police report to see how significant the injuries of all involved parties are. Multiple injured parties translates to multiple insurance company claims, which can drag out a case and lessen potential compensation for each individual victim. There are other non-profit-oriented reasons to take cases, but you should be aware of the facts of the case so you can make an informed decision.
Questionable Liability and Potential for Recovery
Information gathered in the intake call gives you a snapshot of the case. Counsel your intake team to listen carefully to the caller for consistency of story and ask questions about potential recovery sources. If liability and potential for recovery are questionable, think twice before taking the case.
You may still want to take the case if the injuries are significant and the story is compelling. But after signing, you should triage the case and dig deeply into the facts of the case, the defendant, and your client. If you discover information that weakens the chances of a successful resolution, consider withdrawing.
Intakes are the lifeblood of a law firm. Once you decide which intakes you want to take, the next step is to convert that intake call into a client. GrowPath can help with that, too!