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Good client intake is like a good handshake. Both people can feel something from the beginning.
Back in the day, a firm grip might suggest a strong constitution and commitment. People were as good as their word. Today, however, client intake is not about handshakes. It includes intake forms, engagement letters, and fee agreements. It is harder to discern if the client relationship is a good fit.
What does your gut tell you?
The initial client interview is literally a job interview. The client is the employer, and the lawyer wants the job. But good intake should apply some scrutiny all around. It's time to ask: Is this a good fit?
"You need to look for signs of problem clients, especially clients who are shopping for their third or fourth attorney," says FindLaw's William Peacock. "You need to consider whether you can handle the case — is it an unfamiliar practice area or niche issue?" Sometimes, the best case is the one you don't take. That's because problem clients are not worth it, such as those who are:
Take stock of the scope of work and the client relationship to see if it is suitable for your practice. Think about the dream clients you have had in the past. Does this new client remind you of them? Or do they have any red flags similar to problematic past clients?
But even with the best clients, you should have proper forms to help with the client matter and define the scope of the relationship. The forms help set expectations between the client and the attorney.
When it comes to new clients, intake forms, engagement letters, and fee agreements can help with that. Law firm management companies and websites offer forms you can tailor to your practice. You may also find them on your state bar's law office management website.
A good intake form should require enough information to represent a client adequately. Name, address, phone number, and email are essential, but more is better. The form should require a mix of personal and matter-specific information. A reference, like an employer, would be best. That way, you can check for bona fides.
However, keep in mind that an extensive form may overwhelm a potential client. Look for a good balance to get the information you need.
Engagement letters define the relationship between attorney and client. A comprehensive engagement letter should include:
If there is a situation where you decline representation, you might want to put that in a letter to avoid misunderstandings.
The best way to avoid client fee disputes is to have a detailed fee agreement. Review it with your client and have them sign it to acknowledge their understanding. Your fee agreement could address:
You can manage your clients and their cases with good intuition and documentation. Proper intake of client matters will reduce stress so that you can focus on representation, not frustration.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.