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How Do You Feel About Your Client Intake?

Business people shaking hands, finishing up meeting. Successful businessmen handshaking after good deal.
By Catherine Hodder, Esq. | Last updated on

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?

How To Tell if Your Client is a Good Fit

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:

  • Delusional about their case
  • Overly concerned about fees
  • Demanding immediate attention all the time

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?

How Forms Help Maintain Good Client Relationships

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.

Intake Forms

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

Engagement letters define the relationship between attorney and client. A comprehensive engagement letter should include:

  • Scope of the legal matter
  • What matters are outside your representation
  • The parties you represent in that matter
  • Who will be doing the work? Will it only be you? Will you use a paralegal?
  • How you will communicate matters
  • Fees relating to representation and how they are calculated

If there is a situation where you decline representation, you might want to put that in a letter to avoid misunderstandings.

Fee Agreements

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:

  • Are fees calculated hourly or on a flat basis?
  • The hourly rates for attorney representation, paralegal work, or administrative work
  • Whether you will bill the client weekly or monthly
  • If you require a deposit or retainer
  • When you expect payment
  • How to resolve fee disputes

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.

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