The attorney-client relationship is just that, a relationship. Like all relationships there are a lot of pitfalls when you are getting started. Car accident client intakes involve many moving parts, including a technical analysis of the potential client's eligibility for relief, their likelihood of recovery, the seriousness of the damages at issue, and the possibility of litigation or settlement. However, these issues mean very little if the consultation doesn't result in your retention.
The following article will help you perfect your client intake process regardless of whether you are consulting with a qualified lead, a personal referral, or someone who walks in off the street.
The Initial Contact
Initial contact may be delegated to a secretary or paralegal. The purpose of this contact is to set a time to consult and to request that they bring or send any useful documents or information. If possible, it is better to conduct the consultation in person. You should also indicate whether you limit the time you provide for the consultation. You can also convey any urgent information relating to the retention of documents, the documentation of the accident and its impacts, or communications about the accident and any resulting medical conditions.
Prepare For the Consultation
Acquaint yourself with the information already gathered prior to the consultation. You or an assistant can also conduct additional research. A brief initial search can tell you whether the putative client has been a party to hundreds of lawsuits within your jurisdiction, or none. In some jurisdictions you can also learn whether they own real estate or run a business.
At the consultation itself you have your best opportunity to form a relationship and establish trust. This will require some very delicate maneuvering. Make sure that you communicate with the potential client in an accessible manner. You won't get far if the potential client doesn't understand what you're saying.
Avoid lengthy speeches about yourself, your firm, your experience unless the client asks about these things. Most people won't know your school's reputation or that writing for law review is considered prestigious. They don't really care about you, they care about their problems. Try to reserve as much time as possible to discuss them.
People also don't care to be rushed, especially when they are speaking about an accident, their anxieties, or their troubles. Schedule enough time to develop your potential client's story in an unhurried manner. If only a limited amount of time is available, you can gently steer them toward the most relevant information, but if you have the time to permit a broader discussion that can be very helpful.
In addition to helping establish a rapport, this will often reveal details about the case that didn't make it onto your intake form. Open-ended discussion can provide more information about the situation and also communicate that you are interested and engaged. A broader conversation can also better inform the quality of the client. A rush to judgment about the quality of a case or a client can result in missed opportunities and damage to your reputation.
If a longer discussion is impossible and you didn't previously indicate that there would be a limit on the time you provide for a consultation, you can still wrap things up once you feel that you have the necessary information. Indicate that you feel that you have the information necessary to provide an opinion, but ask whether there are any other details the potential client feels they should share before moving on to your advice. Most clients will be agreeable and by leaving an opportunity for last-minute statements will be appreciated.
Next, you should provide your general assessment of the case. Take time to discuss:
- the options to proceed;
- the ballpark odds and figures on recovery;
- the likely time frame within which the case can be completed; and
- your attorney fee structure.
Also inform the potential client what your next steps would be if you were retained and the first goals you will seek to achieve. For example; "If we sign a retainer today I will provide you with this release form to bring to your doctor and my assistant will contact them to request copies of your medical documents."
Finally, establish any deadlines or ticking clocks. Although you should avoid using pressure sales tactics, it is important that potential clients be aware of their narrow window for action and addressing this point last will help remind them of the urgency with which they should seek assistance.
Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up
If you were not retained after an initial consultation a short, personalized email or note may help your potential client decide to retain you. When a consultation walks out of your office without signing a retainer, they often aren't turning down representation; they just need time to consider their options. Reminding them that you are available and interested in their issue will help keep you on their mind and reinforce your interest in them and their legal problems.
Selling Services with PRIDE
Client conversion is an art, not a science. The following are some general principles relating to client intake and client-centered representation.
Although consultations are as varied as the people involved, nearly all successful attorneys exhibit PRIDE in their practice; Preparation, Rapport, Integrity, Direction, and Engagement. Remaining focused on these principles can help you not only sign more clients, but also help guide your relationship during representation.
Although there are no one-size-fits-all solutions for developing successful car accident client intakes you will always be best-served by an approach based on respect and understanding for your client, their needs, and their situation. The time and energy you spend on your consultations is an investment in your future relationship with your clients and your reputation.
If your consultations are going great and your issue is simply finding new leads, FindLaw has lead generation services that can help connect you with potential clients in your jurisdiction.