A good start is crucial in most things, not the least of which is your first contact with a prospective client. This initial contact is your big chance to identify the client’s needs, get the information you need, and nail down another case.
During the initial contact, you need to elicit information about the prospective client’s concerns to determine whether a consultation and potentially some type of formal legal representation are appropriate. Getting the information is much easier if you have a standard process for client intake.
Whether you have support staff to assist in screening inquiries from prospective clients and in handling the intake work, or whether you go it alone, it’s very useful to have a standardized workflow form to help you evaluate the prospective client and case.
Issues you should be sure to cover include whether a prospective client:
- Has a matter that is within the scope of your practice or otherwise is of a type that you can competently handle;
- Can provide information necessary to enable you to identify and evaluate the legal and practical issues that may be involved;
- Has a matter that would not pose a conflict of interest with the client or with another of your (or your firm’s) clients; and
- Will enter into an appropriate arrangement for the payment of legal fees, and otherwise appears to be a person who will work cooperatively with you if you start formal representation.
Once an in-office consultation is scheduled, if a prospective client’s situation appears to require the examination of particular documents, ask him or her to bring the relevant items to the consultation. This will make the most efficient use of the in-person meeting.
Inform the prospective client that, although the information you obtain during a consultation must normally be kept in confidence and thereafter you can’t represent someone with an adverse interest, there may be circumstances when you will seek the prospective client’s consent to represent someone with an adverse interest or to disclose the information. You’ll need to have a letter prepared that contains a provision on this.
CEB’s California Client Communications Manual: Sample Letters and Forms (chap 1) has sample letters with the confidentiality and conflict provision, as well as a sample form to input a prospective client’s information for initial screening.
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