Most law offices that handle a significant volume of any particular type of case use client intake forms or questionnaires. These forms can aid in office efficiency, but are they really a good idea to use?
Some of the advantages of using standardized client intake forms are that
- It may shorten the attorney interview process,
- You get the information needed for the specific type of case with less worry of missing something, and
- The location of information for similar matters is consistent from case file to case file, making it easier to find for discovery and other purposes.
But this efficient and organized way of doing things has its downsides, mostly on the personal service front. Completing the forms may interfere with the client’s need to “tell the story.” This can make the client feel less heard by you, and may result in you missing out on important information that would have come out in the story telling.
Standardized forms by their nature aren’t tailored for each case; this can result in missing information in some cases and requiring the client to give more information than is reasonably necessary in others.
And do you really want the first and most important impression the client receives from you to be one suggesting a depersonalized approach to the client’s problems?
But if, after considering their pros and cons, you decide to use standardized client intake forms, here’s the takeaway: Don’t get too depersonalized as you’re efficiently getting information from your client. You can use the forms while maintaining a personal touch.
If possible, personally explain your use of an intake form and how this efficiency ultimately benefits the client.
If another staff person is conducting the initial intake, make sure to tell your client that you’ll need him or her to work with your staff member on answering some questions before he or she meets with you so that you can better respond to questions and assist with his or her legal problems. Giving clients a heads up on your office procedure will help manage expectations and mitigate any negative feelings they may have about not speaking with you right away.
It also a good idea to personally introduce your client to other staff members who will be assisting you on the matter. Frequently, these individuals will have more day-to-day contact with the client than you will and an early introduction can make the contacts more personal and pleasurable for everyone.
For more on implementing office procedures, turn to CEB’s California Civil Procedure Before Trial, chap 1. Get a sample client information form and checklist for an initial client interview in CEB’s California Client Communications Manual: Sample Letters and Forms, chap 1.
Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:
- What to Tell Your Client When Litigation Is Over
- How to Delegate Better
- 5 Tips for Reeling in Potential Clients
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