First Impressions Are Key
Many malpractice claims result from attorney-client relationships that began sour and grew steadily worse. That's why it is important to start off on the right foot with new clients.
One risk management solution: make sure the client's first impression of you and your firm is positive. The ensuing relationship will blossom.
Thanks For Coming
New clients should be warmly welcomed. Thank them for choosing you, and tell them you appreciate their business. Give them a professional introduction to your firm. Escort them through the office. Introduce your staff, especially those who will be assisting on the case. Explain your procedures for handling appointments and telephone calls.
In the initial interview, open your ears before your mouth. A good technique is to ask clients to tell their story in their own words. Listen closely without taking notes. Parrot key phrases back to the client to show you're paying attention.
Clients may be tense, anxious and rambling. Be patient. Don't belittle their concerns, even if unfounded.
"Listening is not the simple ability to decode information," says Kevin J. Murphy in Effective Listening. "It is a two-way exchange. One must not only open the lines of communication and relax, one must compel others to do the same. Be sensitive to subtle signs of dissatisfaction. Early detection and prevention of client disenchantment might prevent a serious blowup down the road."
After the client has finished with the story, you can take it once more from the top, this time taking notes and probing with questions. Here, a client interview form is critical.
Auto Accident/Injury Case Interview Form
Criminal Defendant Intake Form
Domestic Relations Interview Form
Personal Injury Case Interview Form
Develop an interview form that suits your practice needs. Be sure it covers all necessary information, including pending deadlines and conflicts of interest data. As you fill in the blanks on your form, don't lose sight of the person sitting on the other side of the desk.
"Lawyers collect facts about their clients instead of information about people," writes Milton Zwicker in the September 1994 Law Practice Management. "Firms focus their systems on files and not people. It is more important to know what kind of client has a legal problem than what kind of legal problem the client has."
New Client Questionnaire
A good idea is to develop a simple questionnaire that prospective clients can fill out while they're waiting to see you. When the form is completed, your secretary brings it to you. At a glance, you know who the prospective client is and what the case is about. When the client comes into your office, you can greet him or her by name and jump right into the interview.The questionnaire also protects you. It provides documentation in the client's own hand of what the client thinks the problem is and what relief the client seeks.
Client Intake Sheet
General Information Questionnaire
Prospective Client Questionnaire