Pipeline Value: Automation is the Key to Unlocking Your Intake System

I know that you’re tired of talking about the coronavirus pandemic.  I get it.  But, before you swipe left on this article, let me describe briefly why understanding how the pandemic effected law firm intake processes is essential to modeling a revised system that your law firm can effectively maintain to qualify and convert leads.

When the pandemic hit, pretty much every law firm relied, at least in part, on an analog intake system.  That meant that leads would eventually be required to come into an office space, or pick up a pen to sign something, or hand over cash or a check, in return for legal services, or the promise of same.  When a pandemic hit, all of a sudden no one wanted to touch your pen.  And lawyers were forced to develop digital workflows for intake, on the fly.  Of course, as is often the case with late-adopting attorneys, that is something that they should have accomplished earlier, rather than being forced to do so.  Now that the pandemic is over, potential law firm clients can utilize analog or digital workflows, or a combination of both, which is to their benefit, and which offers maximum choice.

The other thing that happened during the pandemic was that the convenience economy massively accelerated – in fact, it had already commenced before the pandemic.  Everybody started getting groceries (Stop & Shop), alcohol (Drizzly), meals (GrubHub) and almost anything else you could imagine (Amazon), delivered to their homes and offices (for essential businesses).  But, all of those services existed before the pandemic – as did streaming services (Netflix), which were the initial pioneer in encouraging people not to go out.

The common denominator of all these services is that the convenience of the customer is paramount in their business models.  So, law firms had to adjust, too.  And, like many service business owners, lawyers began to offer Zoom meetings, and electronic payments, and the ability to esign documents.  They dove into the use of client portals, and they drilled down on internal processes for client notifications.

That brings us to the present day, where busy legal consumers are still demanding convenience, and where digital workflows are required to pull that off.  In terms of intaking new clients, that means building out a digital pipeline, with automations.  A ‘pipeline’ is simply your intake process broken down into steps, e.g. – the potential client completes an intake form at your website, then meets the lawyer for an initial consultation, then makes a retainer payment, then signs a fee agreement.  Obviously, that’s a simplified version of what an intake process actually looks like, but. you get the gist, it’s how you move a lead down the pathway to becoming a client, also known as the client journey.

But, the automations are really where your intake process can sing.  With available technology, it’s possible to automate every part of your intake flow, save for the initial consultation with a lawyer (where the attorney determines whether the firm wants to work with the client – or, the potential client makes that call, instead)  and the conflict check (while most systems will offer a conflict alarm, those systems are not yet sensitive enough to determine conflicts in the final analysis, which still requires a lawyer).  A lot of attorneys are not keen to automate the rest of their intake, in part because they cling to some vague notion related to the value of ‘high-touch’ interactions with clients and leads.  Well, let me tell you: literally no one wants a high-touch experience going back and forth trying to schedule a meeting or appointment with a law firm – when it relates to the intake process, they’ll just move on, and go find another attorney.  Save those high-touch interactions for when you’re vetting potential clients – or, for when you’re talking strategy/case management with existing clients.  For the remainder of the intake process, at least, legal consumers want speed and convenience; and, the good news is that you can give it to them.

Pre-pandemic, law firm owners used to reach out to me all the time, with a vague sense that their businesses were not running as efficiently or as effectively as they could be.  Now attorneys can name the issue: we’re not efficient enough, because we’re not utilizing proper workflows.  That’s absolutely a step in the right direction.  Even so, few lawyers want to take the time to build processes for their law firms, and are looking for some out-of-the-box solution, that’s one size fits all.  Only, there isn’t some kind of program like that.  Every law firm is different.  So, in terms of building out an intake process for your law firm, you should map out that workflow for each case or client type.  Each task should have a specific due date (as well as ticklers, for when a human needs to be involved, such as the lawyer who has to click a button to set the remainder of a process in motion after determining that a potential client is a good fit for the law firm).  But, even for automations – where the technology is performing the task – there should be a follow-up architecture established for each task.  For example, if the task is handling scheduling a client meeting after they complete an intake form, and the client fails to complete the scheduling after multiple attempts and follow-ups, then the workflow could enter another process, like a drip campaign, in which the potential client will receive your enewsletter on a quarterly basis, until (maybe) they come back around and start looking for legal services again.  If, in designing your workflows, you make those as granular as possible, and follow each potential thread to its logical endpoint, you won’t miss a beat – and, you’ll gain more clients.  And if in using a modern intake system, you also convert some of the rote tasks that your staff has traditionally performed over to a technology application – well, that’s just an opportunity to train up your staff, so that they can assist with more complex work than just sending a flood of follow-up emails every day.

The good news here is that intake (or ‘front office’) software has become more readily available for law firms in the last several years, as market forces have effectively required lawyers to utilize digital intake systems.  From full-scale customer relationship management programs (Lawmatics, Clio Grow, Lead Docket, Law Ruler), to chat intake tools (Gideon, Intaker) to esignature and epayment products (both as standalone programs, and as built-in features) lawyer, like consumers, now have more choices.  And, because almost all viable modern software is cloud-based, attorneys can mix and match these tools effectively via direct or third-party integrations.  This means that automations are the killer applications.

About the Author

Jared D. Correia, Esq. is the CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting and the COO of Gideon Software. Red Cave offers subscription-based law firm business management consulting for law firms and bar associations. Gideon provides end-to-end intake solutions for high-volume law firms, with included document assembly and esignature features. Correia is a former practicing attorney. He is an internationally-recognized legal technology export, and frequent speaker for legal organizations. Find out more at www.redcavelegal.com and www.gideonlegal.com

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