“Be strong, be fearless, be beautiful. And believe that anything is possible when you have the right people there to support you.” Misty Copeland
A question I get a lot about intake is “What should I look for in a good intake specialist?” and while they say there’s no such thing as a stupid question, that’s not a question you need an intake expert to answer.
Attorneys know as well as I do what they’d like to see in the professional staff responding to leads. We seek to hire those with:
- A reasonable understanding of the practice area
- A friendly phone disposition
- A natural capacity to express empathy
- The ability to compel others to take action
- Organizational strengths (essential for follow-through)
- Great listening skills
The employment market is tighter than ever. Attorneys are lucky to get even a few of the above credentials in a new hire. Which is why the question I wish attorneys would ask me is more important that ever:
“What training should I provide my intake team?”
If you’re thinking that you paid good money to have qualified leads call the firm and the specialist’s only job is to gather some information, you need to listen to some calls.
After an hour listening to calls, you will find that intake is far from what I call “a warm body job” (meaning anyone with a pulse can do it).
That’s not the case.
The legal industry by nature is wrought with conflict. No one is calling your law firm about their new kitchen renovation or planning a family trip to the Islands. If someone is calling your practice, something has gone terribly wrong. Your potential client is in crisis and your team is the first responder.
Finding the right people for this role is about disposition. Training is more important than qualifications. So look to hire for character more than for skill. You can teach skills, but character can be harder to find.
Don’t worry. You can design your job descriptions and advertisements to attract the right people.
Among the most important elements of intake is listening. So, your job description should be clear that the specialist’s role will primarily be to listen. Once they know the PNC’s reason for calling then they can evaluate the merits of the claim. Using words and phrases in your job posts such as “active listening,” “attentive,” “friendly,” “warm,” and “compassionate” help articulate the empathy required for such a role.
Job posts should also highlight experience in fields such as hospitality or customer service. This signals, again, to the sort of character your firm should seek in their hires. I routinely conclude my job posts with the phrase “We hire for character. We train for success.”
Also of high value is call center experience. Those jobs require working through scripts, building rapport, and expressing empathy (not to mention the benefit of robust training!). Each of these skills should be part of both your job description and your new hire training.
Ideally, your intake team will consist of long-term hires. I’ve often met young people evaluating their interest in a law degree by gaining relevant practice experience. Roles in intake may attract these individuals. While this can provide the opportunity for an up-close experience in firm life, these hires tend to be less stable.
I like to paint the picture of the ideal candidate so that someone recognizes themselves in a job post. For intake specialists, I am looking for professional verbal and written attributes. I will state that:
The ideal candidate will use grammatically correct written and oral language, speak clearly with an appropriate tone and inflection, respond empathetically to callers, and convey a genuine desire to help meet the individual’s needs.
Such language underscores the character we seek in intake. Warm, approachable, and professional with a spirit to help others.
Your job description should include a concrete list of intake tasks so that applicants know what to expect. This would include:
· Promptly answer calls and respond to inquiries in a knowledgeable, professional, respectful and empathetic manner.
· Manage calls to put prospects at ease while conveying confidence and gathering pertinent details in an efficient manner.
· Utilize lead management systems to accurately enter data, report details, schedule appointments, update records, track communication, and follow up as required.
Consult with the intake manager and/or attorneys as needed to provide callers with solutions.
Your job description should also include the MUST-HAVES and the NICE-TO-HAVES. For example, your firm may note that applicants must have call handling experience or a high school diploma. Whereas it would be nice to have Spanish-speaking applicants or prior law firm experience. Be mindful though, that the talent market is incredibly competitive at present. Your wish list may be difficult to meet. If that’s the case, your training may need to make up for what your new hires’ experience, skills or qualifications lack.
Remember again, intake is not a “warm body” position. Even in a tight labor market, you’ll want to screen job applicants thoroughly. Online tools are available to assess emotional intelligence and attention to detail. You can even test for compatibility with your existing team.
Investing some time upfront in identifying great hires can save your team a lot of time and money in the long run. Resist the temptation to hire quickly. As my partner impressed upon me early in building our own team, hire slowly, fire fast.
You’ll also want some go-to interview questions that help you identify the character attributes that are difficult to determine on a resumé alone. These questions should tap into one’s ability to serve others, problem solve, collaborate, and regulate emotions.
Here are a few of the talking points I recommend for your intake interviews:
- Tell me about a conflict you experienced in the workplace and how you resolved it.
- What would your co-workers say they like most about working with you? And what can be challenging?
- Let’s talk about feedback. Tell me about some of your positive and negative feedback and how it made you feel.
Conversations like these will enable you to tap into emotional intelligence. Are they able to express emotion effectively? Do they have the ability to learn from experiences? Do they take pride in their success? How did they respond to someone else’s disappointment?
Simple questions like, “What route did you take to our office?” can also be an opportunity to assess your potential hires. As your applicant responds to such a question, feign confusion or misunderstanding. Doing so will allow you to evaluate his or her ability to adjust his language and clarify. If you continue to struggle to understand, does the applicant grow frustrated or give up? Does he amend his approach? These interactions provide valuable insight into one’s communication skills.
One of the easiest assessments you can employ in your next interview is what I call the ‘Sibling Test.’ A friendly, “Tell me about yourself as a child,” can present so much valuable information! Those from large families master communication and negotiation skills from an early age. They are apt to have interacted with very old and very young family members – both of which promote empathetic interaction.
Children from large families are likely to be better collaborators and team players. Sharing work loads and work spaces like household chores and the kids’ bathroom is a must. And a simple, “What did you want to be when you grow up?” speaks volumes. Firefighters, doctors, teachers, vets – the helping professions – convey a desire to work with and serve others.
Once you have selected your intake specialist, then the real work begins. Training.