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Training Law Firm Intake Professionals

5 minutes

Onboarding a New Hire

Training is not and should not be a single event. That said, initial training is essential for getting your new hire onboarded quickly.

Prepare for day one by sending an email detailing first day expectations. Detail when to arrive and where to park. Make sure they know who to report to and what to bring. Eliminating the anxiety of the first day sets the tone for the relationship. Introduce the new hire to your staff (ideally with a photo) via email or whatever messaging platform your firm uses to communicate.

Have your office manager arrange a workspace, computer equipment, and access to software. If your firm hasn’t already generated a new hire checklist, do. Having a process for your systems ensures consistency and effectiveness in onboarding. Document your practices.

Besides your firm’s employee handbook, provide your new hire with the firm’s intake manual. While your intake manual will be unique to your firm, all intake manuals should include the following elements and are the basis for your training:

  • Specific roles and responsibilities for intake personnel
  • Essential knowledge and terminology related to your firm and practice area
  • Your firm’s detailed intake process
  • Call handling protocol and scripts
  • Responses to common objections
  • Selling the firm
  • Basic instructions for your lead management software
  • Firm FAQs (locations, hours, practice areas, fees, etc.)
  • Attorney and staff directory
  • Referral partner directory

Having both the employee handbook and the intake training manual will provide the new hire with reading material for downtime. Particularly on day one, when they aren’t engaged with training activities or handling intake.

The most important for day one training is ensuring the new hire understands the work your firm does. They must understand the role intake plays in the practice. Plan informal training to build trust and rapport with your new intake specialist.

I recommend a more casual approach such as a chat over coffee in the building lounge as opposed to a PowerPoint presentation. Ask questions, listen, make connections, express
empathy, share yourself. This is also a great time to introduce a mentor (ideally a seasoned intake specialist or peer) and encourage getting to know each other a bit. Healthy work relationships result in lower turnover and happier employees. Both of which positively affect your firm’s bottom line.

Don’t race through your training. DO NOT put unprepared folks on your phones! Take the time to ensure your new hires are well informed about the practice. Make sure they are well rehearsed on the most common calls they will be taking. Until then, keep them entrenched in their training.

Some of the best training you can provide will be self-directed. Unless you have a full-time training manager, this is not how you want an employee spending their day. Instead, provide your new hire with some fact-finding tasks. Make sure they have the resources on hand to find the answers.

Consider creating an Intake Workbook. Every new hire will work through to create their own reference book. By all means, have them shadow someone actively working in intake and be certain to have that mentor shadow back once the new hire begins to take calls.

Training your team is not a single event. While initial training is paramount for getting your team to work, training should be ongoing. Set a training schedule and stick to it. I recommend a monthly intake meeting for the purpose of ongoing training. The most successful intake teams connect daily for reminders, goals, motivation, prizes, updates, and incentives.

Roles and Responsibilities in Intake

It bears repeating that intake is not a warm body position. With any client-facing role, it is important for your intake specialists to be in the proper mindset. You want them to handle calls with confidence and compassion, empathy and authority.

Additionally, their schedule needs to allow for time to process calls, document, and exercise humanity. Have realistic expectations for the number of calls your team can handle.

In a recent conversation I had with Scott Blackburn of Legal Conversion Center, I asked him what the magic number was when it came to minutes per hour on calls. That number is 32. Only 32 minutes per hour engaged with callers! With that in mind, you’ll want to plan the size of your intake team based on the average number of PNC calls per day. Accordingly, add an additional intake specialist for leads your firm generates as your growth strategy begins to bear fruit.

You can’t control call flow. Having more than one employee dedicated to intake is ideal. This is not always possible. If your intake specialist can’t take a call because he or she is already on the phone, have clear instructions for how that call will be handled. I prefer calls go to an outsourced call center (overflow) as opposed to the receptionist. Simply collecting a name and
phone number is unlikely to halt the caller’s search for an attorney and you’ll likely lose the opportunity.

I don’t recommend having staff who “pinch hit” when the phones are busy either. First, intake is a priority in a firm that shouldn’t be passed off to someone who doesn’t handle intake. That person is busy with their own work which will need to be promptly dropped when the phone rings. That’s frustrating. That person is consumed with other thoughts – not in the mindset to lead with empathy and authority to serve the caller’s immediate need. Plan with this in mind.

An ideal intake department is a team of engaged individuals with one person always waiting for the next call. If your firm doesn’t experience high volume, you understandably may not have a person on staff dedicated to intake.

Companies like Scott Blackburn’s Legal Conversion Center ensure the phone is always being answered by a skilled intake professional – not a paralegal trying to focus on their own tasks. Scott’s company isn’t just collecting details for an attorney to call back later either – they are retaining cases. Such an arrangement may prove beneficial for a great many firms that don’t have the volume or the resources that warrant a dedicated intake team.

For those that do though, don’t worry how to keep your intake team busy “between calls.” The most common complaint among law firm clients is lack of communication. If your intake team needs a task they should continue to hone their phone skills by calling clients, soliciting feedback, and keeping them informed of the fact that when there is more information to share, their attorney or legal assistant will give them a call.

With regard then to the roles and responsibilities of intake professionals, keep it clear and focused:

  • Answer calls from prospective clients. Existing client calls, other business from opposing counsel, courts, doctors, and insurance companies are not calls you handle. That’s what the receptionist is for.
  • Follow firm procedures for call handling to build rapport, show empathy, lead the caller, and sign cases.
  • Demonstrate thorough knowledge of the firm’s practice areas, history, strengths, values, and processes.
  • Exercise professionalism and accuracy as a representative of the firm in all written and oral communication.
  • Accurately document information according to firm procedures.
  • Consult with your managing director when unsure of how best to serve a potential client.

While I continue to encourage firms to specialize their workforce – intakers in intake, receptionists in reception, etc. – it’s worth considering how to use your team to improve your business operations. If you hire the right person for intake, you will soon find that you have a knowledgeable, warm, empathetic leader on your team. When he or she is not signing new clients, they should be staying in touch with the folks they signed in the past to follow up on their treatment and assess client satisfaction.

For many of the firms we work with, their outreach and follow-up throughout the intake process is so robust that communication after sign-up pale in comparison. That’s not good for client satisfaction!

I encourage intake professionals to take good notes on more than just the details of the case – where was the client heading when the incident occurred, were children in the car, was it a favorite car received as a graduation gift… these little details will make touch points with your signed clients more meaningful.

Stay in touch with the signed client to see how treatment is coming along, if they’ve gotten back to work, if they replaced the car. These interactions show care and concerns – and result in positive reviews and referrals.

Now that we have discussed the strategy of your intake team, let’s move to tactics. Namely, how to handle calls.

Kerri is a proud member of TLP and has been serving the legal industry in marketing, intake and business development for over a decade. As CEO of KerriJames, she is relentless in her pursuit of improving intake so law firms can retain more cases without buying more leads. If your firm shares her hunger for growth, reach out and speak with Kerri.

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