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Intake Forms - Great Help in Getting Started

Written by Jeff Stouse on 10 May 2012.

Hits: 13603

ESQ Intake form
Collecting the important information on a new matter, with a new client is often more time-consuming than it should be. There are, depending on the type of matter, different fields of information (beyond the basic client information) that need to be collected immediately. These fields of information help the firm determine what records requests may need to be sent out (in the case of an auto accident, for example), or they may determine what type of bankruptcy the client needs/wants to file. For lots of reasons, it is critical to collect the important information as soon into the matter’s progress as possible.

When using most practice management programs the common approach is to open a new contact and/or matter form and fill in what fields the person performing the intake knows need to be collected. With most practice management programs this means that the entire form is displayed, with all the possible fields (that may/may not be collected during the life of the matter) filling the screen. This approach forces the staff person doing the intake to know exactly which fields are important (but not required – more on that later) and should be gathered immediately, and which fields should be collected (if/when necessary) at a later point in the process.

While this approach is functional, it does come with drawbacks: a) it make the process more difficult, as the staff person needs to know “when” a field’s values need to be requested, b) it makes the process slower, as instead of looking at a list of just the necessary fields, the staff person has to find the needed fields among the entire list of fields, and c) it makes the process require a staff person to coordinate it (a new client could not be allowed to complete the form without guidance.)

The ideal approach to new client/matter information is one where your practice management program displays a separate form from the contact and matter forms. These forms can collect just the fields needed to initiate the matter, displaying a subset of the contact and matter forms, with helpful prompts, instructions and warnings.  The ideal approach would also allow a new client to complete the form on his/her own, without a staff present to guide them through the process.

An intake form that displayed only those fields that the firm wanted to collect in this manner, with those fields that absolutely have to be filled in set up as required (which means that the form cannot be saved unless a value is input), would reduce the workload substantially. Remember that this intake form would be the limited access to the matter information at this point – meaning that no other firm data would be compromised by a new client completing an intake form.

Another necessary step in this process would be that the practice management program could then notify the designated person at the firm (the staff person who handles all intake forms) that a form has been completed. With an automatic notification component, no new clients would be left waiting for a return call from the firm after they completed their intake form.

More Tweaks

As mentioned earlier, any program which offers this intake form option should also provide a method for displaying instructions, warnings (for falsely completing a form, for example), and allow for prospective clients to have full knowledge of the process. This means that the intake process should display these informational screens before the user starts to complete the forms, eliminating a prospective new client wasting time trying to fill out an invalid form (a prospective client who needs an attorney specializing in IP, fills out a complete new client form when the firm does not offer IP services.)

Another option for the intake process that makes for a better new client perspective is the ability for the intake procedure to allow the user to move between forms, so that if they forget to complete a field, or inadvertently move past a form without fully completing it, they can go back and fill in fields they may have missed. This flexibility contrasts with forms that require the user to complete a form, click Next and move to the following form, but then no longer has the ability to move back to the prior form.

Currently, there are very few practice management programs that offer Intake form options. Clio and RocketMatter are “working” on this functionality, with no current completion dates available. Time Matters and Practice Master both do not offer the concept of an Intake form as described above. Currently only AdvoLogix (based on the Salesforce.com platform) and HoudiniESQ offer the above Intake functionality.

For more information about HoudiniESQ, please visit http://www.houdiniesq.com- they offer a free, fully functional program as a trial; or, if you are a solo attorney, you can use their product for free (no catch!) for as long as you want. HoudiniESQ is a product of LogicBit, and Frank Rivera is the CEO of that company.

For more information regarding Practice Master, please visit www.practicemaster.com. Software Technology, Inc. is the company that created Practice Master, and Brad Berlin is the CEO of that company.

For more information regarding Time Matters, please visit www.timematters.com. LexisNexis owns Time Matters.

For more information regarding AdvologixPM, please visit www.advologix.com. AdvoLogix is the company that created AdvoLogix, and the president is Bill Pickard.