Did I already mention that the practice of law is individualized? How you approach your initial client meeting will depend on you. There many ways to handle that first meeting and the primary technology consideration is how to capture the information you need without the technology getting in the way of you creating a relationship with the now-prospective client.
Many successful business people have adopted checklists for this sort of interaction and you may be able to find one that you can use yourself. There are some excellent client intake forms available that you can then adapt to your own purposes. A good example is Gary Munneke and Anthony Davis’ The Essential Formbook: Comprehensive Management Tools for Lawyers, a three-volume collection of forms from the American Bar Association. The intake forms are in volume 1.
The first law firm I worked at used a multi-page pre-printed checklist in a binder, so that everything the lawyers needed would be captured every time. You might use a checklist on paper, in Microsoft Word, in a database, in a tablet-based app.
You might create an online form and have your client complete the form and send it to you via e-mail prior to your meeting. Even better if you can get the client to complete the details and have the resulting e-mail or form data inserted in to your practice management system! It can be a highly efficient way to gather the initial information you need to understand how you can help your client.
Your intake method will determine the technology that you use. But as you can see, as there are with any application of technology to your law practice, there are a variety of options. In general, you’ll want to avoid retyping information. If you can use a database that receives the answers your client typed into your online form, that’s great.
You may want to have a staff person or associate sit with you while you interview the client the first time, and have them capture the information in your electronic tool. The least best option is for you to have your laptop open and trying to type what they’re telling you. The computer will become a barrier between you and your client and, unless you’re blazingly fast and unerring, your typing will cause unnecessary pauses in the narratives.
The worst case is not to write it down on paper, it’s to not get it down at all. If that’s the best way for you to capture information quickly while listening and digesting it, then this may be a good time to apply an old school technology over a new one.
Professional rules for lawyers frequently restrict representation if it brings you into conflict with current or former clients. This is a primary reason that you need to keep track of who you represent and for what reasons, as well as who you don’t represent and explicitly let them know that you didn’t agree to act as their lawyer.
It is not enough to just look at your client list. Witnesses or other participants in current or past client matters may have shared information with you as part of that case. If a new client walks in and the new matter involves one of these people and the information they shared with you, it may stop you from taking the new case.
This is the sort of information you can’t just store in your head. Keeping track of who contacts your firm, and who is involved with each of your matters, will enable you to quickly search against the names of people who are identified by new clients. Using a data-driven system will enable you to perform this research quickly. A conflicts check should be part of any initial case decision.
If you are religious about using your contacts manager, whether it’s in Microsoft Outlook or Google Mail, you may be able to quickly identify a conflict or lack of one. If you are working in a law firm, the number of potential contacts is much larger and will need to be aggregated for the firm. This is where you might consider a dedicated conflicts checking software or using the built-in tools in a law firm case management software program.
Alternatively, if the firm has a shared contacts address book, you can use that to identify people who have been involved in previous matters. The key here is that everyone associated with a matter should be captured and entered into your contacts or conflicts system so that any future conflicts can be identified.
Related Reading and Resources
- ABA Legal Technology Resource Center FYIs on dedicated conflicts checking software and their comparison chart on case (matter, practice) management software, many of which integrate the functions of calendar, customer relationship management, and conflicts checking.
- Lawyers Mutual Insurance of North Carolina’s guide for implementing a firm-wide calendaring system to reduce legal malpractice