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What is client onboarding?

For law firms, it’s the journey you take with a prospective client to the point where you have everything ready to begin work on their case.

Here's what we cover:

  • The importance of client onboarding in law firms

  • Key components of the client intake process 

  • Challenges when onboarding new legal clients

  • Best practices for efficient onboarding

  • What to include in your client onboarding checklist 

  • Using software to streamline the onboarding process

Then let’s get the proceedings underway 🙂

Client Onboarding For Law Firms: Best Practices & Process

The best practices, process and software solutions to onboard new clients to your law firm easily.


The Importance Of Client Onboarding In Law Firms

For legal firms, first impressions are the name of the game, and a positive onboarding experience is your trump card. 

A potential client seeking legal assistance is often in a difficult or emotional situation - their first contact with your services and how you handle them should assure them that they’re in supportive, professional hands.

Your client onboarding process can make or break a potential attorney-client relationship. It sets the tone for communication, trust, and ultimately, the success of the case itself.

From a business perspective, the process can eat up huge amounts of time you aren’t billing for.


With a well-designed client intake system, you’ll cut down time wasted on admin and data entry, minimize human error, screen and vet clients more effectively, and free up your time for more billable work. 

At the end of the day, it’s crucial to your firm’s growth and long-term success.


The Main Components Of The Client Intake Process

It’s clear then why it matters - but what does the client intake process actually involve?

From the first point of contact to officially securing their representation, let's break down the key components of the typical client intake process for law firms:

1) Initial client contact & information capturing

Whether clients get in touch by phone, through an online contact form or by email, your response should be timely and consistent across channels. This step should also seamlessly capture the prospect's basic information with an initial client intake form, as well as giving a clear indication of next steps.

2) Pre-screening & conflict check

Before a first consult, pre-screen clients and perform due diligence and conflict checks to determine if they’re a good fit for your services. If they’re not, have a list of referrals and resources available that you can point them to - you’ll leave a good impression and be top of mind for future work and referrals.    

3) Initial consultation

At this stage, you’re ready to schedule the first consult. Make this easy for clients with an online scheduling tool or use client portal software to create a professional impression off the bat. Use a comprehensive client intake form before or during the initial consult to gather all necessary information. 

Shameless plug: ClientManager’s white label software and templates make it super easy to create and edit custom client intake forms in minutes. 

4) Fee agreement & engagement letter

Clearly explain your services and fee structure with clients to avoid any misunderstandings down the line. Draft a clear engagement letter that spells out all the details and get your client’s agreement and signatures. Speed up the process with software that generates and populates your engagement letter based on the client intake form, and lets your client sign digitally.

5) Client welcome packet  

Provide new clients with a welcome pack including all the information they need such as payment options, team contacts and availability, timelines and deliverables, etc. This sets clear expectations, prevents confusion and creates a smooth experience for everyone involved.


 Challenges When Onboarding New Legal Clients

Whether you're just starting to formalize your client intake process or optimizing your existing process, here are some key challenges that a good onboarding process for new legal clients should aim to address:

Managing Client Expectations

Setting accurate expectations around scope of work, timelines, fees and each party's responsibilities at the start of the engagement is crucial. If expectations aren’t properly aligned early on it can lead to frustration and strained client relationships.

Gathering Complete Information Upfront

To properly evaluate a new matter and provide reliable fee estimates, you need the full story from the client. You don’t want to overwhelm them with questions before they’ve even hired you, but you need enough info to vet them. Your initial client intake system should make it easy for the client to provide their info, and ideally be automated to avoid you needing to capture and duplicate information at the next phase. 

Vetting Potential Problem Clients

Some clients may give early warning signs of being problematic to work with, while others may not show their true colors till later on. An effective screening process and protocols can help you identify both of these cases early on.

Compliance & Security measures

Law firms need robust compliance procedures in place from the very first interaction. An effective intake process will have all necessary due diligence, conflict checks, and compliance measures built in to avoid costly oversights and errors. The same goes for confidentiality and data security.

Now, let’s get into some best practices for effective client onboarding.


Best Practices for New Client Onboarding

For law firms, everything is built on the client-lawyer relationship, so it’s critical you get it off to the best start. An effective onboarding process should be a win-win for your practice and your clients. 

You want it to feel straightforward and efficient while still personal enough to show clients you care. 

And for your team, the process should be consistent and well-organized so everyone can focus their attention where it’s needed most.  

Here are some onboarding best practices to aim for: 

1) Have a documented onboarding process 

Get everyone on the same page by mapping out your ideal intake process and creating an onboarding checklist. Spell out what needs to be collected at what stage, who's responsible for what, and when it needs to happen.

2) Conduct thoughtful pre-screening

Have a standard set of questions and criteria to vet new prospects. At the same time, don’t forget to show empathy and provide a personal touch during initial meetings. 

3) Discuss Fees Upfront

Clearly lay out your fee structure, accepted payment methods, and alternative billing options during the first client consult to align expectations from the start.  

4) Go digital

Save time and prevent errors by setting up digital intake forms, engagement letters, and other documents to replace paper and email. Offer e-signature capabilities for added convenience and efficiency. 

5) Integrate systems 

Integrate intake forms to feed data directly into your case management system and avoid having to duplicate data entry. 

6) Track Prospects Systematically

Define clear intake stages like "needs follow-up" or "intake pending" to easily monitor every prospect's status and make sure no one slips through the cracks.

7) Keep Communication Seamless

Ensure clients and prospects have a seamless experience when they need to get in touch or find relevant updates and information. Using client portal software can help you keep things organized, secure, and easily accessible for both you and your clients. 


What Should Be Included in a Client Onboarding Checklist?

Your checklist should provide a clear map of the phases, steps, action points and resources needed to transition a new prospect from the first point of contact into an active engagement. 

You can use the starter template below and customize it based on your firm's size, practice areas, typical client profiles, and the specific systems you use. 

Example onboarding checklist template for law firms:

Contact / booking form

Follow up on enquiries within 24 hours

Client Intake Form

Verify client details

Conflict of interest checks

Due diligence checks

Initial consultation

Update client file

Communicate fees & billing structure

Engagement letter & other closing documents

Setup client portal 

Send welcome packet 

Follow-up communication, case review & updates

Client surveys & feedback


Utilizing Software to Streamline the Client Onboarding Process

Want to give a big thumbs-down to endless admin and data-entry when onboarding new clients? 

One of the easiest ways to optimize your onboarding process is by taking advantage of software that has the built-in tools you need to create an efficient, user-friendly and consistent process for your team and your clients.  

Here are a few specific ways a software solution like ClientManager can help modernize your onboarding and prevent admin headaches:

1) Digitize & centralize client data 

 Using a client management software solution means all your client data can be captured, stored and referenced in one secure place that’s way easier to navigate than a filing cabinet.

2) Say goodbye to paper waste & duplicate data entry 

Integrated client intake form builders and templates allow you to create customized online forms in minutes, and let clients capture their own data so you don’t have to! 

3. Use a client portal to keep clients on track 

Give clients access to a secure, branded client portal where they can  schedule appointments, upload files, add e-signatures to documents, and access their matter details throughout the onboarding process. Oh, and send them auto reminders when they need to get cracking!  

No onboarding process is perfect…but then again, having the right technology on your side can help you get pretty close! 

​We'd love it if you tried ClientManager free for 7 days.

​Even our own lawyers love the interface, user experience, and simplicity.

Here’s to more happy clients and your onboarding success 😊

Thanks again,
​Kyle & CM Team

Onboard & manage your clients with ease.

Take control of your business. Save time and money - and actually enjoy the process, with ClientManager.


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