Client Intake 101

Everyone knows that law schools across America teach classes like Torts, Criminal Procedure, Evidence, Contracts, and Law & Literature. They are all classes that focus on substantive law. They don’t focus on the practice of law.

The closest you’ll get the a class involving the practice of law might be a Trial Advocacy course, taught by an adjunct and looked-down-upon by tenured faculty who have never seen one of those trial thingies.

It’s time to focus on the practice of law. Not just the practice of law, but the most vexing, infuriating, bad-time-consuming part of practicing law. That is potential client evaluation and intake.

Now, I’m not asking for a 3-hour course. Although, most of us who’ve practiced more than  a few years have enough material to fill a 5-credit-hour course to the brim. Perhaps a 1 or 2 hour seminar course is appropriate for starters.

Assuming 22 class periods, let’s take a look at each of them.

1. Introduction. Title: “No Kids, We Don’t Make This Shit Up”

2. What the hell is a “consultation?” How your definition is not the same as that of the potential client.

3. Practical Exercise: Controlling the initial consultation. Theme: It’s not for them; it’s for you.

4. Getting to the Bottom Line 1. Theme: Your mortgage cannot be paid in thank-you-so-much-for-your-time and you-gave-me-a-lot-to-think-about currency.

5. Getting to the Bottom Line 2. Theme: You are not a flea market. Stand firm on fees.

6. Government to Private: Adjusting to charging for your services after having dutifully served as a public defender. (This is a harder transition than most realize.)

7. Getting to the Bottom Line 3. Theme: Wives hate lawyers (or, why “I just need to talk to my wife (spouse) about this” means they will never call you back.

8. Potential Clients 1: Those who know they need a lawyer, know the value of a lawyer, and were referred to you. (Happy, feel-good class day)

9. Potential Clients 2: Those who found you because of your website. (Also known as Jekyll and Hyde day)

10. Potential Clients 3: Those who found you through Avvo. (Purchase a gas mask day)

11. Potential Clients 4: Those who found you because god led them to you. (Purchase a gun day (or Hire a Bodyguard day, if you’re particularly offended by firearms references))

12. Potential Clients 5: Those who immediately say that their case will make you rich and famous. (Run the other way day)

13. Potential Clients 6: Those whose cases will really make you famous, but not necessarily rich. (Run the other way fast while wearing a gas mask day)

14. If, after the initial consultation, your first thought is to call a press conference, it is either a really bad case or you are a moron. (Last day to drop classes)

15. Special Topic: Why becoming famous from the practice of law is not necessarily a good thing. (Nancy Grace day)

16. Telling the potential client that their case sucks, and why most react as though you just called their baby ugly.

17. Assessing the neediness factor of potential clients. How to spot potentials who, if a relationship is formed, will expect you to cater to their needs like Tom Hagen.

18. Advertising don’ts and don’ts.

19. Guest Speaker: Mark Bennett. Topic: 10 Rules for Dealing with the Borderline Personality.

20. The Retainer/Fee Agreement. Text: The 21st Century Retainer Agreement by Carolyn Elefant. (I’ve read it. I wish I had it a few years ago when I started my pathetic practice. Oh, and if you want to complain about price, compare the cost of this book with that of the Prosser Torts book.)

21. Panel Discussion with Real Lawyers (Civil Practice Day)

22. Panel Discussion with Real Lawyers (Criminal Practice Day)

Final Exam: 4 hours (1 hour multiple choice, 1 hour essay, 2 hours practical evaluation)


4 thoughts on “Client Intake 101

  1. This makes me have a greater appreciation of my job as a public defender. I have to take all the cases, but i don’t have to worry about getting paid. In addition, no client tries to convince me the case will make me rich or famous.

    • Making the transition from PD to private is very difficult for some. I was one. I loved being able to just help people. The cost was the fact that I had to shoulder a lot of cases. It was definitely not a 9 to 5 job (nor should it be).

      When I was supervising the Army’s version of PDs, I’d have potential clients try to get me to personally take their case (instead of farming it to one of my staff attorneys). They’d try to make their case enticing by talking about all the fame it would bring me, book deals, etc. It was simply another flavor of what I face now.

  2. This is priceless. I’d love to offer my services for teaching a section on “Why Your Passion Won’t Pay the Bills – A Guide to Selling Your Soul” – it’ll be chock full of helpful tips… like how to chase ambulances in high heels 😉

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