Should You Automate Your Intake Process?

Online client intake forms are all the rage. Bob Ambrogi at LawSites writes about the latest new product, Intake 123. Bob has previously written about Lexicata and new intake features added to RocketMatter.

These products are online form fillers. You can send clients a link (or you can put the link on your site) and, once they complete the form, the software will then provide required information via the Internet. The info is then made available to your client management system.

I’m not going to review the products except to say that the website and video for Intake 123 look like somebody hired a middle school student to build them and that Lexicata isn’t really showing a product and has only a landing page on its site. As usual, RocketMatter does a good job of showcasing its new feature. I’m sure all of these products will do the job, because the job is something as old as the Internet, and a dumb monkey could build these features.

These products allow clients to fill out a blank form. The information is then automatically entered into the database. It’s convenient for you to avoid having someone type handwritten data into the computer. That’s all good (and it’s only mildly pathetic that these are the things we consider new and cool in our industry).

The Good and Bad of Online Intake

What isn’t good, in some circumstances, is having a client fill out a form. Let’s say you’ve got an upset family law client whose spouse earns $3 million a year, and, together, they have a $50 million marital estate. Do you really want to hand that client an iPad to use in the lobby while filling out a form? Do you want to risk the client picking another lawyer after you send a link to your online financial information form?

I hope we agree that online forms aren’t a great idea in certain circumstances. But you might contend that your clients aren’t worth $50 million and an online form is a good thing for them. Okay, I buy your argument, but I’ve got a quick question for you.

Why do you think the $50 million client would be better off with personal service rather than a form? Is it because the client wants to feel important and feel taken care of? Is it because the client is paying you for attention and not being relegated to the iPad? If that’s the case, then at what asset level does the client feel unimportant? At what point does the client say, “I’d rather be handed off to the machine?” Is it $1 million? Is it $100,000? Is it $10,000? Does any client prefer the online form?

I’ve met some of you, dear readers. I’ll admit that I’d prefer to talk to your iPad rather than you in a few instances (you know who you are). But generally, if I’m freaking out about my life, I’d appreciate you asking me the easy questions. I’d appreciate you spending time connecting and bonding with me as I figure out how to cope with my crisis.

Fundamentally, I’d encourage you to avoid getting distracted by the shiny object (even though in this case, it’s not all that shiny). I’d encourage you to evaluate each situation carefully and decide whether automating the process is the right thing to do. What does the client think and feel about the automated process replacing the personal service? Is this a plus or a minus to the client?

Online forms “might” be a good idea after the client retains. That’s especially true when the client seeks to save some money on fees. However, you should be careful about replacing client contact and communication with an automated process. Evaluate the cost/benefit of the software as it applies to your target client, your practice area, and your business model.

Sometimes we get caught up in what’s possible and fail to evaluate what makes sense for our particular business.

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