Every law firm's intake process is different, but no matter what law firm you call, you should be prepared to tell your story to a staff person before speaking to a lawyer. Whether a paralegal, a law clerk, or a dedicated intake specialist, intake staff serve as the voice of the firm; they field potential client calls and direct their matters to the appropriate attorney or relevant resources. If you are trying to find a firm to offer legal help, you should know how to effectively present your legal issue and how to smoothly communicate with front-line legal staff.
Potential clients and intake staff ultimately have the same goal: to resolve a legal matter in the most beneficial way possible. With that in mind, here are some tried-and-true tips to help ensure you receive the legal help you need when talking to an intake specialist.
Research the firm prior to calling: One of the most common missteps a potential client can make when calling into a firm is asking “what kind of law” they do. It can show a firm that you are not organized or ready to do the fact-finding work that is usually required when working with an attorney. Of course, asking specific questions about the services or specific fee structures a firm provides is always welcome. We understand the law can be complex and confusing, but it is important to make sure you conduct some preliminary research on a firm before spending valuable time making calls.
Think about what you want: While many potential clients call with clear and specific goals, others call because they know they want something to be done—they just don’t know what that something is. Before reaching out to a lawyer, consider what your ideal outcome is. Are you hoping for a clean break from your employer and a generous settlement? Or are you more interested in seeing your company institute meaningful changes? Knowing what you want to see happen, even if it’s not ultimately realistic, can help your intake specialist decide what the next step should be.
Answer all questions: Some callers are, understandably, nervous about giving their employer’s name, or breaking down their salary details. Rest assured that intake calls are completely confidential. Intake questions are simply used to assess the possible outcomes of your potential case and to ensure there is no conflict of interest. A conflict can arise if, for example, a potential client would like to sue their employer, which our office happens to already represent. No matter the situation, a caller’s information is private—one’s identity and intake details are never given out.
Facts only: Always be honest when talking with intake staff. There is no shame in telling the truth about your situation—even moments you may be embarrassed to share. Remember that an intake specialist is taking notes that will be sent directly to an attorney. One white lie may cost you dearly if it finds its way into an attorney’s official case notes or strategic planning. Facts are crucial to your matter, so preparing a note sheet or timeline with important points and dates ahead of time is always helpful. We understand that situations are often emotional, but staying focused and concise will help the intake specialist get a better grasp of your potential legal claims.
Timing is key: A potential client will usually be asked what steps they have taken to resolve this issue prior to seeking legal representation. Strong cases often arise after an employee has exhausted all resources and alternative paths first. Whether it be filing a grievance with a union, reporting the behavior to HR, confronting a manager, or documenting each incident, it is crucial to know when to handle matters within the workplace itself and when to contact a lawyer. If you haven’t already spoken to your supervisor or HR department, consider doing that before calling an attorney.
Do not send documentation: Law firms handle this issue in different ways. Our attorneys and staff are inclined not to collect any documentation prior to signing a formal retainer agreement. Do your best to describe your situation over the telephone. You should, however, use notes or a timeline as a guide during your phone call to maintain clarity.
Only a retained attorney can give you legal advice: Legal staff, including intake specialists, paralegals, law students, and clerks, are not attorneys and are therefore unable to give legal advice. Likewise, attorneys may not give legal advice before entering into a formal retainer agreement, which establishes an attorney-client relationship. Intake calls conducted by law firm staff of any kind are meant to gather facts and provide legal pathways, not to resolve your matter.
Be patient and kind: Perhaps this rule is most important of all. It is not unheard of for an attorney to refuse to speak with a potential client if they were rude to a staff member, no matter how surefire their case may be. Though any employment dispute can be tremendously hard to process and navigate, try to remember that the person on the other end of the line is your biggest advocate. Explaining your situation in a calm, honest, and concise manner can be the difference between finding representation and continuous cold calls.