Editor Note - Attached is the first part of a segmented article regarding scheduling appointments for, and interviewing, new clients. Part Two will appear in the February issue.
Instructions for Staff on Scheduling New Matter Appointments in Wills and Estate Planning
If a received call is not regarding one of your pending files, but rather is a new case, schedule an appointment. All appointments must be written down. You don’t want anyone just showing up. You even want to schedule appointment if someone wants to retain the firm or to pay a retainer fee.
Gather the following information (Items 1-9) about potential new clients.
1. Person’s Name
2. Type of Matter
Describe the type of matter the potential client is calling about, e.g., will, estate planning, car accident, probate, guardianship, etc.
If the matter is a new good case, say, “Hold on please. Let me try to see if ______ is back from court.” Press hold. Announce to Attorney __who is calling and anything else they said, and then hand to the attorney information with the potential client’s name, phone number, referrer, and nature of the call.
Never ever say “Attorney __ is too busy to talk or schedule appointment.” Staff should say - “Attorney _____ is in court at ______” or “Attorney _____ is working on a brief that must be filed in the Superior Court today.”
3. Brief Details or What Potential Client Said
4. If Probate/Litigation, What County
5. Date and Time of Call
6. Potential Client’s Phone Number [Look at Caller ID]
7. Referred by
Ask the potential client who referred them to the office (e.g., prior client, another attorney, Google, YouTube, newspaper advertisement, Senior Center, etc.). If they give you a person’s name, ask them if this person is a prior client or an attorney. Advise them that law office would like to send a “thank you for referral” letter.
For all new and/or potential clients, a referral source is required, especially if the referral is from a prior client. Write down the name of the prior client: e.g., JOHN DOE prior client, JANE DOE, Esq.
Source: Criminal Law forms p. 6–7, 2013.
8. Appointment Date and Time
Schedule an appointment, put it in the office calendar, and set up unopened file. Note: if the firm doesn’t handle the type of matter they are asking about, still thank them for call, but indicate that the minimum fee for litigation is $7,000 up front and that the consult fee is $150.
Also, collect the potential client’s email address. Say that the law office needs the email address to send them the Appointment Letter and Interview Form. If there is no email address, then get a fax number or street mailing address, and then send them interview forms for all matters. If faxing the interview form, fax them directions to the law office.
After you get an address, direct the person to fill out the forms and bring them to the appointment.
Clients should also be advised to bring all paperwork and information connected to their matter to the office at the time of their appointment.
9. Call/Message Taken by
Initial Consultation Memo
If the matter is related to having a will, power of attorney, living will, or a codicil for a will previously done, schedule an appointment for the same week. Write down the appointment and all the information on a message sheet, and write the client’s full name and the type of matter in appointment calendar.
To schedule appointments, have the appointment calendar ready to see what days and times Attorney __ has available. When a section is blocked, this means that no appointments should be scheduled.
When sending the email with the Confidential Will Questionnaire attached, be sure to send the interview form both as an attachment and in the body of the text. If they do not have an email address, ask for their fax number. Fax them the Will Appointment Letter, Confidential Will Questionnaire, and Directions to the office. If they do not have an email address or fax number, get their mailing address. Mail the Will Appointment Letter, Confidential Will Questionnaire, and Directions.
On the caller form write: emailed or “faxed appointment letter” or “mailed appointment letter” or “did not send appointment letter.” Also, tell the caller that directions can be found on our website. Write down the date the material was emailed or faxed next to their email/fax info at bottom.
If you confirm appointments, you get fewer “no-shows.” There is no need to make a copy of the letter mailed out. Just write on the Interview Form, “Directions emailed, faxed, or mailed” and the date.
Calls for Probate/Estate Administration/Deceased Person
Ask the caller where the person who is deceased lived. Advise that the law office only handle cases in your state, if necessary. Advise the law office doesn’t handle estates in other states even though admitted in those states. If past client, you can advise them you do not handle matters in other states, but write up phone message anyway. The attorney can call back from the car.
If they can’t come in: get email and send them the Probate Questionnaire.
Cases you handle: it is best to schedule an appointment, then if Attorney __ does not want to handle the case, the law office can call the person over the phone to cancel and make a suggestion on what to do.
For prior clients with cases you do not handle: get their cellphone number and advise them that someone will try to call at a specific time.
Telephone Consult Fee: Probate
If a potential client calls requesting information regarding probate matters or any other matter that you handle and is unwilling to come in, you often charge a consult in office or telephone for $150–$250. Email or fax them the appropriate interview form.
If it is a case you don’t handle but another attorney does (e.g., divorce, bankruptcy, immigration), send a referral out. Get the caller’s name, phone number, town and county the person lives in, and where the matter is taking place. Check the phone number on Caller ID for accuracy. Tell the person, “Someone will get back to you. Right now the attorneys are in court.”
After you give the attorney’s name and phone number to the caller, fax the referral to the other attorney.
For far away minor cases and other undesirable cases, recommend that the caller check Google or the Yellow Pages for a lawyer near them. For cases the firm does not handle and that most attorneys do not handle, advise the caller that the firm retainer is $8,000 (usually a very high fee), so it would not be cost-effective for them to hire your firm.
Do not want to schedule a telephone consultation unless you have the caller’s email address and you have sent the questionnaire or other applicable form.
Make sure that all scheduled appointments are marked in the Appointment Calendar. Obtain the entire name of the client or potential client. Initial next to the appointment you are scheduling, then add on the second line the type of matter they are asking about.