This is the first in a series of posts designed to discuss litigating a personal injury claim. It is intended primarily for other attorneys but will hopefully also prove valuable to those who might be contemplating a personal injury claim.
After the accident, and hopefully after the person involved has begun treatment for their medical injuries, a call comes into the attorney’s office asking whether or not the person has the grounds necessary to raise a personal injury claim. This is the first contact with the potential client and is therefore the first opportunity to market your firm and services. Screw this up and you most assuredly will not get a new client. Do well, and even if the client or you decides not to go forward with the claim, you have created a potential referral source that could pay dividends in the future.
First things first – capture all of the client contact information. Get everything you can (name, address, phone numbers, and email) to allow you to contact them now and in the future. Have a new client form that you can easily grab when the call comes in that prompts you for this information. Or better yet, have such an input form on your client database so you can easily fill it out and create the database records without additional data entry steps.
Next, capture the relevant facts regarding the case. You should concentrate on facts concerning liability, injuries, medical treatment, witnesses, statements, and defendant/insurance company information. The goal is to listen to the client and give them an assurance that their case is important to you while obtaining enough information to make a determination as to whether or not you want to accept the case. Ultimately, you will have to make that decision and usually before the conversation is ended.
If it is a case you would like to accept, the next step is to get the client to execute a retainer agreement (subject of the next post in the series). More and more, I am doing this next step via email by sending the agreement and other intake documents to the client and asking that they be completed and returned via email. This has an immediacy to it and also steers the client to using email as the primary form of communication going forward. If that is not reasonable, then have the client come in for a face-to-face meeting. This has its advantages as well as you begin to establish a personal relationship with the client and they become more comfortable with you as their attorney.
If you are not interested in taking the case, your goal is to have the potential client recognize you as a future resource. Often times I will go to great lengths to give them the contact information of other attorneys who may be able to help them. Somebody might see the case differently and by referring them out you give the client the sense that their well being is your objective even if you can not take their case. And I will even ask the potential client to call me back if they are unable to find an attorney to take their case and I will help them to further look for one.
I try not to give the client the “I’ll get back with you” response unless it is really necessary. If the case presents an issue of law that I am not as comfortable as I would like, I might ask to get back with the client after I research it. But that research has to be done quickly and you have to contact them right away else they will think you are just ignoring their case and blowing them off.
So my goal for new client calls is pretty simple. Gather enough information that will allow me to either accept the case as a new client or else create a sense in that person that they can call me back on this or any other matter and know that they will be heard and their needs addressed to the best of my ability. Over the course of time, it has proven to be the right strategy for me in both developing a client base but also in creating corporate goodwill.