How to Sign New Legal Clients Electronically
These days, when clients are deciding whether to retain your law firm, few of them are sitting face to face with you in your office.
Today’s legal marketing practices are much more likely to lead to a phone call rather than a physical meeting.
Your marketing campaigns, and definitely your website, now have a wider reach. And society has a faster pace. People expect to be able to hail a ride, or order groceries, at the tap of a smartphone button.
So, if you’re using “snail mail” to sign up clients, you may find yourself out-hustled by more nimble competitors who offer potential clients the convenience of an initial consultation in the comfort of their pajamas.
You may find that many of your hard-copy intake packets never come back—and it’s frustrating.
This post discusses how you can use electronic methods to send your retention and fee agreement documents, with the goal of signing up new clients more quickly and effectively.
Signing Up Legal Clients with E-Signatures: You Snooze, You Lose
One of our agency’s attorney-clients told me he had never explored electronic methods for signing up clients. I said, “It’s the law firms who don’t adapt with the times that struggle the most.” He replied, “Get me the information.”
Until your new clients actually sign and return the retention paperwork, they’re not actually clients. This means during the time it takes for mailed packets to get to them, you could lose them to the alluring marketing of other law firms.
And if these other law firms are faster at getting the potential client signed up than you are, you may never know what hit you. All you’ll know is that your staff is calling and calling with reminders to send back the paperwork—but it’s too late. Your intake forms may as well be at the postal service’s “dead letter” office.
But with the right electronic system in place, your firm can be the one to secure the client before someone else gets the chance.
This is one of many ways in which technology is changing how legal practices are finding more cases and growing their revenue. You can also apply marketing automation technology to seamlessly adapt your marketing messages to various digital platforms and to automatically send follow-up emails and other messages that keep you on the minds of potential clients after their initial digital contact with you.
In this post covering electronic sign-ups, we’ll use Social Security Disability law as our example, but these methods can be useful for many types of law.
Cases including personal injury, workers’ compensation, long-term disability, and Social Security Disability—all involving injuries or other severe health problems and disabilities—come with added urgency for clients to be able to sign with your firm electronically.
Even in the best circumstances, people today might find it a hassle to drive to your office to discuss their cases in person. Although you don’t want to discourage office visits, if a client’s health is poor, traveling to an in-office appointment can be an actual burden for them.
Special thanks to James Brown of Attorney Consultant, Inc., who helped to provide information for this post.
What Your Law Firm Needs to Sign Up Clients at the Speed of Email
What you need: First, you’ll need a current version of one of today’s popular case management software programs. This software allows you to gather information for various forms—Social Security forms, your own office forms, and medical releases, for example—and to electronically assemble everything into a single document.
For Social Security, these forms may include the following:
- SSA-1696, the Appointment of Representative form
- Fee agreement
- Medical release form
- All other Social Security forms necessary for whatever stage of the process the case is in
Again, this system will simply scroll from one form to the next within a single combined electronic document, giving you an all-in-one, efficient system.
You’ll also need an account with DocuSign or a similar electronic signature software vendor. This technology is what you’ll use to actually transmit your collection of documents.
What your client needs: Obviously, your client needs a reasonably modern computer or smartphone. Depending on the device he or she is using, your client will be able to sign the “paperwork” using a computer mouse or even a finger.
Of course, include your phone number along with the documents, encouraging the potential client to call your office for verbal troubleshooting if he or she encounters problems.
Once the client signs the documents, they’re emailed back to you.
Congratulations! You have just e-signed your newest client.
How Your Law Firm Can Proceed with Cases Electronically After Sign-Up
Having an electronic sign-up system in place is great for enrolling new clients. You can (and should) also use electronic methods to move their cases along once they’re with your law firm.
Again, using Social Security Disability law as an example, you can help claimants apply for disability benefits electronically, without a physical visit to your office.
You may be wondering what this looks like for the staff members managing the cases.
For this, Attorney Consultant, Inc.’s James Brown recommends what he calls “two tiers” of law firm employees:
Tier 1: An employee—who must be an excellent typist and have a wonderful telephone personality—interviews the claimant by phone. He or she will use the word processor feature within the case management software to fill in the application blanks. As the new client’s first contact with your firm, this intake officer must make a great first impression over the phone.
Tier 2: An employee with the authority to accept or turn down cases reviews the application. If the application is accepted, it goes to the claimant to review, sign electronically, and email back to your office. You then fax the forms to the Social Security district office.
What if Social Security Requires a “Wet” Signature?
Some Social Security district offices require a “wet” signature on the appointment of a representative form (SSA-1696).
Whether it’s Social Security or a document in another area of law that requires a signature by hand, having an electronic sign-up system can still play an important role.
In fact, you should have your new client sign up with you electronically, and you should simultaneously mail the form to the client for his or her signature.
You still want to do the email version because the sooner that claimants completes this form, the sooner they recognize you as their attorney. Just alert the client that you’ll be sending a certain form or forms that call for him or her to ink a signature.
James Brown also offers the tip of having pens made with your law firm name, telephone number, and Web address on them and including one with the mailed form.
Not only does this give the client something to use to sign the form, but also it comes across as a gesture of goodwill. Plus it becomes a token with your name on it, for the client to show other people.
Of course, all of this assumes your potential client has a computer with email. There’s still a place for “snail mail” packets. In fact, improving your return on intake packets is one of the best investments you can make.
That’s a whole other topic for another day. If you’re interested, the legal marketing experts at Firmidable can help you with an intake packet makeover.
If you’d like to grow your caseload with a marketing agency that keeps its focus on increasing your revenue with the most efficient tools available, you can get started with us electronically, too. Contact us via email.
Firmidable is the nation’s best legal marketing agency. We know more than anyone about how Americans choose their lawyers.