How An Onboarding Process Helps You Hold On To A New Client

An on-boarding process is essentially the process by which you take on a client after she has contracted for your services.  I tend to see it as going beyond the signing of a retainer/engagement agreement.  It is how you begin the actual working relationship, by setting expectations and creating an understanding between you and your client

A clear on-boarding process achieves the following:

  • captures more information about your new client's needs so that you can serve her better

  • sets your new client's expectations by giving her a clearer idea of your work process

This typically creates confidence in your firm's attentiveness.  Most people are intimidated by lawyers, and this discomfort is often magnified by the perception that lawyers "talk down" to lay persons.  In addition, lay clients are not immune to suspicions that attorneys use their knowledge and expertise to retain an "upper hand" in the working relationship, thereby leaving the client feeling like she is being held hostage. Where trust is at such levels, it is likely that a client would have cold feet and decide not to retain your firm, or terminate the relationship. Hence, anything you and your staff can do to ease discomfort for your client and provide transparency can only strengthen their commitment to working with you.

Even if a prospect has already signed a retainer/engagement agreement with your firm, the on-boarding process will serve to put their minds at ease as to how you will manage their case and stay in communication with them throughout the process. Your on-boarding process can expand/further explain aspects of the engagement agreement (e.g. how hourly rates are tracked, which items will be billed and why, how often bills will be sent to the client etc.). 

An effective on-boarding process typically begins with providing your prospective client with a short questionnaire.

That form should capture her name and contact information, and set out a list of questions that gives you a much better of her needs, concerns, goals, timelines and budget.

Beyond the administrative goals such questions fulfill, the real value of this information is to give you a sense of where your client's anxiety lies. It also can reveal to you (and her) deeper facts that may impact the outcome of her case. Open-ended questions about concerns and goals can sometimes also allow the client to be more candid with you. Having a questionnaire before her will allow her time to give more consideration to some of the facts of her case. 

The questionnaire should also provide a field for how she came to know about your firm and its services (e.g. search engines, social media, a friend or family member, other professionals in your network etc..). This is invaluable information as to what is working for your firm in terms of generating new business/leads.

Use the on-boarding process to enhance client comfort with your team.

It's always a good idea to include the contact and biographical information of your team as part of your on-boarding packet for the client. Providing your team's bio and contact information will help the client feel that there are other people supporting her, in addition to yourself.  Let her know that she can contact your paralegal at a specific email address and number about certain types of questions that relate to paperwork and filings and forms. 

And don't forget your privacy policy.

Most people who engage an attorney expect a minimum amount of confidentiality. Re-state your firm's privacy policies when it comes to handling client information and communications between yourself and your staff and clients.  This privacy policy statement can be included in the on-boarding packet you provide to the client.

You are likely to have spent a fair amount of time and money (e.g. on marketing) acquiring your prospects. It would be a real pity to lose them at the very last moment due to an uninspiring on-boarding process.

You can take your first step towards having an effective onboarding process by contacting me for an on-boarding documentation I've created for small law firms. 

You're Never Too "Old" To Exploit Digital Marketing (or "The Advantage Longer-Practicing Attorneys Have")

Occasionally, an attorney who has been in practice for more than a decade will say to me, "Joanna, I'm not social media savvy or good at marketing, like the younger folks are. So I can't really exploit today's digital marketing like lawyers who are ten years my junior."

My response? I point out that they aren't entirely wrong (yes, perhaps they aren't as social media savvy) but they aren't entirely right (they can exploit digital marketing).  If one accepts that social media - or any kind of marketing and communications - is about the story, then I posit this:


More experienced attorneys are actually in an ideal place for marketing. You just need to get your firm's stories out there.


Attorney with years of experience have a broader and deeper library of interesting cases.  The sheer variety and complexity of the human experience that percolate within their client files make not only for interesting reading, but reflect one key reality: if you're good at what you do as an attorney, and you've been doing it for a while, you have content that potential clients want to read.

And we all know that "Content is King", to quote the highly prescient Mr Bill Gates (who first used the phrase in 1996). 

Think about it: how many times have family and friends gaped, laughed or teared over one of your work stories? Certainly, you you don't divulge client names or details, but you leave the human core of your stories intact. That core is about how you serve your clients, and protect their interests and in some cases, their loved ones and even themselves. And as all lawyers (and former lawyer know), fact can often be stranger than fiction.

Which can make for some compelling story-telling. 

But it's not really story-telling, in the sense that it's not fiction. It's about who you are - your brand - and what you do - your professional expertise.  

Articles or blogs about how you handled cases, as well as client testimonials, all help to form a positive impression -- that you are a trustworthy and highly-skilled attorney.

So many people have a strange ambivalence about attorneys - they fear that we are aggressive, and intellectual snobs, and yet they desperately need help. Little wonder that there is a wall that often separates lawyers from those who did not have the advantage of our legal education.  

That walls comes down, and any hesitation to reach out to you dissipates, when the content about you is credible and enjoyable to read. Good content reassures and educates your potential client about your skills and your approachability. It does so clearly and convincingly.  If you have good stories to tell about your track record, they are your ammunition for today's marketing tools and triggers. Whether it's a social media post, an advertorial, a presentation, a blog, a video, an interview in the local press, you have all you need to exploit today's tools.  It's substance, not form (as my law professors used to say).  Marketing tools such as social media, Facebook advertising and SEO are just that - tools. They are tools to get your tales of triumph out before a potential client. 

As for where you should start, try starting with one case win, and add another to your site every fortnight:. The following are pointers on what each write-up should contain:

  • Paint the basic scenario (without divulging client details). Bring out the human element of the story and how you understood the client's anxieties and the reassurance you provided
  • Include key difficulties and challenges that made it a tricky case
  • Set out the broad strategy you employed to help your client and explain its significance to the case
  • Detail the outcome and lessons learned
  • Keep it all under 1,000 words, but more than a couple of hundred
  • Avoid legalese and use lay language


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