Historically, the way solicitors and other legal professionals interact with their potential clients for the first time has been constant, i.e. in-person conversations. The central role email plays in servicing clients may have helped streamline this process to some degree, but one problem remains, how to balance information gathering, client care and the effective use of a lawyer’s time?
Early attempts to find a solution led to the development of forms, questionnaires and other ‘Word’ or ‘pdf’ documents that legal teams sent out to their clients to fill in prior to an initial consultation. These however, were also ineffective, with many clients refusing to use them either because they did not understand the questions that were being asked, or because the questions did not seem specifically relevant to their circumstances. In other words, they were ‘one-size fits all’, ‘static’ documents that were meant to gather as much information as possible, relevant, or not, with little to no personalisation for the client. So, what is the alternative? How about creating dozens of different questionnaires and then make an educated guess (following a 20 to 30-minute phone call with a prospective client) about which one to send to them? Or, should we create a lengthy 30-page questionnaire, add all the possible questions, and let the client guess which ones are relevant?
What could possibly go wrong?
Here lies the serious limitation of all static documents, especially ones that are required to capture the essential, detailed information that impacts a family law case and deliver on client engagement. Some six years ago, the innovation team at Family Law Partners attempted to improve upon the linear, static document approach and created a web application to balance client care, information gathering and the effective use of a family lawyer’s time. This pioneering work was the forerunner to the Engage application sitting on this site today. Let’s look at how it operates.
The Engage web application guides clients through the information gathering journey and, by basing further questions on responses given to the previous questions, we are able to streamline this process and ensure clients are not overwhelmed by irrelevant questions. Our algorithm runs in the background to ensure questions are always unique to a client’s journey.
For example, cohabitees living in a rented home looking to separate will not be asked questions that are only relevant to married couples and similarly, because they live in a rented home they will not be asked questions about ‘market value’ of the family home or mortgages taken out against it etc.
Additionally, Engage gives the user the option to click on a tool that provides tips for answering the question, contextualising the questions being asked and giving examples of possible answers. This serves two purposes. Firstly, the client understands the context of the question and how best to answer it. It also provides the client information in a bite-sized way as opposed to a wall of texts and blogs which studies have shown only serve as information overload and make the divorce or separation process even less transparent to clients.
“More than 93% of users did not find any questions irrelevant to their circumstances when using Engage”*
Effective use of a family lawyer’s time
Engage also improves efficiency with which family law teams work, a factor that static documents have had little positive impact on. This is because the summary generated at the end of an Engage submission is also client specific which makes it easier for the lawyer to find, extract and keep track of relevant information. This information is like gold – valuable, scarce and very difficult to mine and, much like the gold rush of the 19th century, the success rate of those searching for gold with their hands and obsolete tools was very low compared to those using the right equipment.
Further, because of the way questions are asked and the information is laid out in Engage, clients better understand the journey they have to undertake.
“Over 90% of the users felt more prepared for their initial consultation after using Engage” *
You have to ask yourself, do you want a client who is in a vulnerable place due to a relationship breaking down and is afraid at each step of the journey because they do not understand what is going on and is simply asked to follow their solicitor in blind faith? Or, a client who still might be in a highly emotional state but understands what the next step has to be and so they are receptive to guidance and support?
The final advantage of gathering information via a digital platform like Engage as opposed to static questionnaires is the ability to feed the information into other tools that offer value for lawyers such as the ability to automatically generate asset schedules that normally require significant manual time input and attention.
Improving efficiency is a sure-fire way to free up team members’ time, allowing them to focus on client needs and, crucially, business development activities to attract more clients.
In my next post I will take a closer look at how family lawyers can make the most effective use of the information gathered through a web application like Engage.
*Data sourced from real-time client experiences of the Engage application.
Want to know more?
If you want to find out how much extra value digital working could generate for your family law team, give our Engage Calculator a spin. It takes less than 60-seconds to see what value Engage could generate for you. Speak to us about offering Engage to your prospective clients, it’s currently free for family law teams and will be free to clients always.