The Intake Process: What Lawyers Can Learn From a Mexico City Ceviche Delivery

Courier riding a scooter

Delivery scooterWe were holed up in our apartment in Ciudad de Mexico as rain turned the streets into navigable waterways. Although the city is nestled in a vast mountain valley, “CDMX” has a great seafood scene and our hearts were set on ceviche. That we were apartment-bound turned out to be no problem. I scrolled through Uber Eats and found the top-rated spot miles away on the far side of Chapultepec park. Click, click, click. Twenty minutes later, a poncho-enshrouded biker showed up with citrusy prawns and piping hot soup.


It’s easy to buy stuff these days, isn’t it? There are plenty of other examples:

What all these examples have in common is that they are low friction transactions. As little as possible stands between the consumer and what they want. Scroll, click, done.

Now let’s meet someone—let’s call her Susan—who’s trying to get legal help. Not only is Susan a bit more stressed about her legal issue than I was about getting my ceviche, but she’s also going to experience more stress and friction just trying to hire the lawyer she wants.

Susan picks up the phone and calls Standard Old Law. A study by Conrad Saam published in the ABA Law Practice Division suggests that there’s little chance (one out of 10) that Susan’s call will be answered at all, and she’ll just give up. If she actually gets through, there is a 42 percent chance that it will take three or more days for SOL to return her call. Three days!

Half a week later, when SOL finally does call back, Susan has to explain why she’s looking for help. Then, scheduling tennis commences. Serve: “Monday at 9?” Return, “Sorry, how about Tuesday at 10.” Volley: “Can’t, how about Friday at 6 p.m.?”

Almost certainly, SOL doesn’t explain what Susan might have to pay if she hires the firm (84 percent of firms don’t). She doesn’t know if she has a $1,000 or $10,000 problem.

Then SOL emails Susan an intake questionnaire. It’s a locked PDF so she has to print the electronic version, complete it by hand, scan it back into an electronic version, then return it by (unsecure—hint, hint) email. She probably has to bring her consultation fee payment by check and has to sign her consultation agreement at the office.

Now let’s reimagine what Susan’s experience could have been.

Susan calls Solo Practitioner, Adam Mensa. SPAM isn’t available, but his friendly virtual receptionist (Ruby, Back Office Betties) takes a message, including Susan’s email. The receptionist tells Susan that SPAM will call her back within one business day, but if she prefers she can self-schedule an initial consultation on his website (ScheduleOnce, Appointy). Susan loves this, since it shows her all of the available appointment options. The receptionist tells Susan that SPAM’s common legal fees are listed publicly on his website (like we do).

Susan books an appointment and immediately receives an automatic email, welcoming her to the firm and providing detailed instructions for the consultation. She easily completes an intake questionnaire on her smartphone (there are many such tools), pays her consultation fee on SPAM’s website (LawPay), and signs the consultation agreement on her phone (DocuSign).

These are all incremental improvements which don’t come close to totally redefining, or “ten X-ing” (making it 10 times better for) the consumer experience, as cool startup people would say. But with improvements like these, we as legal professionals can start to sand down the gnarly friction points of the client experience.

The basic task here is to put ourselves in the client’s shoes and to imagine what it feels like to be a client of our own firms. Not just for the intake process, of course, but through the entire representation lifecycle. (For a helpful thought experiment, read about how Airbnb founder, Brian Chesky, envisions the “11-star” hotel check in experience—it involves the Beatles and 5,000 high school kids). The abysmal picture painted by Conrad Saam’s study is actually good news, because it points to so much low-hanging fruit.