The first step in engaging a client is screening and intake. Just as your clients select you, you should also select your clients. This begins with your intake form and procedures. Have an intake form that memorializes the collection of important information, including that for conflict checking purposes. You may also want to develop potential client questionnaires for different matters. After collecting the information, conduct a conflict check and determine whether a conflict exists. If it is a waivable conflict, have your client(s) consent, in writing.
Once you’ve decide to represent a client, you must enter into a fee agreement as per the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct 1.5. The rules require written fee agreements in most cases, with very limited exceptions. If it is a matter taken on a contingent fee basis, see specific requirements and forms set out in Rule 1.5. Use your fee agreement to clearly define the scope of your relationship with the client. Generally, you want a limited scope of engagement to limit future claims that you represented a party about an issue of which you are not even aware. The fee agreement is also an avenue to communicate with your client your fees, what you charge for, when you expect to be paid, whether interest will be charged for unpaid amounts due, and what will happen if the client continues to not pay. Speak with your client about how a retainer must be paid before you begin work on a project. If it’s a flat fee matter, try to collect at least a portion of it upfront. Review the fee agreement with the client and have an executed copy for both the client and for you.
INTAKE FORMS and RESOURCES
Opening a Law Firm Toolkit (Lawyers Mutual, North Carolina) (pp. 24-26)
FURTHER READING FROM OUR LENDING LIBRARY
The Essential Formbook: Comprehensive Management Tools for Lawyer (Anthony Davis, American Bar Association)