Lawyers love giving accurate, timely advice but that’s hard to do with incomplete information. Clients aren’t always sure what information is relevant, they may offer too much or too little. Lawyers aren’t perfect, sometimes they forget to ask key questions.
How can clients and lawyers help each other so the right information is shared quickly and in an organised way?
I think the answer is triage tables via online intake.
If you get sick of scanning through an email chain to find information or you’re constantly prompting clients to give the same information… legal triage tables are the easy-to-use productivity tool for you!
What is legal triage?
Triage has been described as “one of the most powerful words in the In-house legal dictionary” (Kar Chapman, CEO Riverview Law) and as “a vital tool to increase access to justice” (Kari D Boyle). Sounds good, right? So, what is legal triage?
In a medical setting, triage is all about prioritising injuries and illnesses to address the most critical needs sooner and therefore overall more people survive.
In a legal context, triage is the sorting and allocation of legal resources. Legal triage and online intake aims to maximise use of lawyers and non-lawyers for both cost and time efficiency. Triage of legal requests ultimately seeks to solve client issues quickly and efficiently.
Fun fact: The term ‘triage’ comes from the French verb trier, meaning to separate, sift or select.
Of course, legal triage is not really about life and death. But it is still about managing time and resources effectively. Often when you manage your time and resources effectively, it feels like you have saved your own life from the drudgery of brain strain.
For lawyers, placing the right kind of legal triage via online intake (such as email or a web form) at critical points in a client journey provides creative ways to make sure clients receive the “right” legal resources at the “right” time.
What are Issue Specific Triage Tables?
An issues specific triage table is pretty much what it sounds like. It is a specific table of questions used to conduct triage of an identified legal issue. Triage tables are:
- low tech;
- easy to start;
- automation-friendly via an email auto-response if you have a designated inbox (in Outlook or in Gmail);
- quick to send out with a QuickParts in Outlook or Canned Replies in Gmail.
Here’s a sample of what they can look like (see links at the end of this post for an editable word document of this triage table):
Use issue specific triage tables when you can broadly identify the type of legal issue (e.g. contract for review, dispute with a customer, want to register a trade mark, request for marketing content review, etc. etc.).
The issue specific triage table gathers the key information that will help a lawyer respond quickly. Note that we aren’t gathering all information. Just the key information that helps the lawyer give the next steps of legal advice. This technique is extremely helpful for in-house lawyers who often receive requests for help via email.
Why try issue specific triage tables?
There are lots of different reasons to try legal triage, online intake and issue specific triage tables.
The hardcore data fans of legal triage often use it to capture basic data, improve performance and prepare legal functions for AI if possible.
According to Riverview Law, a front-runner in legal analytics and automation, the triage of legal requests “is the foundational layer that drives not only a game-changing data strategy but the entire legal operating model; … it helps determine:
- where work is coming from,
- what work should be done by whom and
- whether it should be done internally or externally.”
This kind of triage is constantly asking the question ‘What resource is the best resource to complete this part of this legal task?’
For larger organisations, this kind of metric information is extremely important. After all, if you can measure it, you can manage it (according to…. several sources). Smaller organisations might be happier with less metrics but greater oversight on the types of matters coming in.
Because lawyers forget to ask things
As lawyers rush through a hectic day, shooting off a response with one question in an email seems like quick, decisive action. But if a fast response then needs several more emails requesting further information, it’s actually pretty inefficient.
With issue specific triage tables, you gather the usual suspects of information you need quickly and in one go. When you have issue specific triage tables in place, you can capture key information. Key is the key word here. Triage isn’t about doing a fulsome medical history.
Can you imagine if medical triage completed a comprehensive medical exam in the emergency room? It would defeat the purpose of triage – which is to quickly sift and sort the incoming requests for fast action.
Because people forget to tell things & also over share (oh the irony!)
Clients don’t always know what info to give to lawyers initially. Lawyers often need to go back to clients to gather further information. Or lawyers must sift through irrelevant information to find the nuggets of detail.
It is this information gathering stage the client or a paralegal can do easily and efficiently. This maximises use of a Legal teams’ time and cognitive load. Using issues specific triage tables can get to the magic Goldilocks amount of information about an issue – not too little, not too much, just the right amount of information.
Because everyone loves to forward email chains
It’s so tempting to handball an email to a colleague with a “see details below” or worse “FYI” (hated!). The next person on the email chain must sift and sort themselves.
There’s nothing wrong with asking for a second opinion or requesting help. When you use issue specific triage tables to focus the issues, it makes summarising the details much quicker and easier.
Because triage tables increase critical thinking skills of lawyers and clients
One major strength of lawyers is their critical thinking skills. Thinking about what you need to think about to solve a problem does not come naturally to everyone. Critical thinking about problem solving is often taught quite well in law schools as a way of identifying issues and analysing a matter for similarities with precedent cases.
Critical thinking is a way to improve your thinking quality by “skilfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it”. – The Critical Thinking Community
By using issue specific triage tables, lawyers can systematise their own critical thinking and analysis. You can make it clear to clients what the important aspects of an issue are. You can make your experience and knowledge scalable. You can structure and focus your clients’ critical thinking skills.
By (politely) asking your clients to structure the details of their legal issue within an issue specific triage table, you are helping them to build critical thinking skills. You’re also helping them to structure their thoughts on a logical, disciplined manner.
How much info needs to be in an issue specific triage table?
Being presented with the triage table shouldn’t overwhelm your clients. Remember, we are going for the Goldilocks amount – not too little, not too much, just the right amount.
You are looking to resolve a problem and don’t need every single tiny fact (yet). You just need to get the broad strokes. With issue specific triage tables, you are gathering the key (remember how key the word key is?) information.
The questions in your issue specific triage table
- Maximum 10 questions (the fewer the better)
- All questions should makes sense and be in a logical order
- Use examples if relevant, use drop down lists if possible
- Provide a clear snapshot of the specific issue
- Rein in clients who tend to waffle
- Focus the critical thinking of yourself and your client on the pros and cons of the issue
Triage Table versus a Triage Checklist
When is a triage table actually a checklist? An issue specific triage table is essentially a checklist of questions to clarify issue details.
You know how much Checklist Legal admires checklists. This is one of the few times where a checklist is not the preferred tool of choice. The difference between providing a client a checklist and a triage table for self-triage purposes is quite significant both visually & psychologically.
Giving a client an issue specific triage table has several advantages over a checklist:
- It feels easy and modern. Asking a client (or paralegal) to fill out a table somehow feels like less work for the clients. It feels like a more modern, tool-based approach.
- You are less likely to get too much information back. Visually, the table looks small and contained. Clients naturally want to try and keep the table small and contained – Goldilocks amount of information. Compare that to the open-ended nature of responding to checklist questions.
- You can get the client started. You might have some pieces of information already which you can quickly drop into the table. By starting the process for the client, they can see what is missing or can correct you if you have interpreted something incorrectly. This is easier to do with a table than a list of questions.
Which of the below do you find more helpful to resolve a customer dispute?
Perhaps it is a distinction which doesn’t really matter – try both and see what works for you.
I would love to hear your online intake or legal triage success stories! What works for you, do you use forms or checklists? Perhaps you prefer client interviews, let me know below.
LEGAL TRIAGE AND ONLINE INTAKE RESOURCES
Online intake – good examples
- Pine Tree Legal Assistance http://ptla.org/triage/me_triage (Free legal help for people in Maine)
- Northwest Justice Project CLEAR*Online https://nwjustice.org/apply-online
- Good example of online intake for with sign here panel (Barita Keough Law Firm) http://www.baritakeoughlawfirm.com/questionnaire/
About online intake / triage generally
- The whats and whys of online intake for legal services https://lsntap.org/blogs/online-intake-whats-and-whys-online-intake
- Benefits for law firms of online intake https://blog.lexicata.com/9-reasons-innovative-lawyers-use-online-intake-forms/
- Ideas on key information to gather for different legal issues (semi formed triage tables) https://www.lexisnexis.com/legalnewsroom/lexis-hub/b/how-to-build-your-professional-skills/archive/2008/01/31/initial-interview-with-a-potential-client.aspx?Redirected=true
- Best practices for client intake http://businessoflawblog.com/2014/07/law-firm-client-intake/
Creating online intake / triage
- Apps to help with online intake http://www.lawtechnologytoday.org/2016/04/client-intake-process-apps/
- How to create automate client intake https://percipient.co/lawyers-automate-your-client-intake-process-in-4-steps/
- About intake form design and form creation http://www.eventsforce.com/blog/the-psychology-behind-the-technology-101-form-design/
Intake forms – poor examples
- Examples of hard to read intake forms – Issue specific intake forms from Bailey & Galyen Attorneys http://www.galyen.com/Client-Intake-Forms/
- A 14-page client intake form for a specific purpose https://weberlaw.com/pdf-files/interview-questionnaire-14.04.25.pdf
- Poorly formatted and 14-page intake sheet for estate planning http://www.coxelderlaw.com/view/33
- The Critical Thinking Community has some great resources on critical thinking
SAMPLE SPECIFIC ISSUE TRIAGE TABLES
Customer Dispute – Issue Specific Triage Table
|Why is the customer unhappy?|
|What does the customer want to resolve the dispute?|
|Are we at fault?|
|What have we done to try resolving the dispute?|
|Is customer still a customer of ours?|
|Is the customer in a minimum term contract?|
|What is customer’s monthly spend?|
|When was the dispute first raised by the customer?|
|Are any other customers affected?|
Contract Review – Issue Specific Triage Table
|Type of Agreement|
|What are we buying / selling|
|What are the key pain points you want this contract to resolve?|
|Ongoing cost (per year)|
|When do you need the contract finalised by|
|Any other comments or issues?|