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Process Improvement Tips

New Client Onboarding: 5 Tips to Win Over New Clients

By David Skinner and Karen Skinner

In last month’s column, Karen and David Skinner explained ways to improve your phone-answering process. The next step: upgrading your firm’s new client onboarding process.

Imagine walking into an unfamiliar restaurant. No one greets you, the menu is confusing, and you’re not even sure how to place your order. What do you do?

Well, if you’re like us, you turn around and head for the door.

It’s the same in a law firm. Your clients need a welcoming atmosphere, clear options, and guidance on what to expect when they work with you. Put yourself in their shoes: They may never have engaged a lawyer before. They’re nervous. They have a legal problem and no idea what to expect. Without a well-defined onboarding process, your clients may feel lost, undervalued, and uncertain about their decision to choose your firm. Buyer’s remorse is real and competition is fierce. You can’t afford to make a bad first impression.

Elevating Your New Client Onboarding Process

Here are our five top tips for making the right impression with your new client onboarding process.

1. Establish Clear Communication Channels

From the moment your clients engage you, they need to know how to communicate with your firm. Whether it’s through email, phone calls or a client portal, having defined channels helps manage expectations and fosters trust.

Ensure your clients know who their primary point of contact is and how and when they can expect updates on their case.

This is especially important if you charge flat fees. Your clients need to know how often they can communicate with you and what happens if they exceed the scope of your flat-fee engagement.

2. Use a Structured Information-Gathering Process

Gathering client and matter information begins at intake, often before you’ve been officially engaged. Ensure that any client information you collect at intake is seamlessly (and ideally automatically) incorporated into their file when the matter is opened. Whenever possible, automate the information-gathering process with easy-to-complete forms and fields you can use for document generation later.

3. Provide a Comprehensive Onboarding Guide for Clients

An onboarding guide is invaluable for new clients. It should welcome them and outline your firm’s processes, what clients can expect during their matter, key contacts, communication protocols, and any necessary legal or procedural information they should know.

Your onboarding guide provides a reference point for clients, reducing confusion and anxiety, as well as providing them with answers to frequently asked questions like where to park at your office or what to wear to court. Use plain language and avoid legalese. Your goal is to make it feel easy to work with you while, at the same time, reducing the number of times you have to answer routine, repetitive questions.

Pro Tip: If you’re not sure how to explain a legal term, ask ChatGPT. Prompt the AI with the concept and ask it to explain the term to an eighth-grader. You’ll have to tweak the response, but it will give you a good starting point.

To learn more about creating onboarding guides for your firm or practice areas, you can download our free guide here.

4. Set Expectations Early

Miscommunication — usually about response times or billing — is the most common reason people complain about their lawyers. Be transparent about timelines, potential outcomes, costs and billing cycles from the start. Ensure your clients know how often they can expect updates. Provide them with a way to address any concerns they might have during the process. Setting realistic expectations helps prevent misunderstandings and builds a stronger foundation of trust.

5. Solicit and Act on Feedback

Encourage new clients to provide feedback on their onboarding experience. Make it easy for them to do so. This demonstrates that you value their input, helps you refine your processes, and reinforces your relationship. But remember, if you solicit feedback, be prepared to act on it, even if you just tweak your process slightly. By making small, continuous improvements, you’ll enhance not only client satisfaction but also your firm’s efficiency.

First Impressions Are Everything

In our profession, first impressions are not just important — they’re everything.

Imagine you’re back in that unfamiliar restaurant, but this time you’re greeted with open arms and guided through a delectable meal from appetizer to dessert. This is the essence of client onboarding in law firms. It’s about transforming initial uncertainty into clarity, trust and mutual respect.

This month, take time to examine your onboarding process.

Put yourself in the shoes of a new client and look at it from their perspective. By establishing clear communication, streamlining information gathering, providing comprehensive guides, setting honest expectations and valuing feedback, you can create a positive experience through what is, for many people, a stressful and confusing time.

Karen Dunn Skinner and David Skinner help lawyers and legal professionals build more efficient, productive and profitable practices. They’re the co-founders of Gimbal Lean Practice Management Advisors and lawyers with over 20 years’ experience each in Canada and Europe. Together, they’re the exclusive Global Advisors on Legal Process Improvement to the International Institute of Legal Project Management. They write and speak regularly, facilitate legal process improvement projects across North America, and have taught Gimbal’s LeanLegal® approach to thousands of legal professionals.

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