Client Onboarding for Criminal Law Firms | Process Street Client Onboarding for Criminal Law Firms – Process Street


As much as having a uniform onboarding process makes life easier for your company and client, it also helps avoid malpractice lawsuits, which, according to LexisNexis, have a 4-17 percent chance of happening each year.

Unlike some lines of work, compliance the biggest issue at hand when taking on a new client. LexisNexis recommends automating as much of the onboarding process as possible, using software to check the prospective client's involvement with other cases and lawyers to minimize malpractice risk.

Record client details

First things first - you need to record the details of the new client. Fill in the form fields below either manually or by automatically shipping data over from your CRM.

Before first meeting:

Send questionnaire to client

Next, send a questionnaire to the client. Upload a copy of the document (before and after completion) to the form fields below.

A questionnaire is a simple way to gather data efficiently. This example comes in the form of a .pdf file, but you can always make your own for online distribution with Wufoo or Survey Monkey. Download the example .pdf below.

Check for conflicts of interest

As stated in the introduction, conflicts of interest are the biggest danger for lawyers taking on new clients. Hence, checks for these must be done as soon as possible. Record the result of these checks with the dropdown below.

It is recommended that you automate this process using software like Client Conflict Check or using the way that has worked for you up until now with your own databases. 

Set up an audio recorder in the room for notes

An audio recorder should be set up in the room which you will meet the client in. This is purely to take notes, but it should be as good a recorder as possible.

If you don't have a voice recorder, you should think about investing in a good one. 

Here are a few we recommend:

Inform client the conversation will be recorded

The client must now be informed that the upcoming conversation you will have with them will be recorded.

It is illegal to take recordings without prior consent from the client, so be absolutely certain that the client is aware of this and consents.

Confirm the cost of the initial meeting

Before going ahead with the meeting you want to make sure the client is absolutely clear on the costs they are about to incur. Fill in the form fields below for later proof if disputed.

Tell them over the phone or in person and send an email with the figure attached to keep as proof.

First meeting:

Check for urgency or risk

The first item of business in the initial meeting should be to identify imminent deadlines and steps required to meet them (court hearings, police interviews). Record these deadlines in the form fields below.

Prioritize the urgency of the case in line with other current clients to make sure you meet deadlines.

Confirm you are not talking to someone the client’s behalf

Legally you have to be sure you're talking to the actual client and not a proxy. 

Make sure the voice recorder catches the statement that they are who they claim to be.

Review questionnaire with client

Go over the questionnaire you sent at the start of the onboarding process to check for any mistakes or missing fields.

Clarify all entered data, get proof where needed and make sure that everything adds up.

Verify client questionnaire information

Check over the questionnaire and verify information that relates to the type of legal matter they have come to see you about.

Verify client’s identity

Take a copy of their driver’s license or passport and file it with the questionnaire and other gathered data. Record a copy with the form fields below.

Take a picture of client

Now you need to take a photo of the client, uploading a copy of it to the form field below.

Remember that the photo needs to meet certain requirements to be considered valid. In line with U.S passport photo regulations, ensure the photograph is valid by ensuring the following sub-checklist items are met.

  • 1
    In color
  • 2
    Printed on matte or glossy photo quality paper
  • 3
    Over 2 x 2 inches (51 x 51 mm) in size
  • 4
    Sized such that the head is between 1 inch and 1 3/8 inches (between 25 and 35 mm) from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head. View a Photo Composition Template for more size requirement details.
  • 5
    Taken in front of a plain white or off-white background
  • 6
    Taken in full-face view directly facing the camera
  • 7
    Taken with a neutral facial expression, with both eyes open
  • 8
    Update every six months

Confirm the need to keep your discussion confidential

You must ensure that the client must not disclose anything said in the meeting. Reassure that you are legally bound to client confidentiality.

Confirm client brought relevant documentation

Although some of these may not be relevant to the case, ensure that the client has brought any of the following relevant documents.

  • 1
    Financial information
  • 2
    Accusatory documents
  • 3
    Parole/probation documents
  • 4
    Documents from past convictions
  • 5
    Medical documents

Determine client’s status

Next, you need to identify the client's status. Use open-ended questions to get as much information as possible. 

During the first meeting it is mostly only necessary to find out:

1. If the client is a citizen
2. If the client is on probation, post-release supervision or parole.

The rest of the questioning should determine concerns and answer questions about the future.

This article discusses the process in detail if you need additional guidance.

Discuss the options

Now that you have a rough idea of the case, you need to discuss the options available to the client.

1. The upcoming court proceedings, including explanations in felonies of preliminary hearing, grand jury and indictment

2. The possibility there may be a plea offer, and the steps we should take if we want to try to obtain one (and the fact that it is my job to relate to the client a plea offer)

3. The client’s right to testify before the grand jury (and usually my advice that it is not a good idea at that stage of the case, but that I have to know if they want to in order to advise the prosecutor in time);

4. The client’s right to a jury trial, and the likelihood that the case will either be resolved by plea or trial (and lesser possibilities of grand jury dismissal or dismissal based on motions);

5. Perhaps legal issues that seem to be presented by this early view of the case (with a reminder that we do not have discovery and will not get it until later in the case).


Recommend next steps to take in the short term

Advise what further information, documents, and research you need before you can give your final opinion or recommendations.

You might consider looking more deeply into past convictions, medical history, or anything relevant that might help you make a case and decision.

Explain what you plan to do

Use of outside experts if any, timing, and costs, etc.

Advise the client how you calculate your fees

Notify how you expect to be paid, and when. Cover the kind of other charges and expenses the client can expect.

Confirm next steps for the client and you

Make sure your client fully understands what you both should be doing prior to any future interviews or hearings.

Explain your file retention policy

Explain to the client that you must hold on to all the documents they have given you, and that your privacy policy ensures they won't be shared outside the organization.

Give them your contact information

Next, give them your contact information. Including your business card, office hours, etc.

Provide a binder

Although a fairly simple step, you should consider providing a binder for the client to use to keep together all of the files they will need.

Your client can use a binder to retain all the information and documents you send them, keeping things in order and helping to memorize important information for the trial.

Expand notes

After your meeting, dictate or type up any handwritten notes, embellishing your notes with additional information you remember. Record a copy of the final notes with the form field below.

Scan your notes to the client file

Remember to also scan or upload your notes to the client's file!

Keep an organized client file, either with an electronic backup or purely paperless through a cloud service.

Ongoing communication:

Communicate based on urgency

After the initial meeting, you should ensure that you communicate with the client based on the urgency of the case.

An in-depth LexisNexis report on avoiding malpractice through proper onboarding processes mentions the importance of continued client communication. It says: 

"There is usually a flurry of activity and a lot of dialog at the beginning of client / attorney relationships. Constant communication is reassurance to clients that action is being taken, their interests are being served and everything is in control. After the initial courting, activity normally slows down, which is when communication concerns and misunderstandings can surface." - Source

The author recommends communication on a monthly basis, but for more urgent cases the time frame will be dictated by court proceedings and legal events out of your control. 

Note that, while letting urgency dictate the frequency of communication is practical, it will help you and you clients form and maintain a great relationship if you check in with them proactively to address any issues or concerns they might have. This is explained below by Nicole Black writing on MyCase:

"One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a lawyer is only talking to your clients when you need something from them, or when they call to yell at you. Set up a protocol to contact your clients on a recurring pattern, just to check in. Before you call, review the case status, so that you can provide a cogent update and answer any questions that may arise during the course of your conversation. A main ingredient of the vast majority of bar complaints circles around lawyers’ poor communication cycles with clients. I often recommend contacting clients every six weeks. And, I think a phone call is most effective. People receive enough email these days." - Source

The trial:

Meet with the client on the day of the trial

On the day of the trial, you should meet up with the client to go through the necessary details once again.

Go through the binder and refresh your client on the proper procedure and planned response to cross-examination.

Prepare for and hold the pre-trial conference

Although you need to hold a pre-trial conference, this should be a refresher only, not a place to discuss any new information. Record the date and time of this conference with the form field below.

Ensure the client is clear on what to say and the planned procedures for the hearing. Take your time, be calm and reassuring.

Meet with your client at the hearing

Once the pre-trial conference is complete, you need to meet with the client at the place of the hearing. Arrange to either travel together to ensure punctuality or call the client to remind them of the exact arrangement, making sure they have enough time to travel.