The job description of an attorney is no longer limited to just practicing law. Attorneys must also be savvy and skilled in the business of running a law firm.One of the critical elements involved in running a successful legal practice is the process of tracking and understanding your new case / new client intake. Without the process and tools to track intake on an ongoing basis, it is next to impossible to have a strong understanding of the health of your business, identify potential opportunities and gauge relative growth prior to the end of the billing cycle.

Essentially, marketing without tracking your intake is marketing in the dark. Many law firms don’t track intake. Some firms believe that because they are small or a boutique practice, all calls ultimately go to a specific attorney – someone who understands the call volume without formally tracking incoming calls. However, with only an “idea” of call volume and no concrete numbers, attorneys are left to rely on anecdotal information rather than real data. When it comes time to make decisions, such as renewing their yellow pages or marketing a specific practice area, they are left to guess at what works. Conversely, large law firms often operate as individual fiefdoms and don’t have the wherewithal or fortitude to implement a process that everyone will follow.

Tracking intake is easier than you may think and will pay strong dividends as it will enable your firm to truly make informed marketing and financial decisions. You can start to project trends and make decisions strategically based on data. Below are four tips for tracking your intake.

1) Intake tracking doesn’t start when a qualified prospect talks to an attorney. Intake tracking must start when a call comes into the office. Regardless of whether the phones are answered by a central receptionist, a case manager, a paralegal or different attorneys, ask some questions and record a minimum set of information. Get the type of issue / case that the person is calling about, the source of the call (for instance, yellow pages, a referring attorney, direct marketing campaign, etc.) and whether the call was routed to another person within the firm for additional information or whether the opportunity was rejected initially.

2) Look at these calls as a way to improve your marketing database. Collect email addresses from your clients, but also collect email addresses from those people whom you don’t ultimately work with. Just because they don’t need your services today does not mean that they won’t need your services in the future, but ask permission to send electronic communications.

3) If the case is referred, get the name of the referrer. Often, there is little centralized or aggregated information and hence little visibility regarding a firm’s referral partners, so it becomes difficult to successfully manage these relationships. Conversely, if you turn down a lot of cases, try to develop a referral list. In many cases, it is better to refer a case than to just turn it down. Make sure that everyone involved with the intake process knows who is on the referral list.

4) Use a standard process and common template, spreadsheet or web form to collect intake information. Make sure that everybody collects the same information and automate where possible. Collecting this information doesn’t have to be difficult, but everybody should collect it in the same manner, and if multiple people collect information, the intake lists must be aggregated.

Now that you have this information, use it. Track your trends. Understand the types of cases that you are commonly turning down. Look for relationships between the trends and your marketing initiatives. Use the information to forecast future revenue. Leverage this intake information to help you run your business. To be successful in running a law practice, you have to be successful in running a business.