When Clients become Cattle: Personal Injury Mills and the Role of the “Intake Specialist”

Why New Clients Meet with Me, and Not an “Intake Specialist.”

Several months ago I had a position open at my office for an assistant and received several dozen résumés from well-qualified applicants, several of whom I decided to meet with for an interview. One thing that jumped out at me was the number of applicants whom listed experience as an “intake specialist.” My office has never had high staff turnover, so I have not had to look at many résumés over the years. What is this thing called an “intake specialist?” In part out of curiosity, and also wanting to better understand an applicant’s skill-set, I asked for clarification during interviews.

An intake specialist is many times a law firm employee who meets with new potential auto accident victims, and “signs them up.” Many times this person does not even possess a paralegal degree. Here’s where things get troubling: The reason they are considered an “intake specialist” is because the attorney is not present

Scott McPherson meet personally with new clients in this conference room
Scott McPherson meets personally with new clients in this conference room

during the initial meeting, even if the appointment takes place in the office. One applicant explained to me that her job was specifically to sign the client up and not disturb an attorney unless it was a “very big case.” Other intake specialists were expected to go to client’s houses and sign them up, or even to doctor’s offices. Frequently intake specialists are used by law firms that due a great deal of advertising, and seek to generate a high volume of cases. Auto accident law firms that do this are sometimes called “personal injury mills” due to their assembly line handling of cases.

This whole idea of the intake specialist bothers me. If there is ever a time that an attorney should be present it is during the initial client conference. The typical new client free consultation appointment at my office is 45 minutes to an hour. There is much to go over, and new clients will almost always have a lot of legal questions. I am not sure how an “intake specialist,” many of whom do not even have a paralegal license, are qualified to respond to legal questions.

Maybe the way I do things is outdated, but I believe a client should always meet with his or attorney, and not just once. I like to have frequent contact with my clients not only at the first appointment, but throughout the case.   Clients are not just “neck pain from being rear ended.” They are people with a history and stories. I want to know the story, because many times there are “nuggets” of information I can use months later to achieve a better settlement.

I tell every new client to call me anytime, and to stop by the office even unannounced during the case if there is a question. My staff and I get to know many clients so well, by the time their case is over they still come by to say “hello” from time to time. My approach may be old school, but it’s my name on the sign outside, and at the end of every case I want a client to be able to tell friends and family that they received a level of personal service that is rare in this day and age.