Client Access & Intake

The first contact an organization has with prospective clients is through the intake process. It is important that the organization's intake system be welcoming to applicants, foster confidence in services, accurately identify the applicant's legal needs, and promptly determine the assistance to be provided.

The first contact an organization has with prospective clients is through the intake process. It is important that the organization's intake system be welcoming to applicants, foster confidence in services, accurately identify the applicant's legal needs, and promptly determine the assistance to be provided.

The first contact an organization has with prospective clients is through the intake process. It is important that the organization's intake system be welcoming to applicants, foster confidence in services, accurately identify the applicant's legal needs, and promptly determine the assistance to be provided.

In order to encourage low-income people in your service area to seek help, take steps to inform eligible individuals of how to reach your offices. Additionally, offices should be located in areas that are accessible. Staff should be highly sensitive to eliminating barriers that limit access for those with physical and/or cognitive abilities.

Intake Systems

An effective intake system offers multiple portals for access:

  • Online
  • Telephone
  • Walk-in and outreach

Telephone Intake

An effective telephone intake system should:

  • Provide prompt eligibility screening and a substantive interview
  • Accommodate the needs of those who speak a language other than English
  • Address the needs of those who are deaf and/or hearing impaired

Georgia Legal Services Program’s Benefits Hotline Provides Georgians with Millions in Public Benefits

“My medicines cost $200 per month. I wasn’t able to get them although I had had two prior heart attacks. Now I can get my medication because of the Medicaid. I would have given up without your help.” 

“Thank you very much for helping me. I called everyone and did everything I was supposed to do. GLS was the only place that helped.” 

These quotes are from people who received help through Georgia Legal Services Program’s (GLSP’s) benefits hotline. 

The hotline was created in 2012 to optimize the legal process of receiving public benefits—specifically, to reduce the number of hearings attended by GLSP lawyers and to help clients get the food and health care they needed, which were often delayed or denied by the bureaucratic process. 

In addition, the hotline served a critical purpose because at the time in Georgia: 

  • The state’s Medicaid, food stamp, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs were put online and applications, renewals, changes, and notices were often not sent.
  • Many local welfare agency offices closed and the staff in the remaining offices weren’t allowed to talk to the public.
  • The state agency’s central phone system was a mess, with wait times lasting up to four hours.
  • The system had a 48 percent drop rate to get through the phone lines for food stamps and Medicaid applications or renewals.

The GLSP benefits hotline uses a holistic model to provide legal assistance quickly, efficiently, and effectively. The paralegals who staff the hotline take individuals out of the GLSP intake and screening queue and transfer them directly to public benefits attorneys for legal assistance. In addition, they work with state agencies to solve problems and partner with other organizations to provide housing, education, veterans benefits, and other assistance. 

For simple issues such as lost documents or a missed phone interview, the hotline staff contact the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, and the issue is often resolved the same day. 

From the hotline’s creation in 2012 through 2016, more than 2,700 people have been helped. And, according to estimates by the hotline’s funders, those people have received nearly $7 million in benefits. (See the table below)



Number of individuals served

Estimated value of benefits by funder


National Council on Aging (NCOA) Innovations Grant




NCOA/Healthcare Georgia (HCGA)




NCOA/Robust Follow Up








NCOA/Victim Legal Assistance Network (VLAN)/LSC







These numbers don’t reflect the identification of larger issues—GLSP identified and resolved a problem affecting 40,000 Medicaid recipients who had been terminated because the vendor failed to send renewal forms. In addition, GLSP obtained benefits for Medicaid recipients weren’t receiving automatic drug coverage, as required by federal regulations.

Such outcomes have led to a high level of client satisfaction with the benefits hotline and GLSP. According to the Georgia Health Policy Center’s evaluation of the hotline’s impact, “Three to six months after their hotline contact, 80 percent of respondents felt that their overall well-being had improved since they received help from GLSP.” 

For more information on GLSP’s benefits hotline, click here.

Walk-In & Outreach

Walk-in intake may be preferable for those who may not have access to phone service or those who communicate better in person. Legal aid organizations should exercise sensitivity with regard to the cultural differences of some clients who may only feel comfortable speaking with staff face to face. Additionally, organizations should be sensitive about asking those who have come a long distance, don't have a telephone, or are elderly or disabled to call the office. 

Outreach offers legal aid organizations the opportunity to reach vulnerable populations, to provide critical legal education to the community, and to make the community aware of the types of legal services available to them.

Legal aid organizations can partner with other community organizers to sponsor outreach events. For example, outreach events can take place at nursing homes or at senior day care centers in order to best reach the elderly.

Online Intake

Many legal aid organizations now offer intake services online. The ability to access intake through the Internet provides opportunities to applicants to seek or apply for help outside of office hours and during holidays. It can also save them valuable time in finding out whether they even qualify for services.

With an efficient and effective intake system, low-income individuals and legal aid staff should be able to know quickly whether the individual qualifies for services. Applicants who do not qualify should be directed to other service providers that might be able to offer help. 

Effective intake systems—whether by way of telephone, in person, or online—are regularly reviewed by the organization to ensure that applicants are experiencing prompt, efficient, and quality services. Intake systems are supported by clear and concise written guidelines and standards, and staffed by employees and volunteers who are regularly trained and evaluated.

Substantive Law, Local Practices, and Resources Wiki

An internal wiki developed by the Counsel and Advocacy Law Line (CALL)—Lakeshore Legal Aid’s intake and advice arm—provides attorneys who respond to applications for service the substantive law, local practices, and resources they need to provide advice to the low-income and elderly clients in 44 counties throughout Michigan.

The wiki, which is updated daily, features interactive maps of every county in the state. These maps list funding, local office priorities, court information, local court practices and forms, and county-specific social service resources. In addition, the wiki provides lists of good stories to share with funders; lists of bad actors and systemic problems; staff schedules and contact information; technology information; a resource page with links to court rules, case codes, state and federal community resources, and helpful websites; a pleadings index; and more.

In adopting and using the wiki, CALL has seen more efficiency across the board. Now, substantive legal information and advice is at the fingertips of those who are looking for it, and the wiki has become a one-stop shop for community resources across Michigan, eliminating the need for clients to call multiple organizations to get assistance.

For more information on the Counsel and Advocacy Law Line wiki, view the PowerPoint slides from Lakeshore Legal Aid’s presentation on “Innovations in Civil Legal Aid” at the 2015 NLADA annual conference here.

Appointment Reminder System

Missing a court date or appointment at a legal aid office can have devastating consequences for low-income clients. In an effort to reduce these occurrences, Legal Services of Northern Virginia worked with a developer to create an appointment reminder system that notifies clients via text message or voicemail of upcoming office appointments or court hearing dates.

The messaging system, funded through a Technology Initiative Grant (TIG), extracts information from the KEMPS case management system to send the reminders. It also features additional coding, which is important in domestic violence-related cases, for instance, where it might be unsafe for a client to receive a reminder.

Since the system launched, Legal Services of Northern Virginia has had a 43 percent reduction of no-shows, and text messaged-based reminder systems are now being replicated across the country.

For more information on the appointment reminder system, view the PowerPoint slides from Legal Services of Northern Virginia’s presentation on “Innovations in Civil Legal Aid” at the 2015 NLADA annual conference here.

Utah Legal Services Online Intake

Utah Legal Services Deputy Director Eric Mittelstadt described his organization's online intake system in a presentation to LSC's Promotion and Provision for the Delivery of Legal Services Committee.

To use the new online intake system, potential clients clicked a link on the home page, which directed them to an A2J guided interview. Once the interview is complete, intake staff evaluate the applicant's eligibility and, if appropriate, connect the new client with an intake advocate.

The online system significantly reduces the time required for intake and provided access to populations that are difficult to reach, the hard of hearing, domestic violence victims, and those who needed help outside of traditional office hours.

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Legal Assistance of Western New York Coordinated Intake

Using a unified intake system, the Telesca Center for Justice houses six legal organizations that serve the Monroe County area. Both incoming calls and walk-ins are directed to the same coordinated reception, which assigns clients to one of the four organizations that offer direct client services:

  • Legal Assistance of Western New York
  • Empire Justice Center
  • Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County
  • Legal Aid Society of Rochester

The Monroe County Bar Association and the Foundation of the Monroe County Bar do not have direct service programs but share space, including conference and training rooms, to facilitate delivery of services.

This cooperative system allows Monroe County residents seeking civil legal aid to meet their needs through a single location, which reduces confusion and frustration.

Case Acceptance Guidelines

Case acceptance guidelines and policies set expectations for what cases will be accepted. This helps streamline the intake advice and referral systems. Bay Area Legal Aid's 2017 "Case Acceptance Guidelines" offer threshold eligibility for opening a case; compelling factors to consider; and other issues to consider for family law, consumer law, housing, and public benefits cases.

Intake Manuals

South Carolina Legal Services 2018-19 'Intake Playbook'

South Carolina Legal Services' 366-page "Intake Playbook" serves as a guide for "determining which legal problems will result in an application for service, assistance by counsel and advice/brief services, and further review by the managing attorney for extended services."

Among the topics addressed in the playbook are:

  • Intake procedures for type of intake
  • Limited access intake
  • Intake by video conferencing
  • Applicants with limited English proficiency
  • Telephone intake procedures
  • Financial eligibility and guidelines
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Case management
  • Case priorities
  • Emergency disaster plan
  • Advice on speaking to difficult callers

LAF (Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago) 2011 'Decision Guides'

In creating intake decision guides as clear visual aids that simplify priorities and eligibility issues, intake staff, who are not attorneys, can determine if a particular caller fits priorities and what path the call should take (advice, appointment, referral). The guides are not intended to make ultimate case acceptance decisions, only to determine whether a caller meets certain threshold requirements to be scheduled for a full intake appointment with an attorney or paralegal.

Additional intake manuals:

Download Files

Title of File or Publication Size Format
CaseAcceptanceGuidelines-BayAreaLegalAid.pdf 189.54kb PDF Download
IntakeManual-SouthCarolinaLegalServices.pdf 2.71mb PDF Download
IntakeDecisionGuides-LegalAssistanceFoundationMetropolitanChicago.pdf 237.91kb PDF Download
IntakeManual-LandofLincolnLegalAssistanceFoundation.pdf 1.47mb PDF Download
IntakeManual-BayAreaLegalAid.pdf 138.36kb PDF Download

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