Technofeature: When to say no: How to avoid problem clients
Edward Poll, J.D., M.B.A., CMC
Copyright © 2002, Edward Poll
Copyright © 2002, Edward Poll
10 red flags for the client review process
1. Emergencies: Pay particular attention to prospective clients who have last-minute emergencies or "life-and-death" matters. Unless your firm has sufficient personnel or specializes in crises, this type of client brings inherent risks since time crunches often push work to less-knowledgeable or less-experienced personnel.
2. Musical firms: Beware of prospective clients who play law firm ping-pong, or prospective clients that move from firm to firm. This bouncing around is often indicative of people who are really never satisfied with life, and apt to blame their attorney for their discontent.
3. Unrealistic: Avoid prospective clients with unrealistic expectations or demands who misinterpret your estimates, whether of time, outcome, or costs, as guarantees.
4. Pressure: Watch out for prospective clients who use pressure tactics, such as those who demand that you put aside all other cases to handle their matter first. You can recognize this type by their unjustified stipulations that the suit be filed "today!". These clients usually overwhelm a law firm or attorney with phone calls over small details.
5. Attitude: Beware of prospective clients with bad attitudes toward lawyers and the legal system. Lawyer bashing to your face, even when done in a joking manner, may show a hidden disdain or contempt for the law, judges, and/or lawyers. These are people with whom it would be difficult to establish a bond of trust, which is the cornerstone of the attorney-client relationship.
6. Know-it-all: Be careful when prospective clients suggests that they know the process better than the attorney, or that they want the attorney to act as an automaton on their behalf. A recent malpractice claim arose because a client's girlfriend who had taken a couple of law classes in college had the client tell his attorney how to run the case.
7. Misguided motives: Avoid prospective clients who can't articulate what they want to achieve. They may have psychological needs or ulterior motives in seeking representation. Prospective clients who seek revenge are unlikely to be happy with the limited results that the legal system provides. Their disappointment may lead to a resentment of you, which can manifest itself in collection difficulties.
8. Fee nitpickers: Watch out for prospective clients who make legal fees and costs a major issue. Suits against clients for unpaid legal fees are a prime source for malpractice claims. Prospective clients who can't or won't discuss or agree on fees, or who won't sign a fee agreement should be suspect. Prospective clients who want to start now and pay later, or nitpick over the fee, may be signaling a subsequent fee dispute or claim.
9. Expertise: Don't take matters that are outside of your normal areas of expertise. Cases in areas of law that the firm has little or no experience in should really trigger a client rejection. Taking a case for the learning experience could also include a lesson in insurance coverage and malpractice claim surcharges!
10. Inducers: Tread carefully with prospective clients who use other matters as an inducement. When prospective clients allude to other work or other benefits in handling their case, it may be a sign that they know the downside of their case better than the attorney does. Promises to give a firm more business "down the road" or to supply lots of referrals or high profile visibility from taking a case is really just a sales pitch.
About The Author
Edward Poll, J.D., M.B.A., CMC, coaches lawyers to increased revenues and greater profits. He is a law practice management consultant and best-selling author. For more information, call (800) 837-5880 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit Ed on the Web at www.lawbiz.com.