The Happy Lawyer:
Choosing The Right Clients Makes All The Difference

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We’ve all been there–focusing nearly all of our time and effort on just one case due to a demanding client with unreasonable expectations. There are often warning signs when the client first calls, but it’s easy to ignore your gut instincts. Sometimes you need the work or the case just sounds interesting, so you take on the case despite having a few reservations and think “How bad could it be?”

Months later, you realize just how wrong you were and rue the day you ever agreed to handle the case. No matter what you do, the client is unhappy and you spend more time taking steps to appease this one client than you spend on all of your other cases combined. You’re miserable, your unhappy client is miserable, and you wonder how you ever got yourself into this mess.

Well, consider it a lesson learned and look at it as an opportunity to make a change for the better. From now on, you’re going to choose the right clients for your law practice. And by doing that, you’ll improve your outlook and increase your job satisfaction–a task that happens to be the very focus of our 15 post blog series. So read on for tips on avoiding bad clients and choosing the right ones.

As Allison Shields explains in a post at Legal Ease Blog, the best way to weed out difficult clients is to set up a pre-qualifying process for use when you first speak with potential clients:

Create a pre-qualifying process. Think about the bad clients you’ve represented in the past and make a list of the warning signs or red flags that arose during your first conversation or initial consultation. If you can recognize the warning signs in advance, you can stop bad clients before they enter your practice.

Of course, the warning signs are often the same for every lawyer, regardless of practice area. According to Allison, there are a number of classic signs to keep an eye out for when interviewing possible clients:

  • Something about the client makes you uncomfortable
  • The client fired their last attorney (or has fired several attorneys)
  • Litigiousness or a history of suing other attorneys
  • Evasiveness
  • Desire to educate you on the law
  • Promises of additional work or contacts
  • The client downplays their matter
  • Too much focus on fees
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Rush jobs
  • Unreliability

The Maryland State Bar Association also offers some tips on choosing clients wisely. The author of the article, Patricia Yevics, emphasizes the importance of ensuring that everyone in your office is on the same page when it comes to choosing new clients:

Some clients should be avoided and everyone in your office needs to know what type of clients to avoid. If you have associates or partners or even staff who bring in clients, it is important to discuss the types of clients that should be avoided. If you are a solo, then you alone should have the final say about who is and who is not accepted as a client of the firm. If you have partner(s) you should have some criteria for clients and there should be an approval process for clients.

She also discusses the types of clients that you should consider avoiding:

  • Revenge Seekers – Beware of clients who are looking for a pound of flesh. They may not be happy until they have some of yours.
  • Cash Cows – Do not trust a relationship if a potential client promises you future lucrative business.
  • Shoppers – These clients can probably never be pleased. Their last attorneys could not please them so there is no reason to think you will.
  • Commanders – There can only be one attorney directing the case – YOU.
  • Dreamers – These are clients who have unrealistic expectations about the value or outcome of their case. It is your job to explain what the law can and cannot do. If they still have unrealistic expectations, this is not your client.
  • Bargain hunters – Be wary of clients who dicker over all fees and charges.
  • Poison Apples – Unless your client can get along with all your staff, you may not want to spend a lot of time working with this person.
  • No Shows – If a client misses the first meeting, do not consider a second meeting. This person will not value your time.

So apply these lessons and make sure that you create–and always use–a pre-qualifying interview whenever you consider taking on a new case. Carefully consider the benefits and drawbacks of accepting a case and be on the lookout for the warning signs of problem clients. Be selective and choose your clients wisely. By doing so, you’ll be a happier, more productive lawyer–and provide better client service in the process!

–Nicole Black

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