Five types of clients to avoid

Issue November/December 2017 December 2017 By Michelle E. Lewis
Law Practice Management Section Review

Choosing the right clients is crucial for the success of your legal practice. In an ideal world, we would like to accept every prospective client who walks through our door with a lucrative case. In reality, all clients are not created equally, and it is important that you do not create unnecessary obstacles for your firm. Although this list is not exhaustive, here are five types of clients to avoid:

The client who does not value your time.

We have all been there: multiple phone calls, emails and text messages from the same client asking questions that have already been answered. Unless the prospective client was late to the consultation, or created their own agenda, it may be difficult to determine whether a client will value your time. Explain your process regarding communication with the prospective client, and state clearly in the engagement letter any consequences for excessive communication (this is especially important if you are charging your client a flat fee for your services).

The client who thinks he or she is the attorney.

Have you had a client who started their sentence with “you’re the lawyer, not me, but…?” I have. This type of client will repeatedly tell you that they are not lawyers and have not learned the law, but will adamantly and confidently advocate for a different position than what you advised. Because clients are emotionally invested in their case, it can be difficult for them to see the strategy and steps needed to reach their desired outcome. While all clients can be shortsighted at times, be wary of the prospective client who thinks they know it all; you may regret taking their case when they decide not to follow your advice.

The client who has unrealistic expectations.

Many clients have unrealistic expectations about the value and outcome of their case. While they may believe that their lawsuit is worth $5,000,000 or a change in custody should be granted, this value and outcome may not be realistic within the parameters of the law. It is crucial to explain to the prospective client the possibility of not reaching a desired value or outcome. If a prospective client has unrealistic expectations and is unwilling to accept anything but their desired outcome, this may cause many problems down the road. The client will not value your time, may attempt to be the attorney, and if still not satisfied, may terminate your representation.

The client who has had multiple attorneys.

Be wary of the client who has hired and fired multiple attorneys before coming to your office. This type of client may never be satisfied with the work you produce. Ask the prospective client the reason for changing counsel. If they are unable to provide a reasonable answer, i.e. their attorney moved out of state, it may be in your best interest to politely decline representation.

The client who focuses too much on fees.

It is important to recognize and understand any financial concerns of the client. However, your worth, value and the success of your business, are important. Explain to the prospective client the value that you will bring to their case, and be specific about the types of services that you provide for the fee that is charged. If a prospective client focuses too much on fees, this may be a sign that they will ask you to take shortcuts through the process to reduce their fees, or they may be late with payments.

Choosing the right client is imperative to the success of your business and your overall well-being. Keep track of any warning signs that you may notice when speaking with a prospective client, and weigh the pros and cons prior to deciding to represent them. You will be able to spend your time and energy more efficiently, and in turn, provide better representation to your clients.