There are many lawyers. The legal market is constricting. So, lawyers are out aggressively seeking new clients and new areas of law to represent. Yet here I stand telling you not so fast – some clients just do not deserve you. In February 2016, I advocated firing some of your problem clients (http://goo.gl/gpcH4t) in order to do a better job for your good clients. Yes, I advocate pruning your client base.
Perhaps you think me daft, but there is a solid business plan here. This pruning of vexatious problem clients was to allow you to better serve your good clients, and to better develop new business from them. My new sermon today is to prevent you from taking these problem clients in the first place. A little front-end time and the old-fashioned “sniff test” can save you lost time, anxiety, and lost deductibles later.
A few minutes, just as a matter of routine file opening procedure, checking the individual or company in various databases might just keep your name from being associated with an undesirable person or entity. It also might reveal how often the prospective client has been in litigation, as in repeated vexatious rather than legitimate business or personal litigation.
I do not believe it is unreasonable to ask and know who has represented the proposed client before. If they have used many different lawyers before, a reasonable person might want to know why. Certainly if they are substituting counsel in the course of a representation, I would want leave to inquire of former counsel to learn of issues or impending deadlines. A just before a statute of limitations deadline, or the like, should justify further inquiry by you. Why are they requesting your counsel at the last minute, and do you have adequate time to assess the proposed case and client?
What does the representation require and do you have the skill set or resources to handle it? Regardless of the timeliness of hiring, can the proposed client pay for the services they request and do they know the extent of legal work required. Reasonable questions and required due diligence I suggest are in order. We routinely advise our clients to conduct due diligence before proceeding, yet do you as an attorney do the same common sense due diligence before taking in a new client? A common theme I encounter in defending legal malpractice cases is a statement by the lawyer client along the lines of: “I never should have taken this client.”
So unlike the previous withdrawals from problem clients, I am actively trying to get you to do preventative loss prevention by not taking stinky unworthy clients. You will eliminate some work for me and other defense counsel, but you will be a happier and more solvent lawyer for using your good judgment on the front end of a non-representation. Protect yourself further by turning them away in writing and reminding them of all impending deadlines.
Trust me when I say the problem, stinky, non-paying, or unworthy clients are likely to file a legal malpractice action against you. Document well and even send “I am not your lawyer” letters. You need to do these things even in the face of declining business opportunities so you are working smarter, not just harder.