Sunday, December 31, 2006

Problems with clients

To one degree or another, we all have problems with our clients. Some offices have only a few, while others are virtually infested with them. Nothing can make a solo practitioner as miserable as a roster of bad cases and clients. It should be useful to look at the various species of bad, what causes it, and what to do about it.

1. Not your specialty: "I am a general practitioner, not a specialist". OK, I have the cart before the horse, THIS might be the problem unto itself. I am the biggest supporter of general practitioners, I have identified myself that way for 24 years. BUT what does it really mean? Does it mean you do EVERYTHING? Does it mean you try to? Does it mean you specialize in NOTHING? If you are a general practitioner, I'd offer this bit of advice, "REFINE HOW YOU DEFINE". Look at your biggest problem situations, the cases you should not have gotten involved with. Would you have taken them if your definition of what you do was clear, in your own mind? When it's clear in your own mind, it's clear in how you express yourself to the clients, and it will more often be clear that you are not the lawyer for that case. More on "refine how you define" in the next post.

2. Unclear fee arrangements: I recently implemented a new rule for myself. "Don't start work, or consider that I have a client, until there is a clear WRITTEN agreement laying out an outline of the case and all the fee and disbursements issues". A funny thing is happening. Writing these agreements is a lot of work, and takes a lot of concentration and effort. It seems like more work than the case is gonna be. It seems like its more work coming to terms with what I am going to do, than it might be to just start doing it......and then you have to STOP. and say, "THIS is the most important part of the case.....making the outline of what is expected and how the fees are going to work". Do not start without this. If this causes you to not start, you are ahead of the game.

3. Proving yourself: The client NEEDS help, you can see that. A little bird in your head is singing "This client needs ME". Throw that birdie some crumbs so it goes away so you can think. If that client needs help, but you are not the one, you have two choices that are way better than becoming their lawyer. One, politely decline the matter, or even better, make a great referral.

4. Not following your instincts: Client is nutty, and now is driving you crazy (You knew this when you first met them didn't you?). Did you think they'd be different with you? (Yeah) You did not have to get involved.
I think the client is not telling me the whole story (you were right). Could you have found out more of the story before getting involved? (Yes, but I would have had to work just to do THAT) Doesn't THAT tell you something?
The client has numerous civil cases and has left a trail of broken attorneys (they didn't even hide this fact, something which all attorneys know is a red flag of trouble) Were all those attorneys in the wrong? (Only when they made the same mistake you are about to make)

Bottom line: put in real effort at the outset in making your decision on whether, to what extent, and on what fee arrangement to get involved. You owe it to yourself.....

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