So how do you stop taking on difficult clients? It starts with a simple exercise: take out a piece of paper and make a list of all your old clients that you would not want to work with again. Think of the initial conversations that you had with those clients before you signed the retainer. Is there anything that all those undesirable clients had in common with one another? Write down everything that you can think of and refer to this list repeatedly. In my experience, here are some things that you can do to identify a difficult client:
Is Your Client Overly Concerned About Price?While there are clients that truly cannot afford to pay your asking price, no matter what, there are other clients who are just looking for the “best deal.” I know it can be difficult when you’re just starting out to turn down work, but in the long run, you will learn that the true cost to your time is not worth these types of clients. If someone cannot see the value you bring as an attorney, they will never become a valued client.
Does The Client Refuse To Listen?If you have a prospective client who refuses to listen in your initial consultation, that’s a huge red flag. If this person who has no legal training thinks that he/she knows more than a licensed attorney, that problem will only be exacerbated over time, not reduced. If you ever come across that situation, you should consider having a “come to Jesus” talk with your client – basically let them know that you are the expert being paid to do your job and if they don’t want to take your advice, it may be better to go your separate ways than to continue the relationship.
Has The Client Previously Fired Another Attorney?I once had a client who was suing her Homeowner’s Association in federal court. At the initial consultation, I explained to her that based on her situation, I did not believe she had a valid federal claim, but that I would be retained to review the complaint she filed with prior counsel and provide my opinion. Suffice to say, my initial opinion was correct and I only billed her for the time it took to review the complaint and the corresponding research.
She took my opinion letter as a sign that I “didn’t want to fight for [her]” and that I was just out to steal her money. She ended up filing a complaint with the State Bar, and while I won the complaint, I ended up spending more time writing the summary letter to the State Bar to defend myself than I billed for the case. The few thousand dollars I made on that case were not worth the headache!
When you’re just starting out your solo career, it can be very difficult to say no to any case when you need to keep the lights on. But be aware that oftentimes, the smart thing to do may be to just say no!