Identifying Good Clients & Getting Rid of Bad Ones

Legal Industry

Good clients make practicing law a joy. Bad ones can make you feel as though you’re pushing a boulder uphill.

Bad clients take more time and effort than they’re worth. They cause unnecessary stress and can make you miserable. They drain the energy that you could be using to find and serve good clients. And they can even spill over into other areas of your life, clouding your judgment and making you question whether you can do a good job as a lawyer.

The best way to deal with bad clients is to identify them and fire them if you can. Learn to spot potentially bad clients when they first walk in the door, reducing the chance that they’ll become your clients at all.

Spotting and Firing the Bad Clients

Look at a list of your clients, ranked according to the amount of revenue they bring in. If you have bad clients, they will jump out at you right away. You spend an inordinate amount of time working on their matters, yet they’re sitting near the bottom of the revenue pile.

Alternately, ask yourself and your law partners this: if you could wake up tomorrow and magically be free of one or two clients, which ones would they be? The ones you choose are likely the ones who give you stress, aggravation and a sense that “it’s just not worth it.”

Consider dumping a client who:

  • Doesn’t pay or only pays after much pestering and cajoling
  • Repeatedly complains about your work and your bill
  • Doesn’t take your advice
  • Is difficult or impossible to get in touch with
  • Makes you feel terrible anxiety that’s unrelated to the matter itself
  • Causes trouble and aggravation that far exceeds the amount of money you’re being paid

Be careful not to commit malpractice when you fire a problem client. This is especially true for litigators who can’t just leave clients in the middle of a case. Be sure you comply with all state and local rules when terminating an attorney-client relationship.

To minimize the possibility of a lawsuit by a disgruntled former client, handle the termination as cordially and professionally as possible. Give your client a well-organized file, and offer to make yourself available to their next lawyer to answer questions. Taking a call from the client’s next lawyer can help you avoid a malpractice claim if the lawyer questions your actions or thinks you may have handled something improperly. It can be best to handle the termination in person. Don’t blame the client for the failed relationship, but explain that under the circumstances you do not feel that you can provide adequate representation.

Avoiding Bad Clients in the First Place

Certain types of clients seem more likely to cause trouble than others. You can adapt your client intake process to identify these clients right away and avoid representing them in the first place. Examples that attorneys have identified include:

  • A client who is a no show at your first appointment could be the type of client who is nowhere to be found when you need him to appear for a hearing.
  • A client who tries to bargain down your rate or tells you that you are too expensive. If they do this at the initial consultation, they’re sure to do it again during your representation.
  • The client who thinks she knows more about the law than you do and wants to argue about it. Not only may these clients have a bad case, but they are likely to ignore your advice. This bullheadedness can jeopardize a case or land your client in more legal trouble.
  • A client who tells you one story on the phone and then tells you something completely different in your office may not be trustworthy.
  • A client who has already had a falling out with another lawyer. It’s wise to inquire why that attorney-client relationship went sour.

A client who has an unpleasant and argumentative manner in general may just not be the type you want to form a relationship with.


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The information provided is not intended to be legal, tax, or financial advice or recommendations for any specific individual, business, or circumstance. TowneBank cannot guarantee that it is accurate, up to date, or appropriate for your situation. Financial calculators are provided for illustrative purposes only. You are encouraged to consult with a qualified attorney or financial advisor to understand how the law applies to your particular circumstances or for financial information specific to your personal or business situation.

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