The Big Bad Client
By Greg Lawless
Ask Yourself Five Questions and Learn How to Say “No” to New Clients
While the advertising you see in bar journals talks a great deal about marketing and attracting clients, I have found that what is not only more difficult, but also more important, is the ability to say “no” to prospective new clients.
I have been practicing law since 1978, always in small law firms. My practice focuses mostly on real estate transactions. Many of us enter the practice of law because we find it challenging and because we have an innate desire to help people. In a sense, it is that latter trait that gets us into trouble. When a potential new client walks in the door, the natural tendency is to take on the matter because we know we can help that individual, and we want to. The desire to take on new clients is particularly strong with a new lawyer, because expanding the client base is a major goal.
Beware. There is nothing worse than a bad client. Bad clients take on many forms, but the most common traits are: (1) they will not listen to your advice; (2) they are unappreciative of your efforts; (3) they are time consuming; and (4) they do not pay their bill on time, or at all. By handling the affairs of a bad client, you now are less available to a good client. Your time is spent in an enterprise both unsatisfying and financially unrewarding. Have the courage to just say “no.”
When considering taking on a new matter, review the following checklist to see if it is really something you should do.
There are millions of clients out there. You cannot represent them all. There are millions of lawyers out there too. If you can steel yourself to represent only those clients who get past my five questions your practice will thrive, and the bad clients can find some other lawyer as their victim.
Greg Lawless practices at the Lawless Partnership in Seattle, Washington.