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THE MAGAZINE      September 2002
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How to Assess Your Client List

By Stephen Weinstein

 

Over the years, you invest considerable effort in building your law practice. It’s wonderful to see your client list grow, isn’t it? Some clients you find to be delightful. Others, however, seem to bring you physical pain. Do you really have to continue providing services to these people? No.

Seize the opportunity to clean house. Review your client list regularly. Which clients fit with your practice goals and personal work style? Which ones fall outside of your parameters? Which could be delegated to other, more compatible lawyers? As part of your annual business plan or practice assessment, determine which clients you want to retain—and which ones you don’t.

For starters, every client on your list should meet the four Ps: They should be Paying People with Paying Problems. If you want to pay your bills, you must have clients who pay theirs. And those clients must bring you paying problems, that is, matters that require revenue-generating services commensurate with your rate and experience. The four Ps are essential to any business. Without them, you might as well close up shop.

10 Factors in Developing Your Hit List

For an in-depth assessment of your client list, consider the following 10 factors. All these elements go into determining whether you want to continue or break off the client relationship.

The payment factor. Okay, this client pays his bills. But does he do so in a timely manner? Or is it always a hassle to collect your fees?

The haggle factor. Does this client consistently question your bills and the amount of time you devote to a matter? Does she negotiate every dollar? Or does she understand that when you send a statement, the amount represents your determination of the true value of the services you rendered?

The problem factor. Is the nature of the work challenging enough for you? Does the type of matter allow you to shine and be creative? Or is it boilerplate work that you can do blindfolded?

The goodwill factor. Is the client a source of new business and referrals? If so, how does this new business fit into the practice profile you want to project?

The UGH factor. When you receive a phone call, fax or e-mail from the client, do you get a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach? The next time this client calls, ask yourself a simple question: "Do I really want to call this person back?" If you answer no, face it—there’s a problem.

The respect factor. Does the client respect you? And do you respect the client? Absent mutual respect, it is impossible to continue a relationship over the long term.

The personality factor. Do you and the client get along? Or is there a personality conflict? In a profession such as ours, where we work under constant pressure, you may not want the added stress of working with someone if you find that person’s "style" unpleasant to endure.

The image factor. Does the client fit in with the mission and values you want to achieve as a lawyer? Is this the type of client you or your firm want to represent? Does this client add value to your practice?

The history factor. Do you and the client have a history together? Do you have close knowledge of the client’s business and objectives? Have you "grown up" with each other and developed a relationship such that you and the client want to stick together through good times and bad?

The comfort factor. Overall, do you feel comfortable working with the client? Or is there a feeling of unease, even trepidation?

We all know how hard it is to develop new clients and to retain existing ones. However, there comes a time when every lawyer must decide between keeping certain clients or moving on to new opportunities. Nowhere is it written that you must retain someone on your client list forever. On the contrary, it’s much better practice to sweep the list occasionally. Getting rid of some clients may be the best thing that could happen to you, on a professional and a personal level.

Stephen Weinstein (sw@swlaw.ca) is a partner in the Montreal-based law firm Weinstein & Associates and specializes in business law. He can be reached at (514) 932-5660.