YourABA: November 2012
YourABA October 2012 Masthead

Client: ‘You’re fired!’ You: ‘So now what?’

When a client fires his lawyer, the lawyer usually knows exactly why and is often the one in the wrong, says Laura Calloway, director of the Alabama State Bar’s Practice Management Assistance Program, in a recent issue of Law Practice magazine. Still, Calloway writes, “you need to take the time and make the effort to do whatever is necessary to give the client some degree of satisfaction as he or she walks out the door.

“If you are able to satisfactorily resolve the underlying dispute, even if you do not continue with the representation, the client will be much less likely to make unfavorable remarks about you and your firm.”

Following are tips to help handle these clients with care and protect yourself from a potential ethics complaint or malpractice claim.

Listen. A client may withdraw a case because he or she doesn’t feel the lawyer understands the issues. “This is sometimes a wake-up call that you’ve missed something critical,” Calloway says. “As lawyers, we are most closely attuned to the facts and the legal arguments that will determine the outcome of the client’s case. This sometimes causes us to disregard — or even overlook completely — a case’s emotional quotient.”

Start from the beginning and review everything you know about the case, with emphasis on what various outcomes would mean to the client emotionally as well as financially. “This will point the way for your next steps,” Calloway says.

Apologize, if appropriate. If possible, meet with the client to discuss why he or she can’t do as you’ve advised. Use the meeting as an opportunity to part with the client on good terms rather than to argue with the client or persuade the client to take your position. “While you should probably not apologize for anything related to legal strategy, apologizing to the client for any part you may have played in creating tension or stress in the legal relationship is often helpful,” Calloway says.

Send client files promptly. First, if the client has a new lawyer, call the lawyer immediately, advises Jay Foonberg in How to Start & Build a Law Practice. Offer to help the new lawyer in any way you can and then follow up with a letter and the client’s file. “You may need the new lawyer’s help to collect unpaid legal fees or claim your share of a future reward,” he points out.

Listen, again. Survey each client, even the clients who fired you. “Determine what you can about how your clients perceive you and working with your law firm, and what you can do to ensure that the relationship you’ll have with the next client is only positive,” Calloway says.

To read the full article, click here.

Law Practice magazine is a publication of the Law Practice Management Section.

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