One Lawyer’s Take on Dealing With Difficult Clients
Tips on how to diagnose a potential “problem client” and a method to deflect the inquiry.
We’ve all had difficult clients. The issue is how best to deal with them. One easy mantra is to prevent the problem before it occurs. But that is easier said than done. Even so, here are a few tips on how to diagnose a potential “problem client” and a method to deflect the inquiry.
By way of background, I co-founded LawTake as a place where attorneys can upload documents and videos to help resolve various legal issues. The site was created to help make legal services more affordable for potential clients and—news flash—to attract more clients. For example, LawTake has a 30-minute video on business formation for people who inquire about starting a business. Business lawyers can tell cash-strapped entrepreneurs to watch the Business Formation video first as it will help them save money on legal fees and make any potential representation more efficient. Corresponding business formation documents are also available for purchase, such as bylaws, an independent contractor agreement and a simple non-disclosure agreement.
What started as a resource for potential clients has now also become a resource to deflect potentially difficult inquiries. Lawyers routinely divert inquiries to the LawTake website in those instances where an inquiry comes in from someone:
- With whom the lawyer has no connection to (i.e., if you can’t find them in your personal contact management system or locate a connection or social media relationship via LinkedIn or Facebook).
- Who has gone through several lawyers and now needs you to be their latest representative (unless, of course, they have a good reason for switching counsel, such as the fact that their former lawyer(s) lacked the special knowledge in order to properly handle their case).
- Who has unrealistic expectations about the outcome of the matter at hand or how much it should cost (red flags in this area are the flip recitation that “this is an easy case” or “it will easily settle”
- Who tries to over-negotiate a fee or retainer amount (hint: when this happens, the client often will not want to pay in the future.
- Who wants to fight for principle as opposed to money (more often than not, this type of person will not want to pay the bill either; in these instances, ask for an initial consult fee or refer them straightaway to a competent Legal Aid or pro bono organization).
- Who needs help at the last minute (but if the client can afford to pay a higher price for emergency services and seems otherwise good to work with, perhaps help them out; these cases require great thought and discretion).
Lawyers can also refer favorite current clients to LawTake. For example a client settled a case on her own using a settlement agreement sold on the site, which the lawyer can review after she took a stab at creating the first draft.
Rather than having to learn the hard way about difficult clients and how to cope with them, use creative ways to cope with the classic situations lawyers likely encounter. LawTake is a beautiful foil that is also helpful to any client—difficult or not—who chooses to use it.
Suzanne Natbony is the co-founder and CEO of LawTake. She is also an attorney in private practice in Los Angeles and handles a variety of business matters.