By: Gary Ross
Last week I talked about how in SmallLaw you are essentially betting on your clients. That the client is relatively sane, that their situation is at least somewhere in the ballpark of how they described it, that they’re not wrapped up in something that’s going to suck up all your time with no payoff. Sometimes you just know right away it’s someone to avoid. If the person is super-intense and believes he’s the subject of an assortment of conspiracies he wants you to help fight, you know that’s someone to refer to that frenemy from law school who never gave you that hard copy of your outline back.
But sometimes upon first impression the person seems normal, and you don’t find out until later they’re nuttier than a port-o-potty at a peanut festival. And everyone has different sides to them. Think about that partner that no one wants to work with, yet the guy keeps bringing in client after client. He’s probably not doing it by treating prospective clients like he treats associates.
Though often you just don’t know until you’re already knee-deep in the representation, here are some red flags signaling when it might be better to pass on a certain prospective client.
Easy Money. The prospective client who has prepared all the documentation for you, and they just need you to sign something, usually more or less immediately. This comes up a lot with legal opinions. They won’t ask a big firm to do it, but they’ll try to find a small firm or a solo who will sign a document without asking too many questions. It’ll be some kind of hard to understand business model involving overseas affiliates, and they need legal opinions, or someone to act as a nominee director, or something of that ilk. I’ll respond back with a list of questions and documents I need to see first, and then I’ll never hear from them again. Good riddance!
No Money. The ones who want free work in exchange for “invaluable” referrals. Basically, the Groupon/Living Social crowd always looking for the next deal. If a person or company had good connections/members to begin with, they could afford legal fees, and if they can’t, maybe their mailing list isn’t worth you spending the time doing legal work for them.
Changing the Money. To me, it’s a red flag if I meet with someone face-to-face or talk with at length over the phone and we come to an agreement on the fee arrangement, and then later—even after I’ve already prepared and sent out the engagement letter—I get an email from them wanting to change the terms of the engagement. If they’re doing this before we even get started, what are they going to be like on down the road when I’ve invested a lot of time and effort?
More Than One Driver. When it’s evident there is more than one person driving the train, each driver has a different destination in mind, and only one of the drivers is interested in engaging you. In every business there will be times when problems will arise, and on some occasions a business even has to make a choice between compliance and profitability. You could easily get ignored if you don’t have buy-in from all of the principals, and one of the last things you want is to be associated with a company doing something unethical. (Especially when you know it!)
The Drop Out. The clients who don’t return calls or emails. Often these are folks who have never hired an attorney before and suffer sticker shock the first bill they get. So then they start doing everything on their own and don’t return your calls or emails. But what’s going to happen when they do something wrong and they run afoul of a regulation or they’re stuck in a bad contract? It’ll be their attorney’s fault! And it’ll probably concern something you never even knew about. Admittedly, this one is talking about folks who are already clients. Still, it might be better to send an email, or least prepare a note to file, formally acknowledging your representation has been suspended pending contact with the client.
The Mystery Client. They won’t tell you how they got your name. Or they’re really vague about it or have an implausible story. Almost everyone I know who’s had a complaint filed against them, or has had negative feedback left on a public forum, had it done by a client who was not a referral or someone they had directly solicited, but rather a client who had found them out of the blue. I had a situation last year in which a client said they had found me on Avvo, which seemed odd, given that I haven’t really built up an Avvo presence. (My marketing tends to be more active.) Turned out they were trying to use me to run some kind of cross-border scam. (And when it didn’t work with me, they went on to trying it with Biglaw firms.)
I purposefully made these more than minor irritants. Any time people are involved there are going to be little pet peeves that are annoying. I’m sure my clients wouldn’t have any trouble coming up with a Top Ten list of Things That Annoy Me About Gary J. Ross (making the list: “He sends me emails at 2 a.m.”). For the most part I’ve tried to make these real issues.
One thing that’s not on the list: If they had problems with past attorneys. I used to think this too was a red flag. It stands to reason that if someone has had issues with their previous attorneys, the problem is probably them, no? (Like a person who can’t stay in a relationship, saying, “I sure know how to pick ‘em!”) But more and more I see examples of poor lawyering, whether it be shoddy work, demands for exorbitant fees, or the most common: lack of communication. Though I just made a list of potential client warning signs, people should really be given the benefit of the doubt when possible. That oddly intense computer programmer may have the government after him after all.
Read More: http://abovethelaw.com/2015/05/6-warning-signs-for-when-not-to-take-on-a-client/?utm_campaign=Above+the+Law+Small+Law&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=17849340&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_6hLz6yVD0EObQwNWuAPCuI_u8IciCf94lwDXOThXM1TQJYK5Xi6_wLsaieZ6UwhRuL8YKqJLkYlXJMVYEo_3JoZUqOg&_hsmi=17849340