Who will (or should) be your valentine, Part II

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Edward Poll, The Daily Record Newswire

Choosing the perfect valentine is as important in the business of law as it is in the business of life. In other words, choosing the right clients is key to your success and happiness. This continuation from last issue's list offers further advice when seeking that perfect professional match.

- Watch out for clients who use pressure tactics. Clients who demand that all other cases be put aside to handle their matter first are bound to be trouble. You can recognize the type by their unjustified stipulations that the suit be filed today or be closed by the end of business. These clients usually overwhelm a firm or attorney with phone calls over small details or by having to be constantly apprised of progress.

- Beware of clients with bad attitudes toward lawyers and/or the legal system. Lawyer-bashing to your face, even if it's done in a joking manner, may show a brewing disdain or contempt for the law, for judges or for lawyers. These clients are people with whom it could be difficult to establish a bond of trust, the cornerstone of the lawyer-client relationship.

- Be leery of clients who suggest that they know the process better than you or that they want the attorney to act as an automaton on their behalf. For example, one claim arose because a client's girlfriend had taken a couple of law classes in college and was ordering the client to tell the attorney how to run the case. Such clients are not set up to be in sync with the attorney.

- Avoid clients who can't articulate what they want you to achieve. There may be psychological needs or ulterior motives in seeking representation. Clients who are looking for revenge are unlikely to be happy with the limited results that the legal system can provide. This may lead to disappointment and resentment that can be turned upon the representing attorney. The result can be a perfect environment for a negligence claim, and it points once again to the need for continuous communication between attorney and the client.

- Watch out for clients who make legal fees and costs a major issue. Suits against clients for unpaid legal fees are a prime source for malpractice claims. Clients who can't or won't discuss or agree on fees, who won't sign a fee agreement, or who won't pay a retainer should be suspect. Clients who want to start now and pay later or nitpick over the fee may be broadcasting a subsequent fee dispute or claim. Rejecting that client before representation will minimize the aggravation of fee collection difficulties, if not malpractice claims.

- Don't take matters that are outside of your normal areas of expertise. Potential cases covering areas in which the firm has little or no experience should really trigger a client rejection. Taking a case for the learning experience could also include a lesson in insurance coverage and claim surcharges, particularly if the case is taken on an hourly basis and the client's bill is larger than what might be customary for a firm with expertise in that area.

- Look hard at clients who use other matters as an inducement. When a client alludes to other work or benefits in handling them, it may be a sign that they know the downside of their case better than the attorney does. Promises to give a firm more business "down the road," or to supply lots of referrals or high-profile visibility from taking a case is really just a sales pitch. There may be an even greater cost for the attorney when the payment of a deductible or higher malpractice premium is added to that equation.

While client selection may be only one factor in claims avoidance, it is a major one. Take more time in the initial interview to maximize the rewards, both professional and financial, of the matters that you do accept.

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Edward Poll is the principal of LawBiz Management. He coaches lawyers and is the creator of "Life After Law," a program that helps attorneys plan for profitable exits. He can be contacted at edpoll@lawbiz.com.

Published: Fri, Feb 19, 2016

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