We’ve all had them—insulting, stubborn, high-maintenance—there are literally hundreds of types of difficult clients to contend with when running a law practice. Some are slow to pay or flat out refuse to pay their bills. While there is no way to completely avoid difficult clients there are several ways you can mitigate their impact on your time, resources and sanity.
The absolute best way to deal with problem clients is to avoid them in the first place if at all possible. If you have been practicing law for a while, patterns begin to emerge that will help you identify a profile of your perfect client. It will be different for every law firm and practice area but it is very useful to review your true financial return from each client based on time and resources invested. Becoming more adept at identifying and refusing to take clients that are clearly outside your “ideal client” comfort zone is one surefire way to maximize your revenue and build your practice. Yes, sometimes easier said than done, but reviewing and making notes on every matter at conclusion based on revenue, resource allocation and PITA (pain-in-the-@ss factor) will build a strong benchmark from which to help make good client engagement decision.
Full disclosure about your fees and a realistic estimation of the duration of the matter at hand will also help weed out clients who are not prepared to invest in your services early in the process. This avoids the painful slow/no pay scenarios which are so costly and time consuming for any firm. Just being direct and upfront without fearing loss of the client is the best practice. If the client opts out due to financial considerations it\’s better to know that well in advance.
Take the time to put everything in writing. As it is not possible to avoid every difficult client, it is very important to have detailed written correspondence of interactions should a difficult client situation arise. The ability to email an abstract of a discussion, request for information, warning of deadlines, etc. will often help the client see their part in the situation when they try to place unrealistic expectations on you. This tactic can often get things back on track, help the client stay focused on their responsibilities and avoid potential grievances. Obviously, if a difficult client does file a grievance, having this paper trail is going to be your best asset to deal with is efficiently.
When bogged down by a difficult client in a matter that is not progressing as it should, sometimes it is best to simply cut your losses and withdraw from the case. It’s always best to do this through some type of personal communication, not simply sending a letter or email. Face to face (or on the phone) and stating that you are no longer in a position to provide the best representation for the client is the best path to take when the attorney/client relationship has hit an intractable impasse. Just calmly stating the facts of the situation and a suggestion of what the client might do next after your terminate representation will often be enough to avoid any further conflict.
Hopefully difficult clients are rare in your practice, but if you do get one from time to time, don’t become discouraged or allow it to cloud your desire to provide top notch legal services. The law, by its very nature, is helping people through challenging situations which can sometimes bring out the worst in people. As a professional, take the high road and remember that the great majority of clients are very thankful to have good representation.
To find out how you can generate more clients for your law firm, consider using JurisLead lead generation services. It may just make it easier to let go of that tough business relationship when you have ample new business coming in.