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A Lawyer is Not a Bus

Every professional responsibility course highlights the idea that attorneys are not public transportation; we do not have the duty or obligation to take on each and every client that walks through our door.
Written May 22, 2010, read 2097 times since then.


Every professional responsibility course highlights the idea that attorneys are not public transportation; we do not have the duty or obligation to take on each and every client that walks through our door.

This is difficult to process at first, but after some time in the practice, it becomes one of the most important mantras to maintain. As a practitioner, you have to value your service, but more importantly, you have to value your peace of mind and sanctity. The law is a profession rife with stress, deadlines, and serious codes of conduct. In order to abide by the rules, and maintain some semblance of sanity, as a small practice or practitioner involved in client acquisition, keep in mind that we can only help those that help us. Clients that put roadblocks up to their success, inevitably put roadblocks up to our success.

Case in point, I know numerous sole practitioners who take on clients who call incessantly to check on the status of their case. At first, this is understandable, given litigation is everyone's nightmare. However, if after the first few calls, the person continues to ring with the same queries, it is time to sit them down and explain that you have their best interest at heart and will keep them abreast of all goings-on, when there are goings-on to report. I liken these clients to the infamous law school professor who treated his/her class as if it was the only class you had, compromising the precious few study hours with incessantly long assignments. If you tend to take on clients that need excessive baby-sitting, sit back and think about how this is compromising your practice. Do you feel like you could have three clients for every one time leaching one. This may sound harsh, but there are two options. One, swear off clients that just can't let go of steering their legal ship, or two, have a stern conversation from the get go that you are in charge of dealing with the sensitive legal aspects of the case and you will involve your client along the way and include them in anything and everything that they are needed for.

Another issue client: The non-payer. This client comes into your office well meaning and prepared to cut checks in the beginning, however, after the first successful motion or positive initial settlement demand, the check fount dries up. You send a few invoices, a few voice messages with no response. You finally get through and they vociferously promise a check is in the mail. This problem can magnify if you later have to file a claim against your client for non-payment, because a malpractice claim against you is then most likely in the works. The way to work through the non-payer issue is to demand a retainer from the get-go. Make sure this retainer will get you through the first few stages of the case and make sure your client knows that every step of the process is integral. Once they have committed the first chunk of change and you sense the money might be waning you can remove yourself as counsel if they are not on board for another retainer for the next stage.

Lastly, is the client that you just don't connect with. As a private contract attorney, I have the luck of working with other lawyers. Some might think this is difficult, but attorneys understand the pitfalls of the aforementioned scenarios and side step these issues. For those who do not have the luck of working with fellow colleagues, I can only offer the advice of following your intuition. It is one of the greatest skills that attorneys possess. What does your gut tell you? Are you excited by the case? Do you feel you can represent your client with the zealousness it requires for the best possible outcome? If you answer no to any of the above, just pass. I know in this economy that is hard, but let me tell you; word of mouth recommendations are powerful. One happy client can and will refer other clients your way. One unhappy or dissatisfied client will only lead to dead ends. Plus, that client that you loved will send other clients with similar personalities your way. Like attracts like.

Hopefully, these tips will come in handy for any of you striking out on your own in the future. Remember that as an attorney you are in a service industry, but strive to provide services to those who you can do so with passion and joy.

Learn more about the author, Sheila Yazdi.

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Article tags

  • lawyer
  • client
  • professional responsibility

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