Successful attorneys choose clients, they do not choose you.
The decision to accept or reject a case is one of the most important decisions an attorney can make, and is one of the biggest reasons for the financial success or failure of a law firm. It is a key decision because accepting a case can have financial and professional implications for years to come.
Start by choosing cases based on their legal foundations as opposed to financial or emotional ones. As an attorney, you need to be looking for red warning flags. From my experience, here are four types that tell me to take a pass on a case:
1. The Perfect Case
Beware of the client who tells you that all you have to do is call the other side and they will write a check. As any experienced lawyer knows, there is no such thing as a perfect case. Each one has challenges and requires an in depth review of both the facts and circumstances surrounding the claim. While it is not unusual for both the client and you to believe that the case is strong, each one will take a commitment of time and money, no matter whether it is resolved through settlement or judgment.
It is your job to explain to the client the legal process, the time consuming effort that it takes to work a case up to its full potential, and the challenging fact that the quickest way to settlement may not be the one that yields the highest number.
2. The Rejected Case
The client who has shopped their case to numerous other attorneys, all of whom have turned it down for various reasons, should concern you. My experience has been that it is very unusual for a good case to be rejected by numerous lawyers.
Proceed with caution. I have been very successful on cases that other attorneys have rejected. However, if you find from discussions with the client that they have had the case reviewed and rejected by other well qualified attorneys who practice in the same area of law, warning bells should be ringing.
3. The Emotional Client
With clients who are so emotionally invested in the case, there is a danger that it will be unresolvable by either settlement or judgment.
Frequently, there is no amount of money that can satisfy the client’s need for revenge, emotional satisfaction or greed. In the end, civil cases are about dollars and cents. If the client is unable or unwilling to accept that the case may be resolved for a dollar amount substantially less than expectations, it may be a case you want to pass.
I have had clients, for example, who have demanded that I have taken the case with the proviso that no matter how much money has been obtained, I also need to obtain a written letter of apology. While I have asked for and received letters of apology as part of the settlement, I would be very concerned about a client who demands settlement terms other than money.
4. The High Maintenance Client
Finally, I would be concerned about a client who is currently represented by an attorney, but now wants to switch “horses” and ride with you. I have had success with clients who have fired their previous attorneys for reasons that include failure to pay attention to the file, failure to communicate with the them, and failure to provide them with answered questions they may have during the course of the litigation. This is not to say that “high maintenance clients” should be rejected outright, it is just a suggestion to be cautious with their expectations .
If a client tells you that their current attorney is a real jerk for not returning their phone calls, pick up the phone and call the other lawyer yourself. Tell them you have their client in your office wanting to hire you. Ninety percent of the time that attorney will either say “I don’t understand this is the first I’ve heard of it” or ask “Where can I send the file?” and is gleefully excited about dumping the client. Both of these answers will give you good information for making a decision.
What are your red flags when choosing a client?