Many times an attorney will be presented with what appears to be both a great case but a difficult client. In my practice over the years, I have represented every imaginable type of client and case. What I have learned is it is as important to determine which cases not to take as it is which cases to accept. The success or failure of your practice may lie in this decision.
In general, there are four rules to follow in deciding whether or not to accept a case.
- Don’t take a case outside your expertise.
No matter how good the case looks, I would not take a maritime negligence case. Although I am sure I could learn the basics of maritime law in a short period of time, it is not the kind of case I usually deal with. Not only am I less comfortable dealing with cases outside of what my practice usually handles, I am exposing myself to potential malpractice. Although I can learn the basics and bring myself up to speed on a maritime case, the best course of action would be to refer the client to an attorney who concentrates on this area of the law.
2. Make sure you are not taking on somebody else’s problem.
I have clients who come to me and say they have been to two or three other attorneys who have all withdrawn and he or she can’t understand why. This should be a red flag that something about either the case or the client is causing a string of lawyers to run away and should give an attorney pause in considering taking the case.
That is not to say that a case that has been rejected by other attorneys should automatically be rejected by you. I have successfully prosecuted cases with very good financial results that have been previously rejected by other attorneys. It is just a matter of making sure that you talk to the other lawyers who have rejected the case before you accept. Not only will you get a flavor of the case and client, but you’ll also find out what type of money and effort the lawyer has put into the case. Remember a discharged attorney may have a claim for quantum meruit for the work he did on the case if it was a contingency case.
- Do not take cases from clients who are motivated by either revenge or a need for personal animosity.
The kind of client who is only interested in litigation in order to punish the opposing party is a case an attorney should run from. In these cases, the client only wants the case to continue for emotional reasons, not financial ones. A client who is in a suit based on an emotional decision is a client who will never agree to settle and will never be happy with the outcome of the case.
- Do not take a case that you cannot financially support.
Professional negligence cases in particular, i.e. medical malpractice and legal malpractice cases, tend to require tremendous amounts of time and financial backing. The most recent medical malpractice case I just finished at trial required 28 depositions, 11 experts, and was over $250,000 in expenses. That is just one case.
In summary, before accepting a lawsuit, I would look at these four considerations and think very carefully about both the nature and type of client as well as the financial commitment of the case. Bottom line, take the kind and types of cases that you are familiar with and can financially support. Make sure the client has reasonable expectations and reject or refer the case if it not the one for you.