New clients are the lifeblood of your practice. But it’s important to know which ones to accept and which ones to turn away. Making the right choice will improve your bottom line. Making the wrong choice will lead to misery and malpractice. Solutions: (a) screen all prospects, (b) stay in your lane, and (c) say no when appropriate.
Finding the Right Fit
You want your phone to ring and your calendar to fill up with new appointments. But you can’t be all things to all clients. Not every prospect is a good match for your practice. Know your strengths and play to them. Know your weaknesses and minimize them.
Alta Pro Practice Pointers
- Screen all prospects. The initial interview should cover the client’s background, the facts of the case, and the parties and witnesses involved. Gathering this information is necessary to evaluate the matter and check for conflicts of interest. The interview should also explore the client’s objectives. Are they realistic? Can you ethically meet them?
- Use intake forms and checklists. This will ensure that important questions are not overlooked and vital information isn’t lost.
- Beware difficult, demanding or angry clients. Is the prospect reasonable and cooperative? Are they receptive to hard truths? Will you be able to work well together? At present, their anger may be directed at the adverse party. But when the going gets rough, it may shift to you – perhaps in the form of a malpractice claim.
- Limit the scope of your website and marketing materials. Use disclaimers – in large print that’s easy to read – that states publicly available information is not legal advice, and that no attorney-client relationship is formed until an agreement is signed.
- Use non-engagement letters. Send a non-engagement letter when you decline a case or need further time to research the facts or law. This confirms that no attorney-client relationship has been created yet. That won’t happen until a formal engagement agreement is signed.
- Err on the side of over-communication. Rarely do clients complain of too much contact with their lawyer. Usually it’s just the opposite. They haven’t heard from their lawyer in a while. They wonder what if anything is happening with their case. Stay in touch regularly. Provide status updates. Document all client contacts in your file. When you convey critical information in person or by phone – authority to settle, for example – cover yourself by confirming it in writing.
- Be wary of clients who have had prior lawyers in the case. Especially if the client has hired and fired two or more lawyers before you. There’s a good chance you’ll be next.
- Avoid fee disputes. Clarify your fees and billing procedure in the initial interview. Put your agreement in writing. Bill honestly and fairly. Note that your professional liability policy will likely not cover fee disputes. If you have a falling-out with your client over money, you will have to deal with it on your own.
The Bottom Line: Selecting the right clients can make or break your law practice.