This week in Young, Hungry and Committed, virtual office NYC attorney, Vivian Sobers, talks about how clients may not be worth their retainer fee.
You read that correctly.
My clients are pistachios. Actually, my clients were pistachios. No, I am not talking about representing a California based nut company in a large-scale litigation matter. I am talking about my individual clients. They were pistachios.
What is a pistachio client?
Seriously. You go and you spend a decent amount of money on a bag of pistachios thinking that your snack is ready to be consumed. (As an aside, why are nuts so expensive? They are the scallops of snack food.)
Just as your insatiable hunger reaches a crescendo and you are ready to devour the entire bag, you are faced with an uncomfortable reality: you have to work for your enjoyment. Eating a pistachio is a ritual, mostly revolving around the act of removing the shell.
As many of you know, removing the shell can go one of two ways: really easy or disgustingly hard. My clients used to fall into the latter category. My clients used to be the pistachios with about one millimeter of open space between the shells.
They were the pistachios that induce blood when you try to pry out the actual nut. They were the pistachios that make you question the effort that goes into enjoying a small morsel of satisfaction.
You eventually wonder, “How did I invest that much money into such an unfulfilling food?”
Here is the thing: sometimes you would rather have a steak than a handful of pistachios.
Thankfully, my little practice that could continues to chug along. Over my year and six months of private practice, I have come face to face with how much work and effort each individual client takes. What in the beginning of my practice I would think would take ten hours, I have learned in reality will probably take twice that. And that money comes out of my own pocket, not the clients.
And when a client, friend, lawyer, or family member says, “Can you help a friend? It’s something simple,” it usually means I’m in for the fight of my life. And when in the initial consultation my potential client is telling me how the law works (despite not actually being a lawyer), perhaps now is the time to gracefully bow out. Do I really want to argue over who is right for the next two years?
What has all this acquired knowledge taught me? How to weed out the bad clients.
As I mentioned last week, I am a recovering legal glutton.
In my recovery, I learned that not all areas of law are for me. My pistachio clients have also taught me that even if it is an area of law that I’m comfortable with, the client or even the case itself may not be a good fit for me.
Now, I look at all factors when deciding to take a case. Who is the opposing counsel? What court is it in? What judge is assigned, if any? Are there assets? Will this go into litigation, and if so, what is the likelihood I’ll get resolution sometime this decade? The list goes on.
And even beyond that, I need to ask myself: Can I work with this potential client?
Hiring an attorney is like committing to a serious relationship; you will likely have to share all of your personal information and be demanding to keep in contact. How well you work together and understand each other can be the difference between a loss and a victory.
Currently, I have matters where it feels like I’m fighting more with the client than opposing counsel. There are some clients that, despite hiring you to handle the matter, just can’t get past the misguided belief that they have all the answers. (In that way, may of my clients remind me of my adversaries.)
Now, I’m careful, I’m not jumping at every case, or every email. I can say (thankfully) that I’m saying no at least once a week now.
I am pausing and inspecting every pistachio that comes down the line for quality – my sleep quality if nothing else.
Do you want to learn how to get past “pistachio clients” like Vivian has.
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Vivian Sobers is a commercial litigator pursuing a solo law practice right out of law school. She is a client in Law Firm Suites’ Virtual Office Program. Vivian’s weekly blog series “Young, Hungry and Committed” documents the trials and tribulations of a young attorney navigating her way through the challenging world of self-employed legal practice.