Watch Out for These 6 Red Flags When Bringing on Potential Clients

By Joleena Louis - December 28, 2016
Watch Out for These 6 Red Flags When Bringing on Potential Clients

In this week’s edition of Things I Wish I Knew, New York solo attorney Joleena Louis shares advice on how to spot and avoid potential clients that will do your firm more harm than good.

It’s almost 2017, so now is the time to reflect and plan for your solo practice’s future. One thing that I have been spending a lot of time thinking about is my overall job satisfaction, and for me, that starts with my clients.

A bad client (or many bad clients) will increase your stress and cause you to hate your work. I’m in my happy place when I work on cases that I believe in and with clients I trust. My goal is to never have that one case or file that I avoid simply because I hate it.

If you are a litigator, it can sometimes be difficult to get off of a case once it has reached a certain point, so your best bet is to prequalify your clients before accepting the case. Over the past few years, I’ve come up with a few rules that help me weed out potential clients who don’t fit with my practice.

If a prospect has done any of these six things, I will most likely decline to accept the case.

1. They have had more than one lawyer before you

If I will be the second lawyer on the case, I may cautiously accept but if this potential client has already had at least two other attorneys work on this case, then I will automatically decline. This is a huge red flag. I’ve been burned twice by accepting cases that have had more than one attorney before me.

Either the lawyers are getting off the case or the person has unrealistic expectations and is firing lawyers when they don’t hear what they want. No fee is worth dealing with a client like this.

2. They try to get a discount or deal

Determining your value is one of the most difficult things solos have to learn. It can be hard to say no to a client who wants a discount when you really need the money.

But in my experience when you discount your service, clients will devalue you. It will be harder to get paid, they won’t appreciate the value of your service, and the relationship will generally be more difficult.

I can honestly say that every time I offered a discount on my fee, I’ve regretted it.

My only exception to this rules has been offering discounts to established clients who return for another service.

3. They ask for changes to the retainer or fee agreement

My retainer and fee agreements are carefully drafted to protect both me and the client. For me, changing them is not an option. From my end, sticking to the well thought out terms of the relationship is the best way I can protect myself as a business owner.

That’s not to say I don’t regularly review and revise my agreements when necessary, but I won’t change my standard terms for an individual.

If a prospective client is not willing to agree to my terms it means they are not a good fit for my practice. End of story.

4. They don’t communicate enough

In my practice area, people can be hesitant to move forward, so communication is often very slow. And that’s ok. The problem is when they schedule a consultation and don’t complete the intake form or don’t notify me if they are late or need to reschedule the appointment.

I have noticed that these habits don’t change once you are retained. While poor communication is not necessarily a deal breaker, it is certainly a red flag and leads me to proceed with caution.

5. They communicate too much

If I get an overwhelming amount of phone calls and emails before I am even retained, it causes me to pause and really think about wanting to take the case. Again, much like before, if this is happening from the start, it’s not likely to change.

By not accepting the case in the first place, you avoid the potential of having to deal with a client who needs more contact than you are capable of giving.

6. You are getting bad vibes

Sometimes you get a bad feeling about a potential client even though you can’t quite put your finger on why. Trust your instincts! You will provide better services for people you genuinely want to work with.

These guidelines are not foolproof but they have been a great baseline for weeding out clients who were not a good fit for my practice. It’s much easier to decide whether to take a case or not if you have some sort of standards to go by.

How about you? Do you have any tips or systems in place for weeding out potential clients? Let me know in the comments below!

About Joleena Louis

Joleena Louis is a matrimonial and family law attorney at Joleena Louis Law, a firm she founded after leaving a boutique matrimonial firm in Brooklyn. Joleena is a client in Law Firm Suites’ Financial District location. Her weekly blog series Things I Wish I Knew... explores her thought process and experiences in her transition from small law firm employee to successful solo practice entrepreneur. Follow Joleena on Twitter.

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