5 Solutions for Dealing with Problem Clients in Your Law Firm

By Eddie Gamez - January 12, 2017
5 Solutions for Dealing with Problem Clients in Your Law Firm

Got problem clients in your law firm? We’ve got some great tips for you!

The problem client.

You’ve heard of them before. Maybe you’ve even experienced one in your law firm.

These types of clients can manifest themselves in various ways, shapes and forms. Some examples include:

  • “The ambivalent client,”
  • “The needy client,”
  • The client that won’t pay,”
  • “The emotional client,”
  • “The client that won’t listen,” etc.

Imagine yourself giving a client instructions on when to have a document filled out and ready to submit, only to be met with confusion and further delays from the client. Maybe you are dealing with a client who had a decision made, but they suddenly changed their mind?  

Problem clients are not only destructive to themselves and their own legal issues but also have the potential to affect your firm’s productivity. Bringing in unnecessary stress.

It’s important for any lawyer to stay ahead of the game when dealing with problem clients. To help, we gathered our favorite tips for handling such clients and eliminating the unneeded stress from your firm.

1.  Establish the expectations for the lawyer-client relationship

This is pretty standard. You should know what you expect from the client and they should know what they expect from you. You much reach compromises right away on what is to be done and what can be achieved.

This can mean fees, hours of business, or even the style of communication that is to be established.

Be sure to discuss everything and at the very least, establish what kind of outcome is expected from your services as a lawyer. This helps you keep the goal in mind.

2.  Hold the client accountable

Accountability should be practiced on both ends of the lawyer-client relationship. Just like when a lawyer is wrong, clients must at least acknowledge it as well.  This can occur in many ways, but it’s important to put everything in writing when dealing with problem clients.

For example, you may have discussed with the client that you won’t be in the office until a certain time or are unable to see them because you have back-to-back consultations. Suddenly that client shows up and is furious that you cannot see them.
Breakdowns in communication happen, even with our favorite clients. If you feel like everything was communicated clearly in person or over the phone, ensure to write an email reiterating exactly what was discussed so you can backup your claim.  

The same goes for things like attorney fees or case matters. Ensure you get something is writing and that everything is understood from the beginning of the relationship.  

Law is a service-based industry; however, lawyers need to understand that it’s also a profession where a wrong move can be potential for disbarment. This means the “the customer is always right” motto doesn’t always apply, operating within ethical guidelines takes precedent.

As long as you keep your communication clear and concise, you can protect your own integrity.

3.  Consistently follow-up

Follow-ups are a key way to reestablish communication with clients and are useful in helping you reiterate key points.

To negate confusion and forgetfulness, a successful follow-up ensures that responsibilities are being handled. It even helps boost your image because it shows you are determined to get the job done.

4.  Know when to set boundaries

Especially as a small firm lawyer, there is often an urge to say “yes” to everything. Ensuring a harmonious relationship, but knowing when to say “no” can do much to establish respect.

Problem clients typically have large egos. They expect to get their way, no matter how poorly they behave (being overly emotional, not listening, etc.). This can lead to you getting walked over throughout the relationship.

Even when you meet at the first consultation, keep in mind that you can decline to take a case, especially if you feel it’s going to be more trouble than it’s worth. The cases you accept are supposed to steer your firm in the direction that you want and if you feel it’s not a good fit, you aren’t obligated to accept.

5.  Always keep your cool

Whether the relationship with a client works out or not, it is your job as a lawyer to always keep your cool no matter how frustrated you become. Remember, you’re the voice of reason.

If the client is upset or acting unreasonably, it is your job to try and direct them to a solution.

Sometimes it is your fault, and at those times owning it is necessary; but even if it’s not your fault, you should never argue back and always practice patience. Even if the relationship is dissolved, you keeping your cool further establishes that you have maintained a respectful image.

When it all boils down to it, respect is necessary from both ends of the attorney-client dynamic. Without it, you may find yourself hitting your head against the wall throughout the entire experience.

Have something to add? Comment below and tell us what you think!

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About Eddie Gamez

Eddie Gamez is a Law Firm Suites staff writer and stand-up comedian. You can follow him on Twitter (EddieDGamez) if you need a laugh.

3 thoughts on “5 Solutions for Dealing with Problem Clients in Your Law Firm

  1. With all due respect, you did not address some of your “problems” or “premises”. What advice do you have to get clients to pay you that always “delay” payment or want to “re-negotiate” payment after you invoiced them and they knew what to expect.

    Another “problem” – how do you get clients to listen to you, return your phone calls, return or reply to emails?

    IMHO, for the first scenario, we make it a hard and fast rule that if the client doesn’t pay, or always delays payment, or wants to re-negotiate payment, we let him have one bite of the apple – after that, it’s full payment up front until he/she/them cleans up their act – if they do not, we no longer do business with them.

    For the second scenario, this is easier to deal with – we are simply perfectly professional – we inform them of what’s going on, ensure that they know what deadlines are for actions that need to be taken, we absolutely maintain copies of all communications to them, and if the proverbial feces hits the rotating member, they pay the price – we have done everything that we were required to do and have incontrovertible proof that we did in fact take all necessary steps possible to inform them of their responsibilities, deadlines, and the like.

  2. iam looking for this type of articles from many days i found your website.thanks for posting it. its very useful article to everyone

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