When you’re operating a small law firm or working as a solo practitioner, it can be tempting to take on any type of work you can get. After all, marketing and retaining new clients is difficult, time consuming, and expensive. You’ve got to bring in new business to keep the lights on. But, there are sometimes very good reasons why you should actually choose not to retain certain clients, when doing so would end up causing more problems than it’s worth. Here are 10 reasons to turn away a client.
When to Turn Away a Client
As tough as it may be, it’s not always in your best interest to bring on a new client. Sometimes turning a client away might be the best decision for your firm, and could actually end up saving you time, reducing stress, and increasing your profits. The following are all good reasons why you should consider turning a client prospect away.
1. You dislike the client prospect personally
If you don’t get along with someone, it’s not a good idea to do business with them, no matter the context. So if you dislike a prospective client or your personalities clash, establishing a more formal, lawyer-client relationship is unlikely to go over well.
A good lawyer-client relationship involves a high level of trust and it’s imperative to have open communication and respect for one another. Those things usually don’t exist when two people can’t get along. Don’t make the mistake of getting yourself stuck in an unhappy professional relationship because the headaches and stress that ensue will surely outweigh the benefits.
2. The prospect cannot demonstrate an ability to pay
A good client is someone who values your work, and who has not only the ability, but also the desire to pay accordingly. If you retain a client who can’t afford your rates, doesn’t see or appreciate the value in your services, constantly asks for discounts, or struggles to pay bills on time, you’ll end up regretting it.
While striving for affordability is important these days, you should remain firm in your pricing. Anyone that demonstrates an inability to pay or is overly concerned with your rates is most likely not worth your time. Unless the prospect is a promising young company that you truly see going places in the future, it’s probably wise not to bend over backwards to accommodate for a client who is going to struggle with their legal bills.
3. The matter is not within your area of expertise
We recently wrote about the importance of finding a legal niche and becoming a specialist. These days, it is crucial that you are an expert in your field and that you deliver high quality, high value legal work to all of your clients.
Taking on matters that fall outside of your core areas of competency is usually not the best idea, no matter how badly you could use the extra business. You’ll end up having to spend more time, do more research, and in the end, the level of quality is likely to suffer. Consider referring out those clients to other attorneys in your network and you’ll thank yourself later.
4. The prospect is a family member or close friend
Getting into business relationships with close friends and family may seem great on the surface. After all, you know these people well and probably trust them. However, it may be in your best interest to rethink retaining someone with whom you have such familiar ties.
The added stresses and expectations that come along with professional relationships are likely to put even greater strain on your existing relationships. As if you don’t already have enough to worry about trying to retain new clients and grow your law practice, the last thing you need is to create unnecessary tension in your personal life. For that reason, it’s often advisable to keep family and friends’ names off your client list.
5. You disagree with the client prospect’s legal position
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that when you’re passionate about the work you do, you’ll enjoy it more and you’re likely to become more successful at it. For that reason, you shouldn’t be taking on work from clients when you disagree with their legal position or it creates a moral dilemma for you.
When you don’t fully believe in the work you’re doing, not only will the quality of work suffer, but it will also impede your ability to gain satisfaction and enjoyment in your professional life. For the majority of people, happiness supersedes any marginal increase in income, so you should avoid taking on work where you don’t feel passionate about representing the client’s interests.
6. The prospect strikes you as dishonest or vindictive
Some people are dishonest, overly vindictive, or generally up to no good. Watch out for those types because they are almost alway more trouble than they’re worth.
A client that is just “out to get somebody” at any cost is likely to expect too much, push you to your limits, and then feel dissatisfied with your work when you legally can’t live up to their expectations. In other words, it can be a recipe for disaster. Focus on finding clients who have integrity and are seeking legal representation for the right reasons.
7. The prospect is too demanding or has unrealistic expectations
Much like the dishonest or vengeful types, clients with unrealistic expectations of the value they will get from your legal representation should be avoided. You should have a thorough discussion with each of your client prospects to get a sense of what they are looking to achieve, and then give yourself and your law firm an honest evaluation to determine whether or not you can deliver the desired results.
The goal in business should always be to under-promise and over-deliver, rather than the other way around. If a client is too demanding of you or expects the impossible, you’ll never provide satisfying results and, chances are, other problems will arise as a result.
8. The prospect is a “know-it-all” or “control-freak”
Some people just think they know everything or always feel the need to micromanage. It’s best to turn those types of clients away because they are bound to get on your nerves and interfere with your work.
You’re the attorney – the one who went through years of schooling to understand the law and to develop the analytical skills needed in legal representation. Don’t work with clients that want to tell you how to do your job because you’ll end up resenting them and not enjoying your work as a consequence.
9. The prospect has had too many lawyers in the past
When a prospective client tells you they’ve worked with many lawyers in the past, that should be a huge red flag. If the representation never worked out with so many other attorneys, there’s a good chance you won’t be fit for the job either.
Chances are, the client might be disrespectful, unable to pay, dishonest, vindictive, overly demanding, a know-it-all-control-freak, or all of the above. What else can explain why the client has had to fire so many other firms in the past? It’s probably a good idea to stay away so you can avoid the unnecessary stresses and conflicts that are sure to arise.
10. The prospect doesn’t seem to trust lawyers and dislikes them in general
Lawyers, admittedly, have developed somewhat of a bad rap. But don’t let a few bad apples spoil it for you. If you come across a client prospect that has a tendency to bad-mouth lawyers or seems very skeptical of you and your work, you’re best off staying away and letting them go about their business.
Again, it’s very important to have a good relationship with your clients in order to deliver satisfaction to them, as well as to find enjoyment in your work. When you work with someone that has negative, preconceived notions about you, you’re starting off the relationship in a hole that you’ll just have to dig yourself out of later. Consider skipping over those types of clients and moving on to someone else who respects you as a professional, and an expert in your field.
So there you have it – 10 good reasons to turn away a client, even when you need the business. Building a successful law practice isn’t just about growing your client base as large as you can. It’s also really important to focus on finding quality clients that respect you and are easy to get along with, and that value your work and are capable of paying you for it.
Do you have your own nightmare client stories or tips for when to turn away a client? Add them in the comments below!