Oprah Winfrey's TV show yesterday was all about how intuition (and sometimes fear) give us clues that we often ignore. Oprah likes to call this the "hmmm" -- it's that signal your intuition gives you when something just doesn't seem 'right' with the situation.
Intuition, gut feeling, 'hmm' - whatever you call it, that signal is there for a reason - it's our intuition's way of alerting us to something we might not consciously 'know.' Ignoring it (as was demonstrated on Oprah's show) can put you in peril.
Although Oprah's show was more about personal safety and security, there are lessons in it for your law practice as well.
Are you ignoring the "hmm...?"
One of the ways I work with my lawyer-clients is by helping them re-connect with that 'hmm' response - mostly in the area of client selection. Sometimes, a lawyer will come to me before entering into an engagement with a potential client. They're not really sure that this is the client for them. Some red flags have been raised. But they try to talk themselves out of taking a 'pass' on the client. They don't trust the 'hmm.' They make excuses for a client's bad behavior, inability to listen or follow directions, or other warning signs. More often, I hear about the situation after the lawyer has already accepted the client and the situation has gotten worse - and the lawyer is trying to find a way to salvage the situation or end the relationship. Frequently, the best thing to do is to get out, and get out fast.
Why do you ignore the 'hmm'?
Oprah had Gavin DeBecker, author of the book, The Gift of Fear, on her show. DeBecker commented that animals that recieve those intuitive signals know to back away, but humans talk themselves out of trusting those instinctive feelings - often out of some desire to be 'nice,' or to avoid hurting others' feelings.
Are you being too nice?
Sometimes lawyers accept the wrong clients out of that same desire to be nice - particularly if the client is referred by a friend or colleague. In those instances, I advise clients to trust their gut, be polite in rejecting the client or referring the matter to someone better suited for it, and thank the referral source anyway. You might also consider educating the referral source about what kinds of clients you're seeking.
Some referral sources aren't clear about what you do and who you want to work with. Others understand that not every client may be the right 'fit,' but they'd rather that you made that decision. Be open with referral sources about whether you want all referrals or only targeted ones (being a 'hub' has its advantages), and make sure that they understand that not every client may be right for you, but that you appreciate that they thought of you.
But there's often a second reason why you might take on the wrong clients - money. You might be afraid that turning away the client isn't a prudent financial move. But consider the damage that bad clients do to your bottom line - and to your stress level, focus and ability provide quality work not only for the 'bad' client, but for other clients as well. And it's worth repeating - bad clients drive out good clients.
If you want to learn more about how bad clients drive out good clients, or if you're interested in re-defining who your ideal clients are and what warning signals you should watch out for, the upcoming teleseminar, "How to Grow Your Law Practice on a Shoestring Budget" may be for you. The series starts on March 5, but special pricing ends on Feburary 15.