One of my posts last week was about the 'hmm' - using your intuition and paying attention to that 'hmm' that signals something wrong. Sometimes we ignore the signal that tells us that a particular client might not be the right fit for us (or might not be telling us the truth).
So how do you identify bad clients early and avoid or disengage from them?
Security expert Gavin DeBecker says that the feeling that something is wrong is itself the warning signal - everything else is just a way of explaining the feeling. But if you're so used to second-guessing your intuition that you no longer recognize or trust the feeling, here are some additional ways to judge whether a client is right for you:
Look at the bad clients or bad client relationships you've had in the past. Ask yourself how each of those 'bad' relationships started. What were the warning signs or red flags? If you look at several of those relationships together, patterns will begin to emerge. The clients may have said similar things at the beginning of the engagement or taken a similar attitude. Each of them may have given you the feeling that they weren't telling you the whole story. Or perhaps you felt that you were on the defensive with each of them, having to 'justify' what you were doing, rather that feeling as if you were providing advice and guidance.
Many 'bad clients' exhibit these characteristics or warning signs:
- They are overly concerned about the fee, ask about the fee before you have an opportunity to discuss their legal problem, won't talk to you about their budget or don't know what it is;
- They have tunnel vision about the matter and don't want to listen to new ideas, aren't interested in other options, or can't face reality about their role in creating the situation;
- Their expectations are over-exaggerated, particularly for their budget or time limitations;
- They need everything in a rush;
- They don't keep the initial appointment, show up late, or fail to call when they say they will (particularly in combination with the previous warning sign);
- They don't listen or don't understand simple initial instructions;
- They take a long time to return your retainer agreement or to provide requested documents or materials;
- They've fired (or been fired by) several lawyers before you;
- They don't exhibit an understanding of the issues involved, even after you explain them;
- They don't show respect to you or to other attorneys or staff in the office;
I'd love to hear the warning signs you've identified. Leave a comment on this post and share your 'bad client' warning signs and stories.
Of course, some of these 'warning signs' can also be due to your own failure to pre-screen or pre-qualify clients, your own inability to communicate properly, establish a rapport with the client, or elicit the information you need to understand the client's problem and to make your own decision about whether this client is a good client for you, among other things.
If you're a lawyer who needs additional help identifying their bad clients, bad client warning signs or sprucing up their client selection process, contact me to see if I can help you.