The upside of being a solo attorney is that you get to triage your own potential clients through client intake. The downside of being a solo attorney is that you have to triage all of your potential clients through client intake.

Having refined my intake procedures over the past few years, here is my number one takeaway: never chase potential clients.

Chasing potential client vs. returning phone calls

Returning phone calls and e-mails within 24 hours is a must-have policy. Preferably, you return client intake inquiries the same business day. Of course, depending on your practice area, you may need to return client inquiries much faster than that. Some practice areas are incredibly competitive and whoever gets in touch with a potential client first may get the case. To an extent, that is true in my practice area as well.

But there is a difference between return a phone call to a potential client and calling them again/sending repeated e-mails in an attempt to get in touch with them. From my experience, I would strongly advise against the latter.

If I have spoken with someone and I am waiting to hear back from them regarding a meeting, documents, etc., that is different. Following up is good business. But repeated phone calls or e-mails to a potential client that has not responded is heading down the road to trouble.

Potential clients that want to hire you will call you back

If a potential client wants to hire you, they will call you back, or return your e-mail. Maybe not as soon as you would like, but they will get in touch.

If they don’t return your call or e-mail, maybe they solved the issue. Maybe they were just looking for free legal advice and got it from someone else. Maybe they found another attorney. Maybe they decided it wasn’t that big a deal.

Any and all of those are reasons why these could be potentially problematic clients, assuming that they eventually decided to hire you. You don’t want to drag someone into litigation (hint: it’s unethical). You don’t want to undercut your rate in an attempt to get a client. And you also don’t want to steal another attorney’s client. That will come out at some point, and most attorneys tend to disfavor that type of stuff.

If you chase a potential client, you will chase them as your client

You need good clients to run a successful business, not just clients who will pay your fees.

You cannot, and should not, tell yourself that a problem client will work out ok because they are paying your fee. That discounts the extra headaches, stress, and time you will spend on a problem client. It also takes away time you spend on other client’s cases. In fact, you might have to turn down a good client because you your caseload is full of bad clients and bad cases.

When I first opened my firm, I can think of one particular problem client. It started with an e-mail from the potential client. I returned the e-mail and got no response. I called and left a voicemail: no response. I left another voicemail: no response. I called again, spoke to the potential client, and they became my client. That client frequently ignored voicemails, e-mails, and missed meetings with no advance notice or explanation. One or two of the missed meetings nearly had catastrophic consequences.

I still see that behavior from potential clients—but they get a non-engagement notice instead of a retainer. Take it from someone who learned the hard way: don’t chase potential clients.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/robertcopithorne/1474378048/sizes/m/in/photostream/)