Suddenly Solo? Avoid Bad Clients

Newly solo attorneys face all kinds of challenges, from marketing, to doubting their abilities, and figuring out how to effectively manage their time.

If you are fortunate enough to have a mentor as a new solo, one of the first things they will tell you is how to avoid bad clients. Here are some things to watch out for.

Asking for a discount

When a potential client says your rates are too high or asks for a discount, that is huge red flag. Until you have taken one or two of these cases, it is difficult to completely understand the ramifications—but take my word for it.

When you drop your rate at a client’s request, that can imply that you are not confident in your abilities and your experience. It also shows that your client may not respect your abilities and time–which means they may continue to try and walk all over you as the case progresses. Another new solo attorney I know said that “a client who thinks they have a bargain lawyer will treat them like a bargain lawyer.”

Of course, if you decide to cut your rates on your own initiative for whatever reason, go for it. But that is very different than lowering your rates at a client’s request.

Excessive phone calls before signing a retainer

Most of my clients are experiencing some form of financial emergency—they have either just been sued on a consumer credit debt or they are being harassed by debt collectors. Many potential clients leave messages along the lines “Hi, this is an emergency, I need to speak with someone right away, call me back in the next five minutes.” Many of these clients will then send an e-mail, and continue to call and hang up, or even leave another message.

Like the bargain shopper, excessive phone calls are also a huge red flag and the sign of a bad client. If they are blowing up your phone and inbox before becoming a client, they will do the same, if not worse, once they become a client. Do not assume that once the initial emergency has passed, things will be ok.

When you encounter a potential client like this, proceed with caution to avoid getting a bad client.

The armchair lawyer who knows a bit too much

Lawyers decide strategy, but clients make settlement decisions. Stand firm on that concept. A client who knows up their legal rights is usually a good sign. A client that quotes case law, explains why they are entitled to ___ in damages, and knows how litigation should proceed is a big red flag.

Some of these clients may have already pursued a claim pro se and have already developed a negative reputation. They will also likely second guess you on every single decision in the case. Establishing good client communication is essential to being a good lawyer, but allowing your client to be a backseat lawyer can become very problematic.

Again, it can be a refreshing change of pace to encounter a client who has a good grasp of their rights. But be very careful about how much they know and what exactly they expect out of their case.



  1. Avatar Tyler White says:

    “Establishing good client communication is essential to being a good lawyer, but allowing your client to be a backseat lawyer can become very problematic.”

    Preach on, dude.

  2. Avatar Susan Gainen says:

    I once knew a lawyer who always asked questions and explained things to his clients five times in five different ways. He balanced the notion that they might think that he was crazy with the twin benefits that he was rarely surprised by new information during depositions or (worse yet) at trial, and that his clients were likely to understand what he was doing and why.

  3. Avatar Max Mednik says:

    I think most of your points make sense, but I’m concerned that the post places too much emphasis on the attorney and not taking up too much time, dropping rate, etc. I’d much rather consider things from the client’s perspective and how to win the right client. If the rate or pricing structure doesn’t make sense, it should give the attorney pause. If the client wants to ask questions, I think that’s fine. There are clearly limits to all this and one needs to be reasonable.

    I just think that in the long run the professional who can WOW clients by taking amazingly long calls (see Zappos) and come up with creative ways to meet a budget (and use technology in clever ways to do so) will win out.

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