Trust Your Gut: Don’t Accept All Prospective Clients

In tough economic times, many lawyers have a tendency to accept all the prospective clients who come in the door. The problem with this approach is that a small percentage of prospective clients will end up taking up a lot of your time while paying you little. You know who these people are, but sometimes you don’t listen to your gut when considering your representation of them.

By developing your ability to weed out low-quality prospective clients, you can free up your time (and energy) to focus on marketing to and serving your favorite clients, which is likely to make you happier, more productive, and more profitable.

When evaluating a prospective client, ask them these four questions to see if they might be difficult clients, then trust your gut:

  1. How did you find me?
  2. Have you ever worked with an attorney before?
  3. Did you find it useful?
  4. What did or did not work for you with that attorney?

If the answers to any of these questions raise your red flags, trust yourself to refer the client to someone else.

What other questions or tools do you use to get rid of low-quality prospective clients?

(photo: simeon_barkas)


  1. Avatar Elisabeth Pickle says:

    Excellent comment. As you say, in these trying times, most attorneys jump at representation to a fault. Whenever a potential client says to me, “It’s not about the money”, up goes my red flag. Or anytime there is alot of questions about money, how long is it going to take before I get my money etc. This has caused me to move away from the billable hour/litigation and toward more flat fee billing with retainers. A difficult, demanding client with unreasonable expectations is just not worth the energy draining committment. I am new to this website and LOVING IT! So progressive and useful to my practice. Thanks!

  2. Any time the word “principal” comes up, I get nervous and the deposit goes up. I also check online for any business information if I have time before the intake.

  3. Sam Glover Sam G. says:

    Sometimes the old sayings are the best: you make your money on the clients you do not take.

  4. At some point in the conversation, you could ask, “What is the outcome that you would desire?” If the answer is “Make the other guy pay,” be careful.

  5. Avatar Sharif Abdrabbo says:

    My Professional Responsibility professor had tons of litigation experience and I recall him telling us in class one day, the two things that prospective clients could say that would cause him to show them the door.

    First was, if they say “money is no object” – that meant you would be spending lots of yours to try and make them happy.

    The other was, if they were in it for the “principle” – my prof would always say that an attorney could never make that client happy.

  6. Great point! In slow times attorneys often are willing to take undesirable clients because, as they say, working for nothing is better than not working. But I would submit that working on business development activity is better than working for nothing!

    Other ways to weed out an undesirable: is he/she is looking to switch attorneys, unwilling or unable to pay a deposit, or balking at your fee estimate (don’t low-ball it)? Check the person out on Hoovers, Dun & Bradstreet, Google (check Groups and Blogs, too), Facebook, Linkedin, etc.

  7. Avatar Lemonaid_nt says:

    The key is to make sure both parties see to eye to eye and know what to expect from one another. I have found that being straightforward seems to alleviate this problem.

  8. Avatar Violet Petran says:

    Although “too nice” or not aggressive are not the typical adjectives given to lawyers it is a tricky thing to flat out tell someone that you are not going to represent them/ In the end avoiding hurt feelings is not worth the price of having to represent an obnoxious client or being sued for not representing the individual that accidently became your client. I think this article and your article about the importance of a nonengagement letter are great tips! (

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