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.