Proper Client Screening
After being served with a malpractice action, attorneys will often mutter, “I knew·I shouldn’t have taken on that client.” These “problem” clients are often the result of ineffective client screening.
Successful practitioners augment their “gut feelings” with standardized office-wide screening procedures. A firm-wide policy of screening each prospective client according to a predetermined set of standards is critical. Each member of the firm is responsible for the clients the other members bring to the firm. With a standardized and effective screening process, potential disaster clients may be identified and avoided.
A set of screening questions subject to review and modification goes a long way toward weaning out undesirable clients. A periodic review of problem cases to decipher warning signs of potential danger also makes sense.
- Do you have the time to take on the new case and give it the proper attention that the case deserves? If not, say no.
- Do you have the expertise necessary to handle the case? Don’t dabble! There is no such thing as a simple will or a cut-and-dried personal injury case. If you are not prepared to handle the difficult cases in a given area of practice, do not accept the seemingly simple things.
- If this is a contingency fee case, do you have adequate funds to take the case? You want to avoid being placed in a situation where case management decisions are being dictated by economics instead of by legal judgment.
- Can the client afford your services? If not, say no. A fee dispute is in the making if you accept a client who is on a different financial footing. Minimally, the collection is likely to become an issue, and if you are compelled to collect the fee, the odds of facing a malpractice claim increase significantly.
- Is the prospective client a family member or friend? Don’t be fooled. First, if the work is not satisfactory, favor or not, even the family member or friend will sue. Accepting work under this situation is foolhardy. Second, if you are unqualified to represent a stranger in a particular matter, likewise, you are unqualified to represent a friend or family member. Don’t be pushed into something you are uncomfortable handling.
- Has the prospective client brought you the matter at the eleventh hour? If so, say no. If you do not have adequate time to perform a thorough investigation, you run the risk of missing a possible claim, failing to identify a defendant, or letting the statute of limitations run. You don’t want to end up paying for your client’s procrastination.
- Has the prospective client had several· different attorneys? Heed the warning light! The client may wish to avoid paying fees, may be impossible to satisfy, may be bringing a case all others before you believed lacked merit, or will be impossible to resolve satisfactorily.
- Does the prospective client behave irrationally or appear confrontational? If you are unable to work·effectively with someone during the initial interview, it is unlikely to get better over time. The difficult client all too readily becomes the angry client who will not hesitate to bring a suit.
- Does ·the client have unrealistic expectations? You cannot guarantee results nor obtain a million-dollar judgment on a simple slip and fall. Do not take on clients whose expectations are simply unobtainable.