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Five Roadblocks That Can Repel a Good Client

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Recently, I needed a lawyer while out of state. I knew enough to know the law was different there — and that I was definitely going to need some expert advice. I also know more than a few things about how to find and engage a good lawyer. I thought the process would be quick and easy. I was wrong. Before the drama was over, this Friday Five was writing itself.

So often at Attorney at Work, we address issues from inside the lawyer’s office looking out. Today, instead, I offer five real-life examples of how to lose potential business from the perspective of the client looking in. There are at least five lessons to be learned here.

  1. Don’t bother to answer your phone. It seemed simple. The issue in question related to my parents’ wills and probate. The most logical starting point — and surely the ending point? — was the lawyer who wrote and signed their health-care directives and assignments of power of attorney. She was an excellent lawyer. I’d been assured of that when I’d located her a decade earlier via a gracious lawyer friend. I called. It was 1:30 p.m. on a weekday. My call automatically dumped into a voice-mail system and the anonymous greeting asked for a “complete message including the spelling of your name and return phone number.” Okay, I could do that … and I did.
  2. Go ahead and assume. Twenty-four hours later, the lawyer’s paralegal called back to say, “I’ve reviewed the file you mentioned in your message with Ms. Attorney and she recommends you call the county bar association’s lawyer referral line. Here’s the phone number ….” Hmmm. Had they mistaken me for an indigent? (I’m not.) Did they assume I’d be a difficult client? (I wouldn’t have.) Did they assume it wasn’t worth their time? You know what they say about assumptions.
  3. Make ’em really work to get to youI shrugged off the brush-off and moved on to the county bar. Call number one? Endless unanswered ringing. Call number two was answered by someone who immediately said she couldn’t talk with me right then because she was “talking to a LAWYER.” It sounded as if the emperor was on the other line. (Really?) She asked if I’d call her back. Okay, sure. Why would I expect her to call me back?
  4. Have ’em wait days for an appointment. Later, when I called again and she was able to talk, it seemed like things were looking up. I was then required to answer a lot of questions and describe my legal problem in minute detail (including names and dates) before being told that she would research available lawyers and call me back with the names of three potential matches. Which she did — the following day. Once I’d told her which one I would like, she needed to call me back again with three possible meeting times for my selection. Three days later, I had an appointment — for three days after that.
  5. Always keep them guessing. We really liked the “lawyer” we ended up with. She was very helpful, answered a lot of puzzling questions easily, and quickly handled a couple of simple filings for us. It was only after we left her office that we glanced at her business card. “Law Clerk” it said. Curious, I checked her firm’s website and ultimately Googled further to learn that she is the solo firm’s paralegal. We still hadn’t met a lawyer.
Categories: Business Development, Client Service, Daily Dispatch, Friday Five
Originally published June 28, 2013
Last updated September 7, 2022
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Merrilyn Astin Tarlton Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Merrilyn is the author of “Getting Clients: For Lawyers Starting Out or Starting Over.” She has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, an LMA Hall of Fame inductee, and a past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Merrilyn was a founding partner of Attorney at Work. 

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