Mitch Albom, who has been regularly employed as a sportswriter for the Detroit Free Press, has written songs for Warren Zevon and penned a few books, one of which is “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.” Now, I’ve never read that book (per my mostly ironclad rule that I don’t read any books published after 1952 — what’s up Thomas Hardy?), but its title has given me some inspiration for this post.
In fact, I like the idea so much, I’m doubling down on it: Imma give you 10 clients you’ll meet at the vestibule of Hell, Virgil describing the paces to you.
(So, I guess I’ve got next Friday covered, too.)
The Envelope Please … Top 10 Worst Clients
Here we go, top 10-style, those species of potential and actual clients you’ll want to avoid.
10. Wimpy. Remember Popeye’s friend, who would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today? You don’t want Wimpy for a client. Attorneys are well-served to get their money, or a large portion of it, up front. If your client is already quibbling about paying you before representation has even begun, then run, don’t walk, the other way.
9. Corporal Clinger. If your potential client’s first communication with you is an 86,000-character email, including footnotes … If your new client calls you 6(66) times the day after signing a fee agreement … If your client shows up for lunch, just to talk about the case … and then comes by for dinner … at your house … you may have a stage 5 clinger on your hands.
8. The Seeker. This potential litigant has not yet found the right fit; but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been looking hard for a lawyer. In fact, you’re about to be the eighth one she has hired … that is, of course, unless you wise up, and walk away. This is truly the case of It’s Not Me v. It’s You.
7. The Expert. Clearly, this potential client’s associate’s degree in dental assisting entails far superior learning in the law than your own J.D. He understands the complexities and both the ins and outs of his legal query. Really, he just needs you to sign the papers for him. And, who knows, maybe you’ll learn a thing or two along the way. This is the exact formula for an adversarial relationship.
6. The Serial Litigant. Pending litigation? Oh, yeah, she’s got that. And if you’re not careful, you’ll get it. If your client makes you feel the word “litigious” is not quite a strong enough adjective, it’s time to move on.
5. Your Publicist. This potential client’s case is kind of a big deal. You know, if you win this one, it will probably make your reputation. Plus, this client is willing to refer you a ton of business, because he hangs with people who have access to lots of disposable income, and who are always ready to sue and/or to respond to suit, with guns appropriately blazing. Only it’s probably a money pit.
4. The Hail Mary. You’re taking the client solely because you need the money, hoping it works out. Never do that.
3. The Grudge Holder. This potential client is of the ornery, obdurate (fill in other “o” words that could be equated to stubborn) variety. She has only the one lawsuit for now but there’s a long list trailing — sort of like a reverse Earl-named person. And there are plenty of other people with whom she has a beef. What makes you think she’ll spare you?
2. The Old-Fashioned Handshaker. Your client just wants you to do a small job. Nothing that will require any documentation. He trusts you. He’d never sue you: you’re his lawyer — and you’ve done such good work for him in the past. Alas, even if you’re barred where written fee agreements are not required, best practice is to document the fact of representation, every time. Oh, and you’ll want to document everything else, too. Abraham Lincoln could get away with these kinds of shenanigans but, I mean he won the Civil War and killed vampires.
1. The Practice Assassin. If all your clients were like this cat, you’d close up shop, and open a home heating oil service on Maui.
Some of the categories listed above are directly attributable to an excellent “red flag/green flag” client vetting guide created by Leanna Hamill. You can read the original article here. And for more on vetting potential clients, check out Matt Homann’s “Client Worthiness Index.”
Jared Correia is Assistant Director and Senior Law Practice Advisor at the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program. Prior to joining LOMAP, he was the Publications Attorney for the Massachusetts Bar Association. Before that, he worked as a private practice lawyer. Jared is the author of Twitter in One Hour for Lawyers. He writes on practice management topics for Attorney at Work here, and for the LOMAP blog here. Follow @jaredcorreia.