Part one of this two-part series focused on “dabbling” – practicing in areas of law in which you have little or no experience. That can lead to issues, both of you and your client. The other risk is taking on a client or case when it may have been more prudent to take a pass.
As we mentioned in part one, never has a lawyer’s judgment about what clients and cases to take been tested like it is now. With the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn hitting some lawyers just as it has almost every type of business, the temptation and pressure to take whatever walks in the door, especially among solo practitioners and small law firms, has never been greater.
And if the effects of the pandemic and the tough economy have not altered the way you choose your cases, it may be a good time to review your selection process.
Time to Review
Often, cases can turn out well even if you took on a client about whom you knew very little. But sometimes, poor client selection can blow up on you.
Too often, lawyers take a case before they know all the facts, or have elicited as much information from the client as is really needed.
Jumping in without all the facts can sometimes be costly. Always do the research.
Expecting a Miracle
Some clients may also view your services differently now as they struggle financially. With money being tight, people losing their jobs, and many businesses struggling amidst the coronavirus restrictions, some clients may expect financial miracles – a financial fix that will help them through these difficult times.
For some lawyers, getting clients to come in seeking legal services at all has become an issue. For many, they may be feeling access to justice issues that were previously perceived as a problem only for the working poor or indigent. As more people lose their jobs, or have their pay or benefits reduced, the more glaring the problem.
Many lawyers believe the people who can afford lawyers are hiring them – even in today’s economy, but facing different circumstances than they expected. As a lawyer, you are called upon to help them through these difficulties. Proceed with caution, and get help where you need it. Not only are many of your clients facing unusual and unexpected circumstances, you probably are too.
No matter what kind of economy we’re dealing with, there are some general warning signs that all lawyers should keep in mind. If you are not the first lawyer, it may be an indication that the client will never be satisfied no matter who is representing them.
If the client has unreasonable expectations, there could be trouble ahead. Don’t overpromise. Then, the client’s high expectations will be tough to meet.
If the client doesn’t want to listen, knows everything, or attributes all their problems to others, you are in for a long, difficult case. Those are clients you may be better off declining.
When you think you need to take almost every client that comes in, you should think twice. It may look like a sure payday at the time, but further evaluation could prove otherwise. Resist the feeling that you must get business of any kind.
When considering a new case, evaluate the merits of the case, whether the potential client has already fired at least one attorney, whether the client has realistic expectations, whether the client is willing to listen, whether you have the expertise in that area of the law, and whether you are considering taking the case for financial reasons. If any of these considerations raises a red flag, it may not be the case for you.
These are certainly unprecedented times, as we have heard many times during the past several months. Circumstances we never thought we would encounter are here – both for you as a lawyer and for your clients. It is not “business as usual” these days, is it? As you navigate your way through the pandemic, determine the best way for you to practice law and best serve your clients. And be realistic about the ones you can help and the ones you can’t.
If you have questions or concerns about cases or clients, feel free to contact our claims attorneys. They are always willing to talk through issues with lawyers.
Brian Anderson can be reached via e-mail or at (800) 373-3839 ext. 236.
Matthew Beier can be reached via e-mail or at (800) 373-3839 ext. 221.