Never be the third lawyer on the file

The Pareto principle states that 80 per cent of results are derived from 20 per cent of input. This 80/20 rule can describe difficult clients: 80 per cent of your grief will come from 20 per cent of your clients.

Knowing how to handle that 20 per cent is imperative to a healthy practice.

For sole practitioners and small firms, difficult clients can be overwhelming. Unlike at larger firms, you may not be able to easily transfer the file to another lawyer. However, ignoring the fact that a client is difficult can compromise your representation of them. The following are 10 suggestions for managing difficult clients.

Conduct a telephone screen: A telephone intake before the client enters your office will help screen problem clients. For example, a person who calls you just before their limitation period expires suggests they will require a significant amount of educating. It could also signal a lack of investment in their case, as they did not care enough to protect their rights early on.

Never be the third lawyer on the file: As part of your intake process, find out if the client is switching lawyers. If so, obtain authorization to speak with the previous lawyer to find out why the relationship ended. A lawyer forced to terminate the relationship due to non-payment of the retainer, or breaching other terms of the engagement, should be red flags for you. As a general rule of thumb, while you may be the second lawyer on the file, never be the third.

What is the client’s motivation?: During the intake, in addition to canvassing what the client wants, find out why they want it. If they want revenge or justice without regard to costs, alarm bells should sound. If they are angry and argumentative, want to sue their past lawyer or have unreasonable expectations at the outset, be prepared to spend considerable efforts educating the client if you take them on.

Review the file before taking it on: If you are referred a file by another lawyer, ask to review the file and meet the client before taking the matter on. This will allow you to properly assess the file and determine whether you can work with the client.

Do not act for family and friends: What may seem like a small matter or a simple favour for family or friends will often be more complicated than anticipated. Your relationship with that person may also cloud judgment or lead you to relax your policies for them.

Understand why they are difficult: A client may be difficult for myriad reasons. Perhaps they suffer from a mental illness or a serious medical condition. They may be overwhelmed, resentful or scared about the legal process, and are transferring their negative emotions on to you. Once you have an idea of what makes a client difficult, you can create a plan to deal with it.

Educate, educate, educate: The key to dealing with most difficult clients is educating them. Take the time to talk to them and explain the legal process, even if you have to do it repeatedly. Report regularly as this will help the client understand their file and alleviate concerns that nothing is being done. Educating a client will build a positive relationship that lasts throughout the file.

Establish ground rules: Ground rules will set expectations. Have policies for missed appointments without reasonable excuse, non-payment of retainer and treatment of staff. A breach of these policies can be cause for terminating the relationship. Also, establish phone and email expectations. Limit after-hours correspondence to mitigate the expectation that you are at the client’s disposal.

Explain hourly rates for all staff: Clients must understand that your staff’s time is valuable. When reviewing your hourly rates, include the rates for your staff. This will dispel the illusion that only the lawyer’s time counts and minimize the never-ending calls to support staff.

Stick to your rules: Policies with the best of intentions are meaningless unless we follow them. This can be painful, but it must be done to protect yourself, gain your client’s respect and create a harmonious office.

Everyone has difficult clients. The best way to avoid such clients is to not be retained by one. If you do have one, take the time to educate them and establish rules and expectations. Knowing how to handle a difficult client properly can be the difference between an unhappy client that degrades your reputation and a happy client that sends you future business.


Ten ways to handle difficult customers!

Ten ways to handle difficult customers!The Pareto Principle states that 80% of results come from 20% of entries. This 80/20 rule can also apply to your difficult customers: 80% of your torment will come from 20% of your customers.

Knowing how to manage these 20% of your clients is imperative for a healthy practice. This is what Kevin Cheung , a partner at Fleck Law, says in an article in Canadian Lawyer.

Cheung is a liaison officer for small and medium-sized law firms at the Ontario Bar Association, and is familiar with their issues. These difficult customers can be heavy. Because unlike the big business case, he says, you are not able to easily transfer the case to another lawyer. "In any way, ignoring the fact that the client is difficult can compromise the quality of your work," he writes.

Here are the 10 suggestions proposed by Kevin Cheung for the management of your difficult customers

Talk to him on the phone: A first contact by phone will help you better understand the profile of the client. For example, someone calling you just before the expiry of the limitation period suggests that they need a lot of information right now. This may also signal a lack of investment from her because she did not care enough about her rights well in advance.

Review the file carefully before deciding to take charge of it : If a case has been sent to you by a colleague, ask to review the file and speak with the client before taking charge. This will allow you to properly evaluate the file and determine if you are able to work with the client.

Never be the third lawyer on the record : Before saying yes to a warrant, try to find out if the client is changing from lawyer to lawyer. If this is the case, get permission to contact the previous lawyer on the case to find out why their collaboration has ended. The fact that a lawyer has been forced to terminate a benefit due to non-payment, or a breach of another term of office, should be a red card for you. As a general rule, you can, at best, be the second lawyer on a case, but never be the third, advises Kevin Cheung.

What is the motivation of the customer?: During the first contact, in addition to analyzing the client's request, try to find out the reason that motivates him to make the move. If it is a motive for revenge or justice that ignores the consequences, you should sound the alarm. If the client is angry and argumentative, if he wants to continue his previous lawyer or if he has expectations that exceed the reality, prepare, from the outset, to spend considerable energy to raise awareness about the results that may be reasonably achieved.

Do not handle business for a family member and friends: According to Kevin Cheung, what may seem like a small business or a simple favor for a family member or a friend, will often be more complicated than expected. Your relationship with this person may also distort your judgment or cause you to derogate on certain points related to your work procedure.

Understand why this client is difficult : A client can be difficult for a multitude of reasons. He may be suffering from insanity or serious illness. Overworked, angry or frightened by the heavy sentence that may be caused by legal proceedings, your client may transfer you negative waves. Once you have an idea of ​​what makes a customer difficult, you can better organize yourself to manage it.

Educate, educate, educate: The key to dealing with most difficult customers is to educate them. Take the time to talk to them and explain the court process, even if you have to do it several times. Remember to keep them regularly informed of the progress of their procedure, as this will help them better understand their case and mitigate their concerns. Educating a client helps build a positive relationship as the process progresses.

Establish ground rules: Put some basic rules in place so that the customer knows what to expect. Thus, no missed appointments without reasonable excuse, non-payment of fees, or inappropriate behavior with different members of your teams. A violation of these rules may be grounds for terminating the collaboration. In addition, consider establishing a telephone and email exchange process.

Explain hourly rates for all of your staff : Customers need to understand that your staff time has a price. When presenting your hourly rates, be sure to include those of your staff. This will dispel the illusion that only the lawyer's time is running out, and minimize endless phone calls to your various associates.

Stick to the established rules : The basic rules put in place, as rich in good intentions as they can be, will only make sense if you hold on to them. This is a little painful, but it helps to preserve your well-being, earn the respect of your client and create a harmonious working atmosphere within your practice.

Everyone has difficult customers, concludes Kevin Cheung. The best way to avoid this type of customers is not to take care of them from the start. But if you're ever forced to collaborate with this type of profile, take the time to set rules and expectations. Knowing how to handle a difficult customer properly can mean the difference between an unhappy customer who degrades your brand, and a satisfied customer who recommends you for future records.