Who will (or should) be your valentine

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Edward Poll, The Daily Record Newswire

With Valentine's Day recently passed, sweethearts are on everybody's mind. Do you have the perfect sweetheart? Are you looking?

In the business of law, some clients are real sweethearts; others are partners who you'd be better off divorcing. The key to a successful and enjoyable law practice is to choose your clients wisely so that all of your lawyer-client relationships are happy ones. Client selection is not only the first line of defense against malpractice problems, it also has the added benefit of being a wonderful management tool for law firms.

- Client selection plan

Client selection begins by drawing up a "client intake procedures plan" and using it. Putting the plan in writing will lock it in your mind and give you something objective to review as often as necessary until you really feel comfortable with it. Stick to the plan. Don't deviate without having a really good, objective reason.

In the rush to land new clients, as in the frenzy to find romance, people can overlook the importance of the screening process. With all potential clients, take the time for a careful interview. Discuss the client's expectations, case goals and previous legal system experiences. Listen to any negative or unsettling reactions that you or your staff may have about the client or his expectations.

Be realistic in discussing your expectations with the client. Don't embellish or lowball the fee as a hook - that may be worse for the lawyer than if the client left after hearing the projected reality.

Finally, send a written notice to the prospective client in the event of rejection of the case or matter, and retain a copy for the firm's records. For proof of mailing, send the letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, or by messenger or courier where appropriate.

- When to "swipe left"

A plan for selecting clients must include a section on when and how to say no to accepting one. Here are some considerations when deciding whether to accept or reject a client.

Pay particular attention to clients who have last-minute emergencies or "life-and-death" matters. Unless a firm has sufficient personnel or specializes in crises, this type of client brings inherent risks, since time crunches often push work to less knowledgeable or less experienced personnel.

Statute of limitation and time issues to complete the work and review it for correctness can increase a firm's risk of time-element malpractice claims, which comprise about 25 percent of all malpractice claims. Avoiding these last-minute emergencies is an important rejection tool.

Beware of a client who is playing law firm ping-pong; that is, a client who moves from firm to firm. That's an indication of the type of person who's really never satisfied and is correspondingly willing to blame his attorney for his discontent. That kind of chronic dissatisfaction may ultimately be a thinly disguised invitation to a summons and complaint for malpractice.

Avoid a client with unrealistic expectations or demands and who believes that your estimates, whether of time or outcome or costs, are guarantees instead of informed approximations.

The client who expresses irritation with delay, who's chronically complaining about everything, who is demanding constant or instant attention, or who expects unrealistic or abnormal hand-holding might just be the alter ego of the chronically discontented client who jumps from firm to firm.

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Edward Poll is the principal of LawBiz Management. He coaches lawyers and is the creator of "Life After Law," a program that helps attorneys plan for profitable exits. He can be contacted at edpoll@lawbiz.com.

Published: Mon, Feb 15, 2016

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