How to Say No to Clients

 

Did you answer “yes” to one or more of these questions?  You are in good company.

Lawyers often feel pressured to practice “door law.”  The source of the pressure may be economic:  I don’t really have a choice.  I need the money.  It can also be emotional: Family, friends, or former clients are depending on me.

If you find yourself in this predicament frequently, here is some sage advice that first appeared in In Sight.  These tips apply no matter who is doing the asking: clients, friends, family, neighbors, teachers, etc.:

  • Be respectful.  Listen to the asker and don’t interrupt. Respect the request, then respect your right to decline the request.
  • Keep it simple.  You have the right to say “no.”  Elaborate justifications aren’t necessary [and may lead to backsliding, since many of us say “yes” to avoid feeling guilty].
  • Assign responsibility elsewhere:  “That sounds very nice; unfortunately, my
    calendar is booked solid.” Now it’s your calendar’s fault. Stand firm. Avoid engaging in discussion or negotiation.
  • Refer to others who might fill the opening well.
  • Say yes when there is a good reason to do so, it will benefit you, or the cause is one you believe in.  [Life is too short to take on a case or client you find repugnant.]

I encourage you to read the full article here.

Postscript – What would I add to the above?

It’s time to keep it 100, get real, and dish some tough love:

  1. You are not the only lawyer who can help your clients.  If money is an issue, there are others who participate in the OSB modest means program, offer sliding fee services, or take pro bono referrals.  If you continually give your time away to nonpaying clients, your practice will decline and you may need to close your doors.  If you close your practice, you aren’t available to help anyone.
  2. If the case can’t be won, are you doing a service or a disservice by taking it? Once a lawyer commits to a case, many clients assume the case CAN BE WON, no matter how you qualify your representation.  Not all clients have a legal remedy, for a variety of reasons. This can be a bitter pill to swallow, but the truth is better than false hope.  You can always suggest [and should suggest] a second opinion.
  3. Even when the client has the money and the case is decent, you are not always the right match.  Don’t let someone push you out of your comfort zone. Law is complex.  Staying on top of your desired practice areas is hard enough. Straying into unfamiliar areas is stressful, time consuming, expensive [because of the learning curve], and more likely to result in a claim or bar complaint.
  4. You are a lawyer, not a doctor.  Keeping clients who won’t follow your advice, don’t cooperate, and look to place blame anywhere but with themselves, is a pure misery.  This is not a situation you can cure, except by firing the client.

All Rights Reserved [2015] Beverly Michaelis

 

3 thoughts on “How to Say No to Clients

  1. “Intuition is reason in a hurry.” -Holbrook Jackson. It’s sometimes difficult to do, but it’s important to go with your intuition and turn problem cases/clients away.

  2. Pingback: The Year in Review – Top Posts in 2015 | Oregon Law Practice Management

  3. Pingback: New Work Habits for a New Year | Oregon Law Practice Management

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