About beverlym

As a law practice management consultant and educator, my goal is to help Oregon attorneys improve their office practices and procedures. With over 35 years in the profession, I possess the problem-solving skills to help you make your law practice more efficient, effective, and profitable. Learn more here: http://www.oregonlawpracticemanagement.org/about/. My complete biography can be viewed at http://www.linkedin.com/in/beverlymichaelis.

How to Treat Bad Clients

When you saw this post title, how did you react? Was your first thought: “Kick ’em to the curb” or “I wonder where this is going?” If it was the former, don’t feel bad – it’s my knee-jerk reaction too.

When we hear the words “bad client,” we instinctively cringe. It conjures up past experiences we would rather not relive. Frankly, nothing could be more unpleasant. So what should we do?

Remedies for bad clients

Want to weed out or eliminate bad clients? Nothing beats:

  1. Screening at intake;
  2. Controlling expectations; and
  3. Knowing when to say no.

Trouble is, most of us know these lessons.  So …

What if a bad client squeezes by?

If there is an irremediable breakdown in the lawyer-client relationship and withdrawal is viable, do it. At this stage, it isn’t going to get better. Yet, some lawyers refuse to do so.

Why would anyone hold on to a client who belittled and berated them? Denied that telephone conversations or email exchanges occurred? Refused to produce materials requested in discovery? Insisted the lawyer use unethical or illegal tactics? (All actual events that have happened to lawyers I know.)

Money is generally the explanation. The lawyer can’t afford to forego the fee (or jeopardize her job). There are other reasons too, like fear and intimidation.

I hope you never experience any of this. If you do, I hope you are strong enough to get out. If you want to talk it over with someone, consider calling one of the confidential attorney counselors at the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program (OAAP).

Is there another approach?

I was motivated to revisit this topic by blogger Celia Elwell. In a recent post, she took on lawyers and legal staff who retaliate against ill-tempered clients by putting the client’s work at the bottom of the stack. Since I’ve witnessed this too, I wanted to share this point made by Ms. Elwell:

Most people, as a rule, do not call an attorney’s office because they are having a good day. Before they became our clients, they realized they had a problem, tried to deal with it, were unsuccessful, stressed, and lost sleep. In short, we are not seeing them at their best.

Take good notes when your clients vent, rant, or repeat themselves. Because they are upset, they may be mistaken or confused. Let the client know that you are listening to them. Interrupt only when you need them to repeat something to make sure you get it right. Document the clients’ concerns, and tell your attorney they called and why.

While her remarks are directed toward staff, they are good reminders for us all.

If you didn’t spot it, notice I suggested above that withdrawal made sense if (a) it was viable and (b) there was an irremediable breakdown in the lawyer-client relationship.

What if you aren’t there yet? This is when Ms. Elwell’s advice comes in handy.

Do not under any circumstances intentionally retaliate by putting the client’s work at the bottom of the stack. At the least, it is unprofessional. It will also likely result in a bar complaint and/or legal malpractice claim. Instead, take the high ground:

  • Try to diagnose what went wrong. Is the client mad at you or someone else? Is the client mistaken or confused? Is this about money? How stressed is the client? Consider scheduling an in-person meeting to air out client concerns.
  • Go out of your way to be courteous and considerate. Instruct staff to do the same.
  • Do high quality work in a timely manner.

It’s easy to be resentful and decide that we’re going to give what we get. But if you go out of your way to appease the upset client, you remove all rational grounds for disputes, complaints, and claims. It’s better to remain professional, even if the “bad” client never appreciates it.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis

Postscript

For more tips on improving client relationships, check out this CLE:
7 Steps to Building Better Client Relationships.

 

Obstacles to Improving Workflow


I asked this question during the recent CLE, Best Practices for Client Intake, Engagement, and Workflow.  You may be interested in the results:

For those who don’t have the time

This is a hard one, and I get it. But nothing will change unless you make the time.

I don’t have a magic solution for adding a 25th hour to the day. I do know that if something is important enough, we make room for it. So if you’re motivated, start by looking for time on your schedule. Find two one-hour blocks, whether they are close in time or a month apart. Schedule appointments with yourself. Mark the subjects “Workflow:brainstorm” and “Workflow:prioritize.” Commit to making the first time block outside the office. Leave your smartphone and other devices behind. Grab a legal pad, a pen or pencil, and go. Visit your favorite coffee shop or sit in the park.

Brainstorm

During the first time block, make a list of all the functions in your office that you’d like to improve. Dream small: “I wish saving email to the client’s file was easier,” or dream big: “We need a better conflict system.” Don’t rule anything out. Just let the ideas come and go until the hour is up.

prioritize

Your goal during the second time block is to prioritize. This can happen in your office IF you commit to working distraction-free. This means no phones, no checking email, no interruptions by others. You are in an appointment, albeit with yourself. If the temptations are too great, leave. As before, don’t bring devices.

Pull out the list of ideas from your brainstorming session and start marking what is most important: first, second, third, and so on. If you’re in your office, type up the list. If you’re out and about, take a moment when you get back to do so.

Investigate

Schedule another one hour appointment on your calendar. This third time block will be devoted to investigating options for the number one priority on your list. Google is your friend. Look for online reviews from neutral, authoritative sources. The ABA Legal Technology Resource Center is a good starting point. Check out blog posts that come up in search results. Ask colleagues by posting to a listserv. If you have an IT person, get their input. Ask staff. Depending on how complicated your first priority is, you make have to block out more time for this step. However, there are definitely some small-scale functions that you can reasonably investigate in an hour’s time.

Keep going: implement and master

Sticking with your number one priority, make a decision on which option you want to pursue. Schedule out more appointments on your calendar to implement the option. Then wait. Live with your new technology or process a while. Be prepared to make adjustments. When you are comfortable and feel you have mastered the new workflow, move on to priority number two and repeat the steps above. My point: you can find the time and you can make the time. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.

Procrastination

We sometimes procrastinate about improvements we know we should make because we feel overwhelmed or have trouble accepting change. Hopefully the approach outlined above will help you overcome these concerns. If after the brainstorming session you are worried that your priority list has nothing but large-scale items, consider reaching out for expertise. Ask colleagues for referrals to IT or other consultants. Consider using the practice management team at the OSB Professional Liability Fund. You don’t need to do it all, and you don’t need to do it alone. There is help. It may be that you would benefit by blocking out time for a second brainstorming session. Use this appointment to identify three things that are important to you that you can realistically accomplish in the next twelve months. Save your original list, but table it for now.

The Payoff

You can do this. Remember, if you are overwhelmed pick the top three things you know can be accomplished in the next twelve months. Save your other ideas, but table them for now.

Stay motivated! Improving workflows will make your life easier by eliminating unnecessary, repetitive steps. This will reduce your stress and free up more time. Who doesn’t want that? And with three or more successes under your belt, I know you’ll want to keep going.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis

 

Tiplet: Antivirus Software and Assistive Technology

If you use assistive technology, such as a screen reader for the visually impaired, and you are shopping for anti-virus software, here are some resources you might consider:

A blog follower also suggested Comparitech. If you know someone who can benefit from these resources, please pass them on.

Best Practices for Docketing, Conflicts, Disengagement, and File Retention

This is the last call for Best Practices for Docketing, Conflicts, Disengagement, and File Retention scheduled for April 11, 2018 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., PDT. This live, online webinar is the second in a two-part series on effective and ethical office systems.
Topics include:

Docketing

  • Learning the attributes of effective docketing systems
  • Appreciating the duty of due diligence
  • Docketing tips for eCourt practitioners: knowing where to go, forwarding notices, calculating deadlines, understanding the Register of Actions, enlisting proper email management

Conflicts

  • Recognizing ethical traps
  • Establishing system objectives: who to screen and when to screen
  • Comparing software applications
  • Streamlining conflict checking using forms, checklists, procedures, and letters
  • Recording conflict results

Disengagement and file retention

  • Meeting your ethical obligations under Oregon RPC 1.16
  • Simplifying disengagement with forms
  • Protecting clients and limiting liability exposure
  • Creating policies, procedures, and checklists
  • Accessing resources

Register Now
$25 – Visit the Upcoming CLE page or choose the registration link below. Secure payment processing powered by Eventbrite. Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express accepted. Program materials included in the registration price.

REGISTER NOW
Best Practices for Docketing, Conflicts, Disengagement, and File Retention

 FAQs

Are group discounts available?
Discounts are available to firms who register 5 or more attendees. Contact me for a discount code before you register beverly@oregonlawpracticemanagement.org.

Do the Programs Include Written Materials? 
Yes. Written materials are distributed electronically to attendees.

Are questions welcome?
Absolutely. Questions may be submitted any time during the live event or afterward via email. Attendees are also encouraged to participate in live, anonymous polling.

Where are the programs being held?
This program will be a live, online webinar.

MCLE Credits
1.0 practical skills pending.

Can’t Attend?
Video and audio recordings of the April 11 CLE will be available to download along with the program materials shortly after the live program event.
Price: $25. Contact me or visit my online CLE store to place an order.

Bidding Adieu to TECHSHOW

Last month I highlighted the ever-popular “60 in 60” tips, websites, gadgets, and resources from the 2018 ABA TECHSHOW as well as some great advice from security experts. Before we say goodbye to 2018 entirely and turn our thoughts to 2019, I wanted to share some of the other stories I curated from this conference:

If any of these topics interest you, click on the links above to learn more.  See you next week at Best Practices for Docketing, Conflicts, Disengagement, and File Retention.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis