Client and Case Screening: Lessons Learned

One of the most important skills lawyers must hone is the ability to size up clients and cases.  If you’ve allowed disagreeable clients or “dog” files to creep into your practice, you know exactly what I mean.

Evaluate potential new clients based on the seven keys to successful client screening:

Goals

Are the client’s goals reasonable under the circumstances?  Does a proper legal remedy exist?  If you inform the client that the result she is seeking isn’t possible, how does the client respond to this news?

Motives

What drives the client?  Does he have a “scorched earth,” take no prisoners, sue at all costs mentality?  A desire to “get back” at the other party?  This person may be difficult to manage, if not to please, and unwilling to compromise.

Past Legal History

What is the client’s history with the law, particularly the court system?  Has the client ever filed a lawsuit?  Been sued?  Had a criminal case?  A simple search using the “party name” field in OJCIN will yield results, but these are good questions to ask the client directly.  For one, it may be crucial to know if your client has been involved in a similar or related matter in the past.  Prior testimony could be relevant (or discovered). For screening purposes, the goal is to rule out red flags.  If you discover the client has a record of bringing six unsuccessful civil suits in the last ten years, this may give you pause.

Willingness and Ability to Pay

The client who lacks the funds to pay you up front is very unlikely to come up with the money later.  The client who complains about your fee and pays grudgingly is a fee dispute waiting to happen.  ‘Nuff said.

Lawyer Shopping

This is the most critical screening element in my opinion.  How many lawyers has the client spoken to and why?  Do you get the sense the client is trying to conflict out the other party?  (See Motives, above.)  Has more than one lawyer declined to represent the client?  Did the client fire her former lawyer?  Is the client currently represented, but unhappy?

Getting a second opinion is not necessarily a bad thing.  However, if there is a long line of lawyers behind you move on to the next prospect.

Nonverbal Cues

Sometimes clients tell us what we want to hear.  All the words are right, but the client’s tone is off or he refuses to make eye contact.  When nonverbal cues don’t align with the client’s verbal message, something is wrong.  Either probe the inconsistency or decline representation.

Attitude

The ideal client should have a neutral or positive attitude toward the law and the profession.  A client who has a chip on her shoulder will be difficult to turn around.  Your job is to learn more and weigh for yourself whether this person is someone you want to represent.  You may discover the client’s feelings are justifiable. Or it could be the client is playing the “blame game.”  If so, this is one queue you don’t want to be in.

More to Learn

Learning the seven keys to successful client screening is only part of the battle.  If you want to hone your client and case screening skills, but missed the Client and Case Screening CLE last Wednesday, contact me for information on how to download the written materials.  In addition to the 7 Keys to Successful Client Screening, this CLE also addressed:

  • Integrating screening into client intake
  • Probing clients with 5 must-ask questions
  • Learning how to adjust when you take a case beyond your areas of expertise
  • Debunking the top 10 excuses for taking a bad case
  • Building discipline into the case selection process
  • Declining the poorly-matched client
  • Preparing effective nonengagement and disengagement letters
  • Embracing the lawyer’s Bill of Rights

I anticipate offering this program again in 2017.

All Rights Reserved [2016] Beverly Michaelis

Labor Day

Enjoy and celebrate!

Labor-Day

Witness Backgrounds: What’s Admissible in Washington vs. Oregon — NWSidebar

A lot can be learned from investigating the background of witnesses involving cases that span two states. As an investigator with a firm handling matters in Washington and Oregon, I need to know how far back to search witnesses’ backgrounds in order to determine what is admissible under the laws of each state. Some of […]

via Witness Backgrounds: What’s Admissible in Washington vs. Oregon — NWSidebar

OJD iForms – Interactive Court Forms for the Public

In keeping with eCourt’s goal to simplify court access, the Oregon Judicial Department has created iForms – interactive interview-based forms that can be completed online. Here is what you need to know:

Who Can Use iForms?

iForms are designed for “self-represented filers” (the public).  Using Tyler Technology’s Guide & File system, the user proceeds through a self-guided interview process to generate a completed court form.

Are iForms Available for all Case Types?

No.  At this time, forms are limited to the following:

  • Small Claims – file a small claim or respond to a small claim
  • Residential FED-Eviction – file a residential eviction
  • Satisfaction of Money Award – court documentation of debt paid
  • Renew a FAPA Restraining Order – must have a current Restraining Order

Will Additional iForms be Added in the Future?

Yes.  The OJD press release states: “Our next step will be expanding use of these forms into dissolution, child custody, and other family law cases.”

Is There a Fee to Use OJD iForms?

There is no fee to use the forms.  Normal circuit court filing fees still apply.

Are iForms Available Now?

Yes – the iForm system is up and running at the Tyler Techology/Odyssey Guide & File site.  Originally iForms were scheduled to launch September 21, 2016.

What Languages Are Supported by iForms?

At this time, OJD iForms are only provided in English. To see forms in other languages, the court directs self-represented filers to visit OJD Forms.  Information about interpreters is provided on the iForms home page.

Are iForms Restricted to Electronic Filing?

No.  Since the forms are designed for self-represented filers (the public), eFiling is voluntary.  Once a form is completed, filers can (depending on the form) either eFile the form or print the form and file it themselves at any Oregon circuit court.

Are iForms Really User Friendly?

Filers must have access to a computer, the ability to download and save a personal copy of the iForm, a credit card (for eFiling), or access to a printer (if filing conventionally).

The interview process follows a straightforward format.  For each case type, the filer is provided with:

  • A statement of purpose or background information about the form.
  • A list of the documents and information the filer will need to complete the form.
  • Identification of the filer’s party status (For example: “If you are filing the request to renew the restraining order, you are the Petitioner; the person you are asking to restrain is the Respondent. This does not change throughout the case.”)

Filers are also told that court staff cannot give legal advice.

A quick readability check of the small claims complaint page reveals a score of 72.9 on the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease Scale.  (Text which scores 60 to 80 is considered easy to read.)

Is Technical Support Available for iForm users?

Before entering an interview, filers can access links to FAQs, a quick reference guide, self-help, and a how-to video from the Tyler Technology Guide & File home page.

Do Filers Receive any Form-Specific Help or Guidance on Next Steps?

Form-specific help is provided once the interview process begins.  A help panel on the right side of the page gives general guidance, information on where to file, etc.

Instructions for next steps are available to download or print at the end of the interview or on the OJD iForms home page.  See the heading “What to do after you file an iForm” on the bottom right.

Can a Filer Start an iForm and Finish it Later?

Yes, but the filer must create a profile first.  The filer’s information is saved in “My Interviews.”

A profile can be created before starting an interview by clicking “Welcome” in the top right corner of the iForms home page.  From the pull-down menu, select “Register.”

Once the filer has started an interview, two prompts appear above the help panel on the right side of the page:  “Sign up to save your work,” and “Already signed up? Log in.”