By: Peggy E. Gruenke, COO Godbey & Associates
Not only is an informed client a happier client – they also tend to pay on time, are less frustrated and have a better chance of becoming a good referral source. All pointing to good things for growing your practice.
Your initial interview is the first step in managing your risk and is an opportunity to screen cases and clients unsuitable to you, thereby leaving you with the time and resources to provide excellent client service to those clients you choose to represent. Initial client meetings are to define the working relationship and set client expectations.
- Set context for relationship. Remember you want to be in control; don’t let them start off trying to mange you.
- Clarify financial obligations and consequences.
- For some, it may be first encounter with an attorney and they have no idea what to expect-explain the process.
- Clearly and accurately communicate:
- Course of action
- Possible outcomes
- Implications of decisions
- How long things may take
- Expected fees and expenses
- What types of documents they may receive
At the intake stage, conduct an in depth interview to determine if this is a client and a matter that you want to accept.
- Listen carefully to what the client is saying, and not saying.
- Ask probing questions to learn more about the client and the matter.
- Determine the potential client’s expectations and assess the reasonableness of those expectations.
Explain the legal process in detail including:
- The range of possible outcomes
- Time lines
- Ongoing payment schedules
- Out of pocket expenses
Before accepting a new matter, evaluate the cost and the risk to you of this client and this matter. Also evaluate if:
- You are qualified to handle the matter.
- You have the time and resources to handle the matter, given your current case load and your other professional and personal responsibilities.
- The client’s expectations are attainable.
- The client is willing and able to pay for your services.
- The client is someone you want to work with and for.
Some clients and some client matters are not the right ones for you. Recognize and listen to that negative gut feeling you get when you first interview a potential client. Use your best judgment but generally decline a client who:
- Resists paying the required consultation fee or retainer.
- Has unreasonable expectations about the outcome, cost or time involved and wants you to guarantee the outcome.
- Has a negative attitude towards attorneys.
- Has been represented on the same matter by a number of other attorneys and has no credible explanation as to why those relationships ended.
- Doesn’t take responsibility for his or her own actions, arrives at your door at the last minute and expects immediate attention.
- Doesn’t want to accept an objective evaluation of the case.
- Expects rushed closings or transactions and is pressuring you to do something that just doesn’t feel right.
This type of client is generally high maintenance and crisis producing. He or she consumes significant time and energy and may be slow in paying, if they pay at all. This is often the kind of client who will make malpractice claims and discipline complaints.
If you choose to represent this type of client, use appropriate safeguards to reduce your risk. Be extra vigilant in documenting all meetings and conversations. As with all clients, write detailed letters confirming advice given (including possible outcomes) and instructions received.
If you choose not to represent a potential client make this very clear, and do so in writing. Non-engagement letters are crucial to effective risk management.
Sample Client Intake Form
Thanks for reading!
Peggy E. Gruenke
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