The same precaution applies even when talking about billable-hour clients. I remember attending a state bar continuing legal education seminar where, during a break, a gaggle of lawyers stood around within earshot derisively comparing and commiserating over their respective “clients-from-hell.” One lawyer described how much he hated taking calls from one stress-inducing client and another rued the day he was trapped by the size of the retainer he accepted from an especially obnoxious one. In such instances, the trade-off for getting paid comes at too high a personal and professional cost.
Given the widespread angst, tension, and ulcers caused by mistakes in selecting clients and their accompanying cases, the topic remains a favorite of continuing legal education vendors, how-to experts, and state bars. It also keeps ethics counsel busy when lawyers, beaten-down by high-maintenance or abusive clients, start avoiding them by not returning calls and by generally being unresponsive.
The topic is also oft-written in print and online. Jay Foonberg‘s books are indispensable, especially, How to Get and Keep Good Clients. And one of my favorite online legal practice tipsters remains Edward Poll. See, for instance, When to Say No: 10 Ways to Select and Reject a Client.
Of Late Comers and Poison Apples.
In Choosing Clients Wisely, Patricia Yevics quotes from K. William Gibson’s book, How to Build a Personal Injury Practice, where Gibson develops his own list of client types. Gibson’s categories define themselves, needing no explanation. Gibson’s categories include Late Comers, Revenge Seekers, Commanders, Bargain Hunters, Shoppers, No Shows, and Poison Apples.
Mark’s Inviolate Rules.
Now as for me, I subscribe to a shorter, easier to remember checklist for client and case selection.It was given to me years ago by my lawyer friend, Mark. I give him attribution, although one is never sure where such clever prescriptions originate. But Mark’s a super-smart and successful lawyer and I give him justifiable credit for his list, which has served me in good stead.
Using Mark’s criteria helps avoid taking on representation of merit-less cases or of matters that don’t pass the laugh test. He calls them Inviolate Rules, a client and case selection criteria applicable to almost any civil practice:
1. Likeable client
2. Egregious facts
3. Good Evidence
4. Solvent defendant
At the risk of alienating lawyer readers with bad recollections of law school and bar review, the list can be reduced to the mneumonic, LEGS, [L(ikeable) E(gregious) G(ood) S(olvent)]. A law practice has to have LEGS to succeed.
First, if a lawyer likes her client, the chances are good so will everyone else, including a jury. Likeable clients also translate into positive, pleasant attorney-client interactions. Lawyer and practice adviser Beverly Michaelis writing at the Oregon Bar’s Managing Your Practice has a great take on this in her article “Make the Right Match,What If You Only Represented Clients You Liked?” She encourages lawyers to only represent lawyers they like and avoid “door law,” i.e., taking as a client whoever walks in the door.
Second, egregious, offensive facts shock the sensibilities and will likely offend the trier-of-fact. Such facts squarely place the equities on your side. Third, good and sufficient proof of facts is the glimpse of the blindingly obvious. The best case is immeasurably weakened without solid corroboration. And finally, the fourth criterion should be equally obvious. There’s no such thing as turnip exsanguination.