Wisconsin Lawyer: Meet in Person to See If the Client is a Good Fit With You:

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    Meet in Person to See If the Client is a Good Fit With You

    At the beginning of a career, it is harder to decide whether to take on a client or subsequently to disengage from one, because of a lack of experience and the need to develop a client base. More than 35 years of practice has given me a fairly well-developed red flag detector.

    Timothy L. Vocke

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    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 81, No. 10, October 2008

    Meet in Person to See If the Client is a Good Fit With You

    by Timothy L. Vocke

    At the beginning of a career, it is harder to decide whether to take on a client or subsequently to disengage from one, because of a lack of experience and the need to develop a client base. More than 35 years of practice has given me a fairly well-developed red flag detector.

    Remember that you need to meet the prospective client and that you are interviewing him or her to see if the client is a good fit with you. Be wary of potential clients who:

    • are in a hurry to get something done;
    • have been to other attorneys or want you to substitute in for another attorney mid case (be especially wary if the client complains about other lawyers);
    • demand that you set aside other work to help him or her;
    • seem to be evasive or not leveling with you;
    • have had other lawsuits (always check CCAP);
    • have a "spokesman";
    • want to litigate the "principle";
    • have unrealistic expectations about the result;
    • are driven by emotions;
    • want to "negotiate" the terms or amount of your retainer; or
    • have waited to the last possible moment before something important is going to happen in their matter before contacting you, such as a statute of limitation running or trial.
    Timothy L. Vocke

    Timothy L. Vocke, U.W. 1973, practices with Eckert, Kost & Vocke LLP, Rhinelander.

    Don't give legal advice to unknown people over the phone; you need to meet them before taking them on as clients. Do send both a fee agreement and a letter indicating that until the agreement is returned, signed, along with the retainer, there is no attorney/client relationship; make sure to state a time limit for responding. Do send a letter of nonengagement if you decide that you don't want the person as a client.

    Once there is an attorney/client relationship, you need to keep evaluating the relationship with your clients. Be wary of clients who:

    • don't keep their promises;
    • want to control the tactics or strategy in a case;
    • don't respond to requests for information;
    • complain about bills or do not refurbish the retainer when asked to;
    • want you to do something unethical;
    • call you at home;
    • are trying to use you for nonlegal services, such as counseling;
    • insist on being able to contact you when you are doing something else that demands your attention, such as attending depositions;
    • lie to you; or
    • give you the go ahead to do something, such as make a specific demand or offer, and then withdraw consent.

    You may be able to solve some these problems (such as contact or lack of contact) with the client and keep the person on. For others, you need to pull the trigger immediately and get rid of the client. You cannot keep a lying client or one who wants you to do something that you know you can't do. Obviously, you need judicial consent to withdraw from a case that is in litigation, and so timing is important.

    Make your decision. Then tell the client in writing that you are going to terminate the relationship and why, how, and when you are doing it.

     




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