Joe Barnard, CPA

How to Spot Dangerous Clients

Not every client who walks through your door will be one you want to represent. Just because somebody is willing to pay for your services doesn’t mean it’s in your best interest to take their case.

In fact, your decision to decline a client may save you money (and a lot of trouble) down the line. From the high maintenance client to the truly malicious one, some people are just not worth the added stress and risk of a legal malpractice claim.

The Case for Vetting

Especially when you’re just starting out, it can be tempting to take on whatever clients come your way. However, there are important reasons to be more cautious. Not every client is going to enhance your experience, reputation, and income, and some can cause big problems.

  • Bad clients know how to work the system, so you lose money on billing. You likely won’t be able to bill for every hour of your time they waste, and you can’t bill for high stress and poor sleep.

  • Bad clients take your time and effort away from good clients. When you are stressed out and frustrated with bad clients, you may miss opportunities with good ones. Bad clients also can cloud your judgment and may cause you to pass over a better opportunity.

  • Bad clients don’t get better. Truthfully, a bad client is more likely to get worse than better. What started as a small annoyance (like being late for appointments) may evolve into something much bigger (like no-shows and last-minute rescheduling).

Choose Wisely

It is acceptable to screen clients before taking a case. Even if you’re just starting out or going through a slow patch, it’s good practice to carefully vet your potential clients for warnings signs.

Some first indicators of a problem may occur before you even meet in person. Here are several types of dangerous clients to avoid:

  • The Delayed Responder leaves a message about a legal emergency; you return the call and leave a message but do not hear back for almost a week.

  • The Everybody-in-the-Phonebook Client isn’t sure who you are when you call back because they’ve already left messages with every lawyer in town.

  • The Vague Voicemail Client leaves a message asking you to call back immediately because they’ve “got a great case for you.”

  • The Over-sharer will overload your inbox with emails and documents before you even meet.

  • The Canceler makes appointments then no-shows or reschedules multiple times.

  • The Researcher tries to explain to you how the law works based on research they’ve done on the internet.

  • The Cheapskate starts out trying to negotiate your rates or explaining why they’re too high.

  • The Serial Client tells you they previously hired another attorney but that they’re willing to give you a chance.

  • The Bait and Switcher tells one tale of woe over the phone and an entirely different story in your office.

  • The Lonely Heart is a little too interested in your personal life and wants to hang out after work.

Being aware of the warning signs can help you avoid dangerous clients and the stress and risk of lawsuits and professional complaints that goes with them.

ProDefender’s Lawyers Professional Liability Insurance will come to your defense if you find out a little too late that you’ve got a bad client. To learn more, contact us at (866) 434-8557 or, or click the link below to request a quote.


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