How to Handle Difficult Legal Clients

They say the customer is always right but does the same hold true for a lawyer’s client? Attorneys face difficult clients every day who pose various challenges and obstacles for those that represent them. 

Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid difficult clients. However, you can take steps that will help you effectively handle problem clients and the issues they cause.

Have Effective Screening Procedures

The most effective way to deal with a difficult client is to filter them out before you even begin representing them. You can accomplish this by having a good screening procedure in place for new clients. 

In many cases, the initial consultation is the first chance attorneys get at screening clients. However, many firms put a telephone screener in place before the initial consultation to weed out potentially problematic clients. 

You will need to create a list of things to look for when establishing your screening procedures. But keep in mind that it is impossible to stop every problematic person from becoming a client. 

Set Boundaries from the Beginning

It’s always easier to enforce boundaries that are already established and understood by your clients. Hence, laying down the limitations of your service and duties at the beginning of your representation will make it easier to keep a client in check. 

On the other hand, it can be quite difficult to explain to a client how their behavior is out of line in the absence of prior warnings. 

If you suspect a potential client might be prone to entertain difficult behavior, address these concerns at the start of your professional relationship. Nipping these problems in the bud, you’ll find, diffuses many of them immediately and permanently. 

Document Everything

As a lawyer, you know the importance of documentation. Documentation protects you from future issues or disputes that might arise. In addition to the standard documentation you do for all of your clients, such as representation contracts and filings, you will also want to document every meeting you have with clients. 

Note the substance and nature of these meetings and also do the same for any client phone calls and communications. Any problems that arise at any time during your representation of a client should also be immediately documented and addressed. 

Never Get Defensive — Stay Calm

Clients have much on the line and often experience high levels of stress because of their cases. It is very common for them to take this stress out on their lawyers temporarily or on repeated occasions. 

As a professional, it always behooves you to remain calm and not get defensive or aggressive. Diffusing the situation is always the best option, especially if you plan to continue representing an agitated client. If not, you should still remain calm and take immediate steps to end your professional relationship with them.

Don’t Be Number Three

In most cases, you do not want to be the third lawyer representing a client. So during your telephone screener or initial consultation, you will want to find out whether your potential clients have previously been represented and by how many attorneys. 

A single attorney before you is not bad at all. Sometimes, a client’s first choice in lawyers does not work out. However, you will want to be leery if you are considering working with a person who has been through more than one lawyer before finding you. Lawyer hopping is a big red flag for a problematic client. 

There is no surefire way of escaping difficult clients. However, you can manage them in a way that diminishes any problems their behavior might lead to. You can also refuse to take on difficult clients by effectively predicting which potential clients might be troublesome and save yourself future headaches.