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How to Spot and Avoid Clients Who Will Waste Your Time

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. | Last updated on

For solo practitioners or lawyers working in a smaller firm setting, time is at a premium. That's why bad, non-paying clients are universally despised. But how do you spot the bad apple client who will just waste your time?

Here are some tips you should keep in mind for handling a legal leech if your ever so unfortunate to encounter one.

Time Is Money

All lawyers know that time is money. The more time you spend on a client who has no real intention of hiring you, the more time you didn't spend making money or finding other paying clients. At the very least, you can catch up on much-needed sleep.

Key Phrases That Should Raise the Hairs

There are some key phrases that should instantly make you wary of a particular client. Here are a few examples.

  • "You're a lawyer? Hey, I gotta question": This one is a little unfair because there doesn't seem to be any non-iffy way to ask a legal question of a lawyer without actually saying you have a question. But it all has to do with attitude. The preferred potential client would rephrase the question like this: "I think I have a legal problem that might need the help of a professional." Sounds a little less dubious, doesn't it?
  • "I just need some quick advice": This is another one that could potentially land you in big trouble, especially since you haven't secured a retainer. Giving quick legal advice is equivalent to forming an attorney-client relationship with someone who didn't want to pay for that quick legal advice.
  • "I heard you gave free consultations": You might have opted to offer free consultations in a bid to convince potentials to hire you. They think they're getting legal advice, but they're wrong. It's really a setup for you to size them up. Be wary of those people who call you because you give free consultations because they're again looking for a cheap way out of their problem. We're not saying don't ever take clients whom you sign over a free consultation. We're saying be wary of potentials who came in because of your free consultation.

Free Advice Is Surface Stuff. Each Case Is Unique

Everybody, including lawyers, likes bright-line rules. Alas, each case is unique and few cases fit easily into simple facts patterns that can easily be answered in a 30 minute consult. By their very nature, free advice packages are going to be incomplete, and you should always make it clear to the potential client that the consultation does not form an attorney-client privilege. Best practices demands you get that in writing. It's the nature of the business that even tire-kickers can bring you down.

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