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How to Talk to Potential Clients So They Don't Proceed Pro Se

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

It happens to solo lawyers with an unwelcome consistency: a client walks through your door to avail himself of your legal advice and then decides to either look for cheaper options, or worse, go about his matter pro se. What do you do?

It's been more than six years since the so-called economic downturn of 2008, but many people are still unreasonably frugal. It could be that people are worried about the recent negative predictions about the market. In this climate, how do you convince these clients that going pro se could be the worst mistake of their lives?

Knowing the Client

You've see him before. The client is panicked, mad, recently laid off. He has a family and mouths to feed and maybe he even has student loans that can't be discharged. Suddenly, he's even more stressed out because his broken tail light became a quasi-criminal issue. And there you are, ready to help.

Solo lawyers often don't have the luxury of getting the well-heeled clients. The panicked potential client is very likely looking for a light in the fog. Whether or not you end up representing that client, it's your obligation to provide him some guidance -- even if he doesn't pay you a dime.

Chances are, he either has little money or no money at all. If it's the latter, you're not obligated to represent him, but it would be nice of you to flex your pro-bono muscles.

Pro Se Tragedies

Many bad things happen when clients represent themselves pro se, and that's for both sides. They might be in an unstable emotional state. This is the stage at which a potential client needs the guiding hand of a professional the most.

Presenting a case and not slipping up and staying on point is a very difficult task even for lawyers, so one can only imagine the sort of mistakes that a non-lawyer would make in court. Let us not also forget that infamous multi-million dollar pants-lawsuit that was truly a smear on our justice system.

Be Affordable, Be Human

As an officer of the court, you are not obligated to hand out charity, but it's a noble thing to do. If a potential client is in that zone of shopping around, consider giving him or her reduced rates. Talk to the client. Get to know his predicament and what goals he would like. Understand the facts as best as you can. No ethical rule says that you must charge at least so much for a particular service.

Clients are often at the end of their tether financially and emotionally. Your client may feel that he must go and face his legal problem alone. If he comes back at you with "I can't afford a lawyer," calmly respond with the truth of the matter: "You can't afford not having a lawyer."

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