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When Paying Clients Want to Litigate Despite Bad Value

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

When you have a client throwing good money after bad, the only blood they'll be able to squeeze out of that turnip is yours. That's how that saying goes, right?

If you discover that your client's case lacks real value, or the defendant won't be able to pay any judgment, it can often feel wallet deflating to tell a client that's paying you, in advance, by the hour, that their case, while meritorious, is worthless (to them, not you). While you might want to use more diplomatic language, especially for stubborn (principled) clients, painting the picture with numbers may be the most effective way to get your point across.

Cost Benefit Analysis With No Benefit

When a case isn't worth the paper you'd draft it on, but a client insists on pursuing the matter and paying your hourly rate, it's probably a good idea to not only get explicit authorization for every little thing you do, you probably want to show the client, up front, a realistic view of the costs, your projected fees, as well as the reason why you think the defendant won't be able to pay.

Fortunately, the amount of time it takes to realize the lack of value, as well as the time spent preparing the cost benefit analysis are compensable, as is the time you spend counseling the client against making a bad financial decision.

How to Let a Justice Seeking Client Down Easy

When you have that client wanting to pursue an action "on principle," it can really be an uphill battle to get them to see that sometimes "principles" can conflict. Pushing a "two wrongs don't make a right" philosophy could be helpful, just make sure you don't tell the client that their principles are wrong; you want to stress that wasting money and their own time is what's wrong.

It's not necessarily that principles-over-money-clients should be automatically turned away like some of the scarier clients, but an attorney should exercise more caution and ensure these clients are well advised of their financially poor decision so that an attorney can avoid problems down the road when the client gets angry.

You can start your cost benefit analysis meeting with an itemized bill showing the time you've spent and what you've already charged. Then, transition to the bad news by telling them your research has led to the conclusion that the case isn't financially worth pursuing for them. If they persist, you may want to have the "goals" discussion to assess the ethical nightmare on your hands, so you can decide whether the risk is worth it.

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