Whenever I sit down with someone that has a legal problem, I have to determine whether that client is a good fit for my law practice, and also whether I would be the best lawyer for them. For some lawyers, this decision is easy – if the client is willing to write a check, they will accept them as a client (this is also known as practicing “threshold law”). My approach is a bit more methodical and client centered than that. I believe that lawyers that accept any client that walks through the door are opening themselves up to a number of problems, including bar complaints, malpractice claims, and a lot of unnecessary stress. Here is the approach I take to decide whether I will accept a case:
- Does this client have a problem that I am competent to solve? In other words, do I practice in the area that this client needs help with? I incorporated my own law firm, but does that mean I am competent to handle a business incorporation or counsel someone on entity choice? I learned a little about mortgages when I was studying for the bar exam, but does that make me competent to draft a real estate contract?
- If I am competent to help this client, is there a moral or philosophical difference of opinion that would preclude me from zealously advocating for this client? I get clients all the time that want to “stick it” to their spouse – these people are not a good fit for my practice. I once had a client that insisted he get divorced under the laws of his religion – since we live in a state that doesn’t follow those laws, I couldn’t help this person.
- So, I’m competent to handle the case, and the client and I see eye-to-eye on the moral aspects of the case – can I give this person back more value than they pay me? From an economic standpoint, does it make sense for the client to pay my fee? Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. This depends on the goals of the client. If the client is getting dragged into court and can’t possibly represent themselves, than paying me a fee may give them a lot of reassurance, even if I can’t do a whole lot to help them. Another example is the cost of continued fighting – if the client is fighting over $2,000, but it will cost $3,000 for me to get that extra money for the client, than I will often counsel the client to settle the case or decrease their demand.
- If all of the above criteria are met, than the final criteria is whether the client feels comfortable with me and I feel comfortable representing the client. If that is the case, than I will accept the case.
So that’s how I decide, in a nutshell, whether to accept a case or not.