Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Choosing Our Clients

I enjoy dabbling on the legal marketing blogs now and then. I ran across this post by Tom Kane on the Legal Marketing Blog. Tom suggested lawyers are happier when they work for clients they like. I certainly agree with that premise. However, Tom suggested an approach to achieve this objective which I found unworkable for the criminal defense lawyer. Tom said:
But, if you are having trouble identifying the “ideal” clients for your law firm, think about this for a minute. Try using the reverse approach. By that I mean determine your ideal clients by deciding the clients you DON’T want.
The problem with Tom's approach? Often lawyers can't identify clients they don't like on the front end. It's only after weeks or months working with the client does the lawyer realize the client was not exactly what they were looking for.

Like lawyers, potential new clients (PNCs), tend to put their best foot forward during the initial intake process. Criminal defense lawyers can often discern something about the case before the first interview. By talking with the prosecutor or by obtaining public records, like probable cause statements, we get an idea about the facts. Even then, though, it is difficult to discern a client whom we ultimately don't like.

In my experience, the client who's able and willing to pay my fee is a client I can work with. My paying clients have much invested in their lawyer and usually were not willing to shell-out big bucks unless they trusted my judgment. As long as the lawyer works hard to maintain, or improve, the client's initial assessment, the working relationship remains good.

Some lawyers attempt to cull-out undesirable clients by refusing to accept certain types of cases like sexual assaults upon children, child pornography cases, and the like. I haven't found this a reliable way to discern a good client from a bad one. Rather, it is the long-term investment into my client's case that uncovers what was hidden earlier in the representation.

So, although I appreciated Tom Kane's desire to help the practicing lawyer improve their clientèle and improve their working environment, I found his idea largely unworkable for the criminal defense lawyer.

Bottom line, if I charge a good fee for my services, if the PNC trusts me enough to pay the fee, and if I maintain client trust by working hard, then the client and I get along just fine.

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