How To Fire a Difficult Client
Many times when things end badly they are out of our control. Personality conflicts, lack of funds, changing goals and objectives have all contributed to relationship discord between attorneys and clients. When there is no other potential resolution, it is best to part company.
That’s when it is time to fire the client.
Many times when you make the choice to discontinue your representation of a client, your emotions will be running high. Your personal feelings, related to what this person did (or didn’t do) have the potential to overwhelm your sense of good judgment.
Since an emotional reaction, in the heat of the moment, is a recipe for bad will (at minimum) or a complaint to the state bar’s disciplinary committee, it is best to have a process in place for handling these types of situations.
Below are the five steps to terminating a relationship with a client. These five steps should be followed in every instance where you need to end the client relationship – regardless of the reason.
First: Outline (in a letter) the reasons why the relationship must end. Try to lay out the facts in as sterile a way as possible. Emotion should not be included in this outline.
Second: Have someone double check your fact-based representation of the situation. Make sure they agree that you have, to the best of your ability, removed emotion from the situation. (Revise the letter as is necessary.)
Third: Thank the client, at the conclusion of the letter, for the opportunity to represent him. (Even if the client is the biggest pain-in-the-ass, you were still presented with an opportunity. Finding a way to express gratitude in a difficult situation is a sign of emotional maturity. This also goes a long way toward mitigating any future action the client may take against you – especially if he is emotional about you firing him.)
Fourth: Offer to make his transition to another lawyer as easy as possible. (You don’t need to find him another lawyer. You just need to agree to cooperate in turning over all documentation related to his case.)
Fifth: When possible, have a conversation with the client and express everything you have written in your letter directly to him. Be truthful and unemotional. Then sit back and allow him the opportunity to respond.
After he responds, do not react emotionally. Simply state that you understand his feelings (you don’t agree, but you understand).
This is difficult so I recommend you practice by giving your talk to someone else a few times. Having this conversation with a member of your staff “desensitizes” you to an extent. It makes saying these things a little easier and it helps to dull the emotion that accompanies the words.
After the conversation, send the letter via email and via postal mail. Make sure you include signature-required tracking on the letter sent though the postal service.
You may be wondering why I recommend sending the letter, having a conversation and providing an email. These are for three separate reasons:
The conversation is to allow the client the opportunity to vent. Even if you are completely justified in letting him go, you need to give him the opportunity to share his feeling with you. Let him blow off some steam. If you keep your emotions in check and you acknowledge that you understand everything he has said (not agree with everything but just understand) you will avoid lots of heartache with a bar disciplinary committee in the future. As someone who has served on one of these committees, I can say without hesitation, that 90% of the issues between an attorney and a client could have been resolved if the two parties took a moment to understand each other’s position.
The email is to provide proof that you attempted to contact him on a specific date. It is not proof that he read the email, but it is proof that you attempted to notify him in writing.
The postal service letter is also proof of notification and it demonstrates the lengths you went to in order to notify the client. If the client signs for delivery you will also have proof he received your notice.
Firing a client is never a easy. It rarely goes smoothly. The process as outlined above will hopefully help you get through a difficult situation with the least amount of adversity.
Here are three other articles you should read:
Sometimes you need to have these difficult discussions. How do you know when you need to fire a client? This article will provide you with some guidelines.
You can lose a client quickly if you don’t respond to him. This is the number one reason attorneys get fired and it’s also the top reason for disciplinary action. Follow this guide to stay on the right side of client interactions.
Sometimes we need to push the “reset button” on our staff or even client relationships. Maybe we were in a different frame of mind when these relationships started. Maybe it is just time to upgrade. This article will help you think through some of those decisions.
What Makes a Client Qualified to Work with You?
Attracting the right clients is what law firm marketing is all about. You need to attract clients who have three specific qualities. Each client must have:
- A Problem You Can Solve/ A Condition You Can Improve
- The Ability to Make a Decision
Here is a brief video that describes these three factors of client attraction and selection.
If you want your law firm marketing to be effective, you must strive to attract clients who have these three qualities.
Get Real About the Business of Law
I’m tired of being polite about this issue.
A law firm is a business. Like it or not, your law firm produces revenue and profit.
If you want your business to grow or at least continue to produce value for you and your family, you need to spend time focused on the business aspects of your law practice.
The money in your pocket is directly proportionate to the amount of time and intellectual energy you apply to being the Chief Executive Officer of your law business.
Think about that statement. It sums up your issues perfectly.
A focus on the day-to-day, case-by-case management of a law firm is essentially creating a job you pay to hold.
You find the work. You do the work. You get the money. But you have to pay for that privilege. You pay the administrative costs of your law firm. You pay the emotional cost of trying to serve two masters (your business and your clients) and you pay the cost of investing time, money and energy in a business that will never be sold because it has no value beyond your capability to complete legal work.
But it’s not your fault.
Nobody taught you how to be the Chief Executive Officer of a company.
They taught you how to be a lawyer.
If you want to make that transition, the first step is developing systems to help you manage and grow your law firm.
When it comes to growth, you need five specific systems:
- A system to attract new relationships through speaking engagements
- A system to attract new relationships through publishing opportunities
- A system to develop productive relationships through networking
- A system to attract and develop productive relationships via the internet
- A system for continuously following-up with clients and prospective clients
You don’t have to develop these systems on your own. In fact, I want to help you develop the system for attracting clients via the internet.
Follow the link below to review an article on my six month effort to help you grow your law firm. While this is only one system, it will give you a flavor for the level of effort required in building a business that can be leveraged to produce income with or without your direct involvement.
There is no fee for you to participate in this challenge but you must make the effort.
Isn’t it time you took control of your future?
Check it out now.
The Value of Systems in Lawyer Marketing
One of the areas that can literally make or break a law firm is the systems designed to keep things running. Too often lawyers complain to me about time they cannot afford to spend on tasks like updating a database or sending out pitch letters to develop speaking opportunities.
Investing time in developing good systems is critical to creating a culture of continuous improvement.
Why You Need Systems in Lawyer Marketing
Systems play a critical role in lawyer marketing and law firm management. Today we are going to focus on the value of those systems in your day-to-day marketing activities.
As a lawyer you probably spend the majority of your time working on the practice of law. Although you may believe this is the place where money is generated, that is only partially true. Clients must first be attracted to your law firm and then you must establish relationships with them.
This means you must focus a portion of your time on the processes of relationship development and client attraction – lawyer marketing.
You must also spend a portion of your time on practice management. This includes things like ordering supplies, administering payroll, handling accounts payable and accounts receivable.
All of these things take time. Time you do not often have to spare.
Creating systems will help you get everything done and make sure things are done correctly.
Systems will also help you train other people to do these tasks in the future.
How to Set Up a System
- Identify the Ideal Outcome: The first step in building a system is identifying the ideal outcome for this particular situation. This means giving some thought to what you want to achieve as an end result.When we talk about systems related to lawyer marketing, an end goal could be something as simple as attract 30 new prospective clients and add them to our database.
- Take Action: The next step in the process is to take some form of action you believe will help your law firm advance aggressively toward that end goal. In the example of adding 30 people to the prospective client database, you would take the actions of:
- Identifying a group to whom you could give a speech
- Researching the membership of the group to make sure it contained your ideal clients
- Investigating the leadership of the group to determine the who you should target to pitch your speech
- Writing a pitch letter
- Mailing the letter
- Writing a script for a follow-up telephone call
- Making the call
- Scheduling periodic follow-up after leaving a message or speaking with the decision-maker
- Record the Action: The next step is to record the actions you have taken. This must be done in real time. This means you should be writing down what you are doing as you are doing it. This is important because it will help you capture some of the seemingly minor activities that may make all the difference.
- Observe the Result: At this point you need to take stock of the results. Record the success you achieved and record any events that were less than successful.
- Adjustment: Make any adjustments necessary. This means change the message or change the audience or change the delivery system. But only change one thing at a time. Changing multiple aspects of any system at one time will make it difficult to determine what works and what doesn’t. If you change one thing at a time, you will be able to tweak your activity and determine what is contributing to your success and what is not.
- Observe the result: Once again you must observe the results. This allows you to continuously make adjustments and improvements to your system.
- Teach Someone Else: At this point you will have a workable system in place that will deliver results. This is the time to teach someone else to run your system. This takes the burden off of you. In addition, the fresh eyes of a new player in the mix will help surface improvements you might not have seen because you were too close to the process.
- Supervise the Activity and the Results: This is not the time to run away and hide. Even though you have delegated the authority to complete this task to someone else, you have not abdicated responsibility. You must continue to watch over the activity until you are comfortable it can be performed to the level of proficiency expected. Remember, we are striving for progress. Perfection may or may not follow.
- Identify “Choke Points:” With every system there are certain critical points when things tend to break down. Since you have experience in working within this particular system, you will be able to predict where these points occur. These are called “choke points” and they are the first place you look when something goes wrong. You should also teach the person handling the tasks within the system to recognize and anticipate choke points and avoid the pitfalls inherent in them.
- Create a Dashboard with Results Compared to Goals: As part of your follow-up, you should develop a dashboard with metrics that help you know if your law firm marketing is on track toward meeting its goals. Things like: number of leads, conversion rate, return on investment and closing ratio should all be reviewed on a system by system basis. This means if you have separate systems for speaking, writing articles for trade journals, and networking, you should have metrics associated with each of them.
If you want to be certain your business will continue to grow, you can teach your team the process I outlined above. Once a few members of the team become masters at developing and recording systems, your law firm will grow rapidly without your day-to-day involvement.
You will always need to review the dashboard metrics you have in place and your knowledge of the choke points is critical to helping you diagnose any issues that may arise. But creating a culture of continuous improvement based upon systematization is a big step toward making a great living and living a great life ®.
Here are some additional resources you will find valuable:
This is an interview I recorded with Best Selling Author David Allen. He wrote the book on getting things done. In this interview, David identifies several factors that will lead to an increase in productivity. The time is right for you to listen to this valuable interview.
This is a resource for people who fall into a rut and can’t seem to take action on their lawyer marketing. Read this article and watch this video. They stress the importance of one specific aspect of lawyer marketing in particular. Do this now.
Need more time? Read this brief article. It contains a three step process to putting your productivity into overdrive. You can’t afford to miss this one.
Your 10,000 Hour Dilemma
What do you think would happen if I woke up tomorrow and decided to try my hand at practicing law?
There are lots of books and courses out there that teach you how to write your own will and modify business contracts. I saw an ad on the internet that said: “For just $99 we will give you the letters to get any negative information removed from your credit report.”
I see these people on Law and Order represent themselves all the time. They seem to do pretty well considering they committed the crime and were brought to trial in less than an hour. I have to be at least that good considering I have months (and even years) to figure out my situation.
Even that guy on television said I could renegotiate my mortgage contract with the bank myself. I always get great deals when I haggle at hotels and jewelry stores. How much different can a mortgage be?
Of course I’m being sarcastic.
As a lawyer you are a professional with years of experience, school and training. You regularly attend courses that help you keep up with changes in the law and changes in court procedure. You review thousands of pages of case law every year to understand new precedent, rulings and jurisdictional issues you may face.
Anyone attempting to represent himself would be foolish to think he had the same advantage as hiring you.
That’s why, even for things as seemingly minor as traffic tickets, I recommend people hire a good lawyer with experience in the specific area of law they face.
In his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, author Malcom Gladwell presents research that identifies the major success factor for experts as spending 10,000 hours focused on achieving perfection in a narrowly defined area.
That’s why, as a lawyer, after 6 or 7 years you are entering your prime.
That’s also why I’m puzzled when I see lawyers read a blog post and think they know everything there is to know about marketing.
Right now some lawyer is signing a contract for radio airtime or signing a web contract or approving a ridiculous ad for the side of a bus, thinking he made a great decision.
Why? Because they lose all sense of expertise or rationality when thinking about the business aspects of running their law firm.
Lawyer marketing is a discipline just like practicing law. Until you practice this discipline for 10,000 hours you should not expect to perform like those who have dedicated their careers to this profession.
To master marketing, a lawyer must blend academic ideals with business reality while performing like a psychologist. Once he has that under his belt, the lawyer marketing expert should then gain in-depth knowledge of the tactical aspects of marketing like:
- How to get an article published
- How to land a speaking engagement
- Which networking events to attend
- And how to make the most of any of these opportunities (and hundreds of others)
Oh and then there are those pesky advertising rules for lawyers. Each state is different. And they change, often. You need to spend time keeping up with the rules that will affect you.
But who has time for that? Can you afford to invest 6 or 7 years becoming a lawyer marketing expert?
Of course not.
That’s why you take shortcuts.
You read a couple of things here and there and you plunk down some cash and hope for the best. Kind of like your last trip to Vegas…
There’s a better way.
Stick with me and the information I post each day at The Rainmaker Lawyer Website. You can search by category for the info you need, as you need it, or you can subscribe to receive regular updates.
If you are in Florida, you can join me for a special lunch I am hosting on June 26, 2013 from 11AM – 2PM.
The meeting is limited to attendees from just 10 law firms and I have two spots left. The investment is $150 and includes lunch at a luxury steakhouse.
I’ll be covering the most up-to-date information I have on law firm strategy, marketing and practice management. I have two great guest speakers (lawyers who are actually implementing the things I write to you about) and I’m going to give you an action guide, CD and DVD to take with you.
Lunch alone is worth $60. If you get just one new client as a result of attending this event, you will receive a phenomenal return on your investment.
We even have people flying in from other parts of the United States to spend three hours with us. That’s how good this deal is.
But it’s not right for everyone. I’ve already turned away a few lawyers who were looking for information on to cutting corners and gaming Google. I also denied access to a guy who was whining about spending $150 on improving his business skills. Imagine his reaction when I told him my fees for one-on-one consulting started at $30,000!
Ultimately, this opportunity to have lunch with me and some other experts may not be right for you.
But to find out if it is, call me right now: 888.444.5150. If you get my voicemail, it’s because I’m discussing this opportunity with someone else. Leave a message and I’ll call you back.
If you are interested in seeing the kind of quality people I hang around with, follow the link below to listen to an interview with Ori Brafman, Author of Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational behavior.
Ori helps us understand how the human mind works and he helps us make better decisions.
Listen to the interview: How to Make Better Decisions
But first make the BEST decision and call me to see if the June 26 lunch is for you.