Client retention: Knowing when to Cut Ties with a Client

Client retention may come at a high cost at times. So it is imperative for lawyers to reduce the number of clients that are not cost effective. As much as your business is all about client retention, some cases may not be worth keeping.

There are several reasons why you may consider terminating a client. Here are some points that certainly impact on client retention:

Cagey clients

The owner of a small law firm commented that some of the most difficult clients are those who appear to be guarded. As much as he tries to build up a good relationship with the client, the client holds back. This makes it difficult to establish trust with the client.

If this wariness continues throughout the interactions you need to address it. You may discover the client trusts no one. Or you may find the client has their own hidden agenda. Should this continue you can talk to the client about the impact of their behaviour on the relationship as well as the legal process.

Difficult clients

Some clients are plain difficult: they may argue every point. They are uncooperative: they fail to provide you with all the information you need, they are consistently late for meetings, they fail to respond adequately to emails, etc.

Clients may even tell you how they want you to handle their case. They see you as being there to serve their personal and even hidden agendas. Perhaps they communicate in such a long-winded and complex way that you fail to get clear answers from them.

Withholding information

A client who deliberately withholds information and is selective in what they share jeopardises client retention. No matter how much you probe you find their response is always short of what you want to hear. The client repeatedly ignores your request for certain information. Or they say they can see no reason why you should have access to it.

Being unethical

Some clients look for a lawyer who can support their dishonest deals. So when a client asks you to behave in an unethical way see this as a red light.

One professional realised that this is what was happening to her.  Instead of confronting the client she told the client that her workload was such that she was unable to take their business on. She felt it was a more neutral response as she had discovered that this client was involved in many fraudulent deals.

Think carefully about taking on a case that is weak. The chances are that you will spend a lot of time on the case and have an unfavourable outcome. Rather be honest with the client upfront about the chance of succeeding or not.

Management intensive

Clients have easy access to professionals these days. So you may end up having a client who has little respect for your privacy. They treat you as someone who is at their beck and call the whole time. You receive messages in the evenings and over weekends. Some of the messages may border on being abusive or threatening.

Unstable clients

There is a growing tendency for clients to become abusive and threatening these days as a means of getting what they want. This kind of client will make life very difficult for you unless you are able to be assertive. Do this in a quiet yet firm way.

Some clients are emotionally stable. Under the stress of legal negotiations this client’s behaviour will become more pronounced. As a lawyer you need to understand and manage power plays.

Points to bear in mind with client retention

Be selective with which cases you take on. If you have questions after the first meeting think twice. We often ignore this inner voice or talk our way out of hearing it. E.g. “I am being unreasonable”, “I should give this person a chance”, etc.

Communicate clearly with new clients how you prefer to deal with clients and what you expect of them. Make notes in the meeting and check that the client understands and agrees. If you sense that the client is wary to agree suggest that they are welcome to approach someone else.

One lawyer takes time each year with her associates to analyse their clients. They discuss whether they want to keep the clients or refer them to someone else. This discussion is not about the cases purely about the clients.

Ask a potential new client whether they have had contact with other lawyers. If so ask for their consent to speak to the previous lawyer. If the client is hesitant to give permission, see this as a red light and walk away from the case.

Finding the right clients has a marked impact on your emotional well-being. So think very carefully before taking on a client especially if you feel a little uncomfortable upon meeting them.

Posted in Client retention, Lawyers.