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A Lawyers Guide to Turning Down Work

I’m a lawyer. I really am. I have been for 26 plus years. I’ve always been able to attract clients and must have done a competent job for most of them since I’ve had a lot of repeat business. This doesn’t make me an expert on business development, as we call it. Honestly, I’m not sure how best to go about that. Moreover, the legal world is chock full of advice on building your practice, marketing and generating new business. It’s doubtful that I have much to add to that vast sea of information, or misinformation, as the case may be.

I once worked in a law firm that was concerned to the point of obsession about generating new business. “Origination” was the term they used. If one “originated” enough business, he or she became a “rainmaker,” the most valuable of all lawyers, regardless of legal acumen or lack thereof. The rules regarding origination credit were Byzantine and ever-changing. For example, you might think you deserved credit for a new client, only to find out that aged partner had represented an employee of the company on a DUI many years ago. Thus, he was entitled to the credit. After all, he had planted the seed decades ago. As one of my partners once noted: “The Origination rules aren’t written down. That’s understandable since they change every day.”

Although I have created my share of personal marketing plans, I claim no expertise. I’ve thought both outside and inside the box. I’ve been proactive. I’ve networked. I’ve schmoozed and small-talked. I’ve even found time to practice quite a bit of law. None of this sets me apart from other lawyers. abogados laborales medellin

The one area where I believe I have something to contribute is in turning down business or knowing when existing business is turning sour. For a long time, I wasn’t good at this, much to my chagrin. Now, though, I know the red flags that warn me to stay far away from a potential client or to at least understand my situation. I’ll share a few of those with you.

1. PRIDE GOETH BEFORE A FALL

At least that’s what it says somewhere in the Bible. It doesn’t really apply here, but I like saying it. Any the who, it goes without saying that we don’t want to represent folks who will refuse to pay us. Now, this is different from a client who suddenly can’t pay. I’ve represent several clients–individuals and companies–who sunk into dire finances during my representation of them. This is a professional risk. It’s happened to some of my favorite clients.

The ones I’m talking about are the ones who won’t pay. Here’s a bad sign: You are the third lawyer they’ve hired on a particular matter. This is a person who doesn’t play well with others. Just as important, this person has had bad relationships with other lawyers. Why? It probably has something to do with money. Ask this potential client if he owes the other lawyers money. If the answer is “yes,” run! A client that will stiff one lawyer will do it to you. At least ask for an upfront deposit against your fees. If they aren’t willing to invest in their case, you shouldn’t either.

Related to this is the client who doesn’t want to discuss your bills. Oh, he or she paid you regularly for a while, then slowed a bit and finally stopped paying. You ask about it and are told that the client will be caught up soon. Don’t worry. When you hear that, worry. A lot.

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