Want to improve profitability, reduce stress and preempt malpractice lawsuits and billing-related disputes? Drop uncooperative or slow-paying clients and use a formal client selection process to avoid taking on new ones.
How do existing clients rate?
Begin refocusing on client quality by reviewing all existing clients to determine whether any of them are weighing you down. First, apply the 80/20 rule to identify the 20% or so of clients that likely account for 80% of your revenues. Research has shown that these clients often require only 20% to 40% of your time — making them even more appealing.
Next, assign your clients letter grades of A, B, C or D. Clients in the A category are the cream of the crop: They pay their bills on time, provide interesting work and send you valuable referrals. B clients have some minor flaws (perhaps they occasionally operate in “crisis” mode), but are otherwise desirable clients. C clients can be uncooperative or less lucrative or they may harbor unreasonable expectations. And D clients are demanding and difficult to work with; they tend to quibble over every line item on an invoice.
Now comes the hard part: Drop your D clients and any C clients that cannot be brought up to the B level with a little work. Be sure to review your local rules for the proper procedures before you end any engagements.
It may seem like you are tossing away good money by “firing” clients. But these clients are likely costing you time, stress and possibly your reputation. After all, how many hours does your managing partner or billing department devote to collections related to these clients?
Related Read: How to Handle Collections and Late Payments
Do you have a client intake form?
The best way to avoid awkward dismissals of C and D clients is to avoid establishing relationships with such clients in the first place. An effective client intake form can help your firm ensure a consistent intake process, avoid risky clients and document new representations. At the very least, the form should solicit the following information about a prospective client:
- Industry and entity type;
- Income and available assets;
- Nature and value of the matter;
- Necessary legal expertise (practice area);
- Fee arrangement; and
- Referral source.
The form should also include space for background research on the prospect. Finally, investigate criminal records, credit reports, bankruptcies, legal malpractice lawsuits and other litigation.
Of course, the client intake process begins before you formally meet face-to-face with a potential client. Client intake begins with the first phone call — and attorneys and staff should take advantage of this opportunity to perform some initial screening. Train employees who answer these calls to ask some basic questions that could disqualify prospective clients from making an appointment with an attorney. For example: What is the matter concerning? Have you sought counsel on this matter from any other attorneys? Who referred you to our firm?
Are there conflicts of interest?
The client intake form also should explore conflicts of interest. To accomplish that, determine the existence of adverse parties and potentially adverse parties; nonadverse third parties (for example, witnesses); known and potential conflicts; and whether any of your firm’s attorneys (or their family members) have an ownership interest in the client or sit on the client’s board of directors.
To make conflict-related data easy to access and evaluate, enter intake form information into a database. Your database should contain details about current and former clients and adverse parties. Investigate any positive hits to determine whether an actual conflict of interest exists.
Consider circulating conflict memoranda regularly to help reduce the odds of conflicts. Attorneys and other relevant staff should be required to review proposed representations in the memos for potential conflicts.
Focus on quality
Attorneys in your firm need to prioritize client intake as part of law firm management. And do not be afraid to end engagements that demand more time than they are worth.
For more information, contact Kalman Shiner at 312.670.7444. Visit ORBA.com to learn more about our Law Firm Group.