It’s not hard to find articles that tell you to how to reel in and keep your clients, and for the most part, those are the kinds of articles every lawyer should be reading on a daily basis. After all, a lawyer who isn’t focused on business development is only setting themselves up for failure.
But every now then, a different kind of business development quandary arises, and you’re faced with a difficult decision. The quandary is that of a client who is so aggravating, unreliable, dishonest, and/or combative that you’re forced to either fire the client and get out of dodge or do whatever it takes to keep their business.
Before we go any further, it’s imperative to understand how serious firing a client can be. You might experience something as small as a contained, calm argument or you might find yourself in the midst of a very public, reputation-damaging brawl that could potentially drag the rest of your law firm down with it. So if your client has been late on one payment or went against your better judgment in one instance, then it’s probably not time to jump to conclusions. Of course, all of these examples are relative and the decision to fire your client will be based solely on your discretion as a professional and human being.
Once you’ve exhausted all efforts and came to the conclusion that you have no other options but to fire your client, that keeping them around would do more harm than good to your practice, then it’s time to strike while the iron is still hot. Read the following tips to ensure firing a client is swift, appropriate, and professional.
Hold Up Your End Of The Bargain
Before you call your client into a meeting, you have to be prepared to defend the work you’ve done…and compensate your client for any work you haven’t done. Pull out their contract and make sure you’ve either met all deliverables, are willing to ride out some more time until you’ve finished your work, or willing to reimburse your client for any money they might have spent for a retainer fee or otherwise in anticipation of you completing your services.
If possible, have an itemized list ready to share with your client outlining everything you’ve done, how long it took you to complete, and what rate you’re billing them for. It might turn out that your client could end up owing you money. Having an itemized list and an ironclad contract will help you get your last paycheck with little to no fuss.
Choose Your Method
There are plenty of ways to break up with a client, but only a few them will be appropriate. We’ve all heard horror stories of our friends being broken up with, either in a personal relationship or a professional one, through email, certified letter, text message, and maybe even a singing telegram. If you’re going for theatrics and dramatic effect, think again. How you fire your client will reflect your professionalism, the reputation of your practice, and the qualifications you most likely worked hard to earn. Don’t let a break get out of hand because it could haunt you for the rest of your career.
The best way to fire a client is in-person. Either call them in for a meeting or set up a lunch or coffee date. You want to show them that you’re not afraid, that you’re confident in your decision, and that you don’t have any hard feelings when all is said and done. A face-to-face will show them that you’re serious, but being professional about it.
You can also fire a client over the phone or via email, but both of these methods are somewhat impersonal and can leave a bad taste in their mouth. If you’re hoping this client will come back in the future or will pass your name along to friends and relatives, a phone call or email firing should be completely avoidable.
Make It Swift
When it’s time to do the deed, make it as quick and painless as possible. Have your story planned out, a quick explanation of your reasons, and wish them luck moving forward. If you drag on about details, point fingers, or get into a heated discussion, you’ll be dragging your reputation through the mud again. Keep your cool, don’t waver in your decision, and the whole thing will be over before you know it.
Also, don’t let the client get too much talking in. Try not to interrupt them when they do have something to say, but make sure you don’t get sucked into a dramatic argument. Since you should be absolutely, unquestionably confident in your decision to fire a client before you even set up a meeting, you shouldn’t have a problem letting them speak their mind, then smile and politely wish them all the best.
Firing a client is never easy. In fact, many lawyers avoid the entire situation because of the dreaded conflict, the uneasy conversation, and the giant mess that can result. However, sometimes clients can be so unruly that they might end up hurting your practice if they’re allowed to stay on. Cut those loose cannons before they can do too much damage and start focusing on the clients you enjoy working with.
About the Author: Pete Wise is a copywriter working for Wolf Law Colorado, who is known around the front range as the best Denver Probation Attorney you can have. Check out their website or my facebook page to keep in touch.