The Screen Door Slamming

It is finally summer on the prairies. I am savouring long, sunny days, lush, green lawns and thunderclouds on the horizon at dusk, but my paradise is not free from troubles.

There are pests in my world – ants, flies, wasps, giant hungry mosquitoes and more – and I find myself becoming irritated by their incessant buzzing and humming, until I hear the distinct whack of a screen door slamming. The sound immediately reminds me that my summertime serenity is secure.

This simple device allows the fresh morning breezes and cool night air to pass freely through my home, all the while, effectively keeping the pests at bay.

Screens can be equally effective in your legal practice. Good screening techniques will help you to select clients who provide clear instructions, pay their bills ungrudgingly, and value the services that you provide to them.

Absent a good screen, you may find yourself swarmed by clients who don’t appreciate your expertise and won’t pay their accounts. Not coincidentally, these are often the same clients who later allege malpractice or complain to your law society about the quality of your services.

One of the most effective client-screening techniques you can employ is to watch for the red flags that may signal problems down the road. These include clients (or potential clients) who:

  • Have retained previous lawyers on the same matter;
  • Are unrealistic in their expectations about the strength of their case or speed of resolution;
  • Give instructions that include statements about proceeding “on principle;”
  • Require last minute emergency work;
  • Express negative attitudes about the legal system in general, or lawyers in particular;
  • Hesitate to discuss fees or are excessively concerned with the cost of proceeding; and/or
  • Behave irrationally.

When you notice these red flags, heed your instincts and think twice before taking on or continuing to represent this client.

Consider that the fees you might otherwise bill may not be worth the aggravation you’ll experience and time you may spend in defending a malpractice claim or complaint made to your governing body.

By using a good screen, you’ll be able to invite the good clients into your practice, while preventing some of the more “pesty” clients from finding their way through the door.

Based on an article of the same title originally published by Canadian Lawyers Insurance Association in Loss Prevention Bulletin Issue No. 41, Fall 2007.

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