Every bankruptcy lawyer wanted to get more clients. How about getting rid of a few of them?
When I was just starting out in my quest to build the perfect law firm I envisioned an office filled with clients. More clients, more money. I was empire-building.
It turned out to be hell on Earth. I was working too hard, keeping too little of the money I was making, hiring too quickly because there was so much to be done, training too little and slowly killing myself.
Then I did the unthinkable – I started firing some of my bankruptcy clients.
Here’s what I learned.
Fire Early, Fire Often
Once you’ve been a bankruptcy lawyer for more than 20 minutes you can spot a problem client. This is the person who takes a cell phone call during the consultation, doesn’t understand your advice, or engages in lengthy bargaining for a lower fee.
You know you don’t want to take this person on as a client. He’s going to drain your time and energy, pay slowly (if at all) and walk away dissatisfied despite your best efforts. It’s best to fire the client before he does too much damage to you and your firm.
Don’t stop with new clients, either. Go through your filing cabinet and send a letter to every bankruptcy client who has a file older than 6 months and has not yet filed a case. Give them 30 days to get filed or get out (unless you’ve withheld filing for planning purposes).
Doing this helps you get rid of the dead wood and be productive for those clients who value your services.
Firing Bad Clients Leads To Better Ones
When you’re mired down in a sea of bad clients, you’re always in a bad mood. You don’t have time to properly vet new clients, your marketing suffers and your existing clients get the short end of the stick.
None of these will increase your referrals or improve your reputation.
When you fire a bad client, you free up time to focus on other matters. Like that particularly thorny Chapter 13 case for the real estate broker who happens to have an impressive network.
Focus on the good clients and they will send new folks your way.
How To Fire A Bad Bankruptcy Client
There’s nothing wrong with telling the client that you don’t think you’d be a good bankruptcy lawyer for them. Remind people at the initial consultation that this is a two-way street by saying, “the purpose of this meeting is for you to see if you want to work with me, and for me to see if I want to work with you.”
If the client isn’t right for you, be honest and say so. Give a real reason – think of it as a break-up. “It’s not you, it’s me,” never works well – in romance or in business.
Will there be hurt feelings? Maybe. But the client will end up with a lawyer who is more likely to take good care of them, you will have one less headache.
A Note About Refunds
Your state bar likely has a position on giving back the client’s money in the event that the bankruptcy case is not filed. Some bankruptcy lawyers keep time and refund the unearned fees.
My policy is to refund the client’s money, provided that the bankruptcy case has not been filed. The last thing I want is for a client to go around bad-mouthing me as a lawyer who stole their money and provided no services. I know it sucks to give up income, but it’s a drop in the bucket in the long run.