10 Red Flags of Potentially Difficult Clients

By Dennis Hanshew Blacker, Sammis & Blacker

Paralegals and other non-attorney professionals are often tasked with the initial potential client intake interview. The first consideration is to determine if there is any conflict of interest in communicating with the potential client. All legal practices should have a protocol and means for quickly conducting a conflict check.

Absent a conflict, if all goes well during the interview, it may be the first step to the potential client becoming a valued client.

However, the following ten red flags should not be dismissed, if the potential client:

  1. Has had multiple attorneys and may not be willing to name them. This is a client who will likely be difficult to deal with, and you may have disputes over fees.
  2. Is looking for a “cheap” attorney or asks for a reduced retainer or billing rate. As above, difficult to satisfy and likely penny-pinching.
  3. Has done all the work and just wants the attorney to “wrap it up.” This client often does not listen or accept the attorney’s advice and will often question fees.
  4. Has unrealistic expectations. This is one of the more difficult clients. They may have grandiose settlement expectations and will never be satisfied with compromise, however reasonable.
  5. Has done their own research. This is the client who will want to run the case and will either challenge the attorney’s advice or ignore it. Sadly, this client is sometimes a legal professional.
  6. And the attorney have a social relationship, friends or relatives in common. This client/attorney relationship is often a recipe for disaster. It is difficult to provide totally unbiased legal representation when the client and attorney have a non-professional relationship. The closer the relationship, the more problematic.
  7. Needs psychological counseling and expects it from the attorney. Many areas of law are crisis driven, emotionally fraught and very stressful for the client (i.e., divorce). If the client expects to get psychological counseling and legal representation, they need to seek both a therapist and an attorney. The most difficult client is a “perpetual victim” – it’s always someone else’s fault.
  8. Seems untruthful. It does not bode well if the interviewer recognizes a misstatement of facts, a change of the fact pattern or outright lying. This is a client who will be problematic at best and may even retaliate against the attorney in due course.
  9. Is overzealous, vengeful or vindictive. If the client is so disposed to the opposing party or attorney, they may be so to their own attorney.
  10. Is truly unlikable. Sometimes intuition is your best barometer. If you have a gut feeling that the potential client is an unsavory person, they very often are.

All of these red flags are good reasons to carefully consider whether taking this client/case on is prudent, and the interviewer should advise the attorney accordingly.

About the Author:

Dennis Hanshew is a Senior Paralegal at Blacker, Sammis & Blacker and BASF’s Paralegal Section’s Education Chair