One of the most commonly uttered phrases by lawyers who are going through the grievance process is, “I should have known this client was going to be a problem.” And you know what, I never disagree with them when they say it. The real question is why the lawyer took the client in the first place. That being said, what follows is a non-exhaustive but informative list of red flag behavior that ought to assist you in deciding whether to decline a particular representation.
1. You are not the potential client’s first lawyer on the case. Multiple, consecutive lawyers is usually a bad sign. In addition to multiple lawyers, pay attention to a litigant that has represented themselves.
2. The potential client has sued and/or grieved other lawyers or has a significant diverse litigation history. Serial litigants tend to make bad clients. Do not think the client will not grieve or sue you.
3. The potential client does not have enough money to pay your initial retainer or begins quibbling about your rates and/or paying you before the representation has commenced. Disagreements over fees are a common catalysts for grievances.
4. The potential client has unrealistic expectations about the merits of his or her case. A client that is convinced they are sitting on homerun multi-million dollar verdict is a client that is never going to understand how they lost their case. In their mind, that leaves only one reason, your shoddy representation.
5. The client that knows the law better than you. This is especially so where the client is telling you that you are wrong on the law.
6. Finally, when your gut tells you that there is something making you uncomfortable about a client, listen to yourself. There is nothing wrong with following your gut even if you cannot articulate the problem. It may keep you out of trouble.
Obviously this list is contains only a few red flags, but if one of these factors is present, you should be on guard. If more than one is present, you should consider talking to another lawyer before agreeing to representation. If three or more are present, you should probably stay clear