Toxic attorney clients often catch us off guard. They don’t act in a way that sets off alarms when you first begin working with them. The first invoice is often the start. “You billed too many hours. It shouldn’t have taken you that many hours to review the records. I expected for my retainer that you’d review the entire record and write a detailed report.”
After exposure to a variety of unpleasant attorney clients, I developed a flag system:
- Black flag attorneys have burned you once. You won’t allow them to burn you again.
- Red flag attorneys have displayed behavior that warns you about the need to be cautious in your dealings.
- Green flag attorneys are great to work with, pay their bills promptly and are pleasant, appreciative people.
Here are some black flag signs that it’s time to let go of a toxic client rather than to try to appease the person.
I’ll Tell You What I Will Pay
Clients who decide they can set your rates, collection policies and payment terms need to leave your business. I recently talked to an LNC whose client was unhappy that he was billing for the services of an expert. The unreasonable attorney objected to the small amount the LNC added onto the expert’s hourly rate. You as the business owner are in charge of those decisions, not your clients.
You need not listen to profanity or tolerate demanding behavior. Let the clients go without blaming them for their behavior. Toxic people can’t help it. Their personal issues lead them to display toxic behavior with everyone.
Only you know what you consider to be appropriate communication and what feels like abuse. If you never swear, or publicly or privately you’ve been keeping things professional, an outburst of profanity may feel like an insult to you. It is.
You can fire the attorney on the spot. Return the records and any unused portion of the retainer.
Clients who Threaten
A threat to speak negatively about you is emotional blackmail. It’s an instant cue to say, “I feel in light of your dissatisfaction, it’s time to end our relationship starting right now.” I had a troublesome client who made me feel so threatened that I needed to get my attorney involved to create a document that explained how our relationship would end.
The attorney who told me how he wanted to sue another LNC but found out she had no assets never got his foot into my door.
“I Own You
They say, “I’m paying you good money, and I should be able to talk to you whenever I want.” That attorney needs to go. Your limits protect your ability to provide services to other clients.
The Public Bad Mouthers or Blamers
This includes people who make negative comments on social media or at an event. You will usually find this is the client you have made concessions for. They may have brought up these issues with you first. Unsatisfied, with your response, they have taken their case to the world.
In today’s world of Yelp reviews and attorney listservs, these are dangerous attorneys.
The Excuse Maker
Another black flag is attorneys who continually and habitually make excuses. They don’t pay your invoices. Their bookkeeper writes checks for only for 30 minutes every other week and got sick this week with flu/pregnancy/hit by a truck/broke a leg. They are waiting for a big check from an insurance carrier.
They’re not ready for your services.
He Makes me Sick
Clients who affect your health are candidates for dismissal. If the thought of talking to a particular attorney gives you a stomachache or a headache or makes your blood pressure rise or knocks you flat, you lose your energy.
This is a sign you need to fire them because something about them is toxic to you. If you groan when you hear the attorney on the phone, and you’re visibly reacting, that’s a sign of a toxic bond.
There was one man who gave my business a case, and every time he called, everyone in my office would groan. We found that even if we said his name out loud, it bothered us, so we started calling him “he who shall remain nameless.”
When his case was over, we all agreed that we wouldn’t work with him again. He got a black flag associated with his name.
Attorneys love to argue, right? They get paid to do so. Another type of black flag sign is a client who argues with everything you recommend. They either think they know better than you, or they have no faith in you and no respect for your expertise.
You’ll never win with such a mind, and you don’t need the negative effects of all those arguments.
Another type of black flag client is the one with unrealistic expectations. I didn’t run into that type of client very often. These were the chronically needy people. You knew the minute the phone rang that you’d be on the phone for at least half an hour to 45 minutes while they talked and talked and talked.
It is tempting to keep them because they rack up billable time. But they expect you to be their counselor, their friend, their savior, all rolled into one. One told me details that I did not want to hear about his failing marriage. (He was blind sided.)
This type of attorney needs therapy rather than legal nurse consulting services. Fire this person firmly but gently. Tell her that you don’t feel that she’s ready for the type of LNC services you provide or that you feel she needs to deal with her most prominent emotional or life issue first.
Whatever you do, don’t recommend another legal nurse consultant Just pass the buck and get that toxic client off your back.
Protect yourself and your business by watching our free online training: How to Deal with Toxic Clients.