This is the first time this year that I have touched on one of my favorite subjects – lawyers should do the legal work they want to do for the clients they want to do it for. That should be the ultimate goal of every lawyer who wants to have a satisfying, successful, and long-term legal career. Thus, you should plan your legal marketing efforts to do work for clients you enjoy, in the fields of law that you prefer practicing in.
Okay, I admit I covered this topic at least 5 times last year (here, here, here, here, and here), and if you don’t believe in this concept, then you may not want to read the rest of this post.
The goal isn’t as hard to reach as it seems, but it does take COMMITMENT and PLANNING. One of the first ways to start marketing in that direction is to get rid of the clients you don’t want for whatever reason, so you can start marketing to those potential clients you do want to work for. Okay, as a practical matter, not necessarily in that order.
So, why am I posting on the topic today? Well, because I ran across another post by Mike McLaughlin at Guerrilla Consulting that deals with firing your client. As Mike tells us, here are “five telltale signs” of when you should fire your client:

  • You’ve stopped growing professionally from the client’s projects (I might take issue with this one, if you can pass the work on to an associate and not damage the overall client relationship),
  • The client has disengaged from your project, leaving decisions to others in the company (This may not be fatal, if it has been a smooth hand off by your main contact),
  • It’s tough to get a meeting with your key client sponsor (this IS fatal),
  • Your project profit margin is eroding (Definitely cut the cord), and
  • The client nit-picks your invoices or payments are consistently late (Fire the sob).

As Mike accurately points out, cutting a “client relationship is easier said than done” and “it takes some time and courage.” I totally agree, and it is not easy giving up a paying client, but “the upside can be enormous.” AMEN! Look at your client list to see if there aren’t clients you should get rid of, so you can move forward in obtaining those you do want.

  • Tom–
    Wonderful post about a neglected topic. We should all discuss it more. Life’s short–purging your firm of clients who are not growing and maturing along with your firm is an issue my firm dealt with for the first time a few years ago. Now we work for clients we like, are at least sophisticated users of legal services enough to get what we are doing, and seem to genuinely appreciate what we do.
    Firing “bad” clients is easy after you do the math. But I’ll admit it took my firm a long time to get this.
    Dan Hull

  • I don’t quarrel with the conclusion or with Dan Hull’s comments about how hard it is to do this. My question is this: how did things get so bad? I would suggest a detailed in person client satisfaction meeting could go a long way toward identifying problems and leading to ways to address them.

  • Patrick, in most cases you’re exactly right, since many client-related problems can be avoided/resolved by an effective client feedback/survey/interview-type program which I have addressed several times on this blog. There are still some clients who just-don’t-like-lawyers and are disrespectful and unresponsive and don’t pay their bills and aren’t nice and aren’t the right client, and …. etc., etc.
    There does come a time to consider firing these clients. It isn’t always the fault of the lawyer/law firm, although with our history in client relationships, I’d venture that most times it is. A firm has to be honest about itself and how it treats its clients, but sometimes you just have to cut the cord.