While lawyers who are just getting started may need to at first take any client they can get, as soon as you have some clients coming through your doors, it’s time to get selective. Get to know your new clients, and have them get to know you, too.
Having the right fit is a benefit to both the lawyer and the client. You’re able to help them in the way they need, they’re more likely to be receptive to your counsel, and ultimately the outcome will be a more positive experience for everyone. It’s about experience, personality, payment, and more—while the perfect client might be harder to find, you can prevent a large number of issues and headaches by avoiding the wrong fit.
So, how do you figure out if the client is the right fit for you? We’ve put together some questions you can ask during your intake process to find out.
Why does your client need a lawyer?
Asking why the client needs a lawyer may seem like a simple and obvious question, but it can reveal a host of implications, including the client’s motivation in hiring a lawyer in the first place.
For instance, a family law firm that does a lot of mediation work may want to know if a prospective client who’s considering divorce thinks they’re hiring a lawyer to take them straight to a trial battle or is simply talking to a lawyer as the first step of their process in a divorce they hope to achieve through alternative dispute resolution.
Why did they contact you?
Why did the client contact you? This question aims to tell you how they fit with your firm, including how much research they’ve done.
Did they just call the first lawyer they could? Or did they carefully go through your website and marketing materials until they had a good sense of who you are?
You also want to know if a client was referred to you by someone else or if they saw an ad somewhere. It’s always good to keep tabs on how successful your various marketing efforts are so you know where to spend your budget.
Have they done anything yet to try to address their issue?
It’s always helpful to know why your client’s in the situation they’re in. While the aim and direction of this question may vary by practice area, asking your client what they’ve done so far to address their issue can help you have a better sense of them and their expectations.
Is the client contacting a lawyer right away or have they tried to fix the problem already? Depending on your practice area, either answer may indicate a better fit.
A good follow-up question might be: What will they do if they don’t hire a lawyer?
What services does your client need?
As a law firm, it’s generally not a good idea to take on a client whose needs you can’t meet. If you do, you are either creating a lot more work for yourself—without knowing you can achieve the desired result—or setting your client up for disappointment. Most likely, it’s both.
Similarly, ask yourself what problems your firm would solve for your client. Again, having a clear understanding of the answer to this question will help you determine if the client is a poor fit, okay fit, or an ideal fit for your firm.
Is this a client your team will enjoy working with?
Ask yourself if this is a client your team would enjoy working with. A “no” doesn’t automatically mean you shouldn’t take on the client, but it does mean you should think carefully about why you want to take them on anyway.
Whatever the reason, know that working with a client who rubs the team the wrong way can make the matter more laborious for all involved.
Is there a conflict of interest?
Check for conflicts of interest. This is a basic ethical consideration.
It’s never a good idea to rely on memory alone for a conflict of interest check because we’re all fallible—just ask your family.
Instead, use your practice management system. A modern practice management system should be able to check for current or former client names, corporate affiliates and parent companies, professionals who have consulted for your firm, and more.
You’ll want to ask different, additional questions based on your practice area. For instance, a personal injury lawyer will want to establish the timeline of when the injury occurred and when the client decided to contact a lawyer.
However, the above questions should give you a good starting point.
Having a client who’s the right fit makes a huge difference in how the working partnership feels and flows—as well as shaping their expectations. After all, happy clients can be sourced for online reviews and may refer new clients to you.