JW, one of my favorite readers/commenters, has proposed a blog topic. He says he has read a lot about what a client should look for when hiring a criminal defense lawyer. Now that JW himself is in the market for a lawyer, he would like to know what a lawyer considers when deciding whether or not to take on a client.
Speaking only for myself, I try to be open-minded about the clients and types of cases I take on. It is good to try cases in areas in which I already have a lot of experience. At the same time, I am always open to broadening my experience by taking on new kinds of cases in which more preparation will be required.
Since I consider myself fairly open to most clients and to most types of cases, I will turn JW’s question around to focus on the circumstances in which I might decline to provide the representation. Below are four red flags that could give me pause.
1. Inability to Pay My Fee. As someone has suggested, you should pick your pro bono clients, not have them pick you. Dickering over the fee is often a harbinger of future problems.
2. Scheduling Conflicts. I don’t want to be one of those lawyers who, juggling too many cases, is always arriving late to court. It annoys the judge and damages your reputation. It is unfair to the client.
3. History With Other Lawyers. If a client says he was dissatisfied with two or three previous lawyers on the same case, there is a pretty good chance the client will be dissatisfied with my work as well. Who needs that headache?
4. Lack of Chemistry, Candor And/Or Cooperation. I have fired only one client, and that was only after I decided that I wouldn’t be able to represent him effectively. The client and I parted on good terms, I have talked at length with his new lawyer, and I am confident he is in very capable hands. (It was an interesting case that was clearly going to trial so I have to admit to some second thoughts on that call.) There are also other intangibles. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel right.