If you determine that your practice is overloaded with C and D clients, you may need to initiate a housecleaning. The following steps will assist you in this process, and you’ll be surprised at how energizing it is to take control of your practice in this way.
- Step One: Using the client scorecard (also known as the Intake Matrix) go through your case list and rank your current clients as “A”, “B”, “C” or “D”. Note the “A” and “B” clients which you’ll keep, and identify the “C” and “D” clients.
- Step Two: If you think any of your borderline “C” clients can be “rehabilitated” and upgraded to a “B” level, sit down and have a straight conversation with them about what they are doing that is a problem (needing to bring payments current, producing documentation that is needed, stopping canceling meetings, etc.). Some will respond positively to this approach; some will not.
Take the rest of your “C” clients and refer them to another attorney if their issues are personality-based, not payment-based. Avoid sending clients who won’t pay to another attorney.
- Step Three: Take your “D” clients and let them go. You can write them a letter; you can let them know in person; or you can phone them. Check your local bar rules to be sure you follow the proper protocol. If you decide to write a letter, your bar association has sample disengagement letters that you can use. (Sample letters are included in this chapter for your reference.) If you decide to decline representation after research or investigation, you should protect yourself and your client by (1) promptly advising the client in writing of your decision not to take the case or matter; (2) be certain to inform the client of his or her right to contact another lawyer for a second opinion; and (3) inform the client that his or her prompt attention is required. Disengagement and non-engagement letters are especially critical when a lawyer decides not to continue past a specific stage in the case.
Here’s a sample disengagement letter (courtesy of The Florida Bar) you can modify to use with C and D clients who have stopped paying for your services.
SAMPLE DISENGAGEMENT LETTER
Dear Mr./Mrs. :
When I undertook to represent you concerning [describe nature of representation, including case number, if any], you signed a Fee Agreement agreeing to pay for the legal services provided to you and the costs and disbursements made on your behalf. At the present time, our records reflect that you have not paid our invoices in a timely manner as you agreed you would.
Our records reflect that you have paid [report amount], leaving a balance of [report amount], which is now due and owing. Due to the apparent breakdown in our professional relationship, enclosed please find a Motion to withdraw as Counsel, which I intend to file. I will be happy to continue to represent you if we can make acceptable financial arrangements in the very near future. Otherwise, my further representation of you has terminated.
If you wish to be represented in this matter, you should contact another attorney immediately. Keep in mind that, if your case is not filed in a timely manner, you may be barred forever from pursuing your claim. [Include specific time limit, if known]. You may wish to call the Lawyer Referral Service at [provide number].
Please contact our office to make arrangements for return of your file. I will be happy to give it directly to you or to forward it to your new attorney, if you wish. It is our policy to maintain a file such as yours for [insert number] years, after which time it will be destroyed. I look forward to hearing form you soon regarding these arrangements.
Very truly yours,
Reference: Law Office Management Section, The Florida Bar