Q. After two other lawyers let her down, a sexual harassment victim approached me to fight for fair compensation. I haven’t done these cases before, but she thinks the case is worth millions in light of the #MeToo movement. Should I take the case?
A. In a word that we don’t use often enough, “no.”
When used correctly, this tiny word has the power to eliminate significant headaches, malpractice claims, and grievances. As much as we might like, we cannot say “yes” to every worthy cause or to all who seek our help.
Not to be unsympathetic. But a client who was victimized at work, expects to recover millions, and criticized two other lawyers for failing to achieve this objective may raise red flags. Even in the #MeToo era, sexual harassment cases aren’t all that easy to prove and, lacking experience with these cases, you may be the third lawyer to “let her down.”
It’s okay to leave your comfort zone, but you should avoid cases beyond your expertise unless you affiliate with a more experienced practitioner. You may have the experience to handle a given case, but you should still say “no” to matters that would render your case load unmanageable. In these instances, relish the opportunity to refer them to another fine lawyer.
To serve existing clients well, we must recognize our limitations and “just say no” to the following people:
1. “The Critic” – those who have had bad experiences with other lawyers, or are quick to criticize their work, are more likely to complain about you in the future;
2. “The Vengeful” – you are an attorney, not an instrument of revenge. Don’t become the next target;
3. “The Dreamer” – unless you can bring this person down to reality, her “slam dunk” multi-million dollar case isn’t worth it. Avoid clients with unrealistic expectations on the results you can achieve, the cost of your services, the time and attention you can provide, or the speed of legal solutions;
4. “The Shopper” – there may be a reason this person can’t find a lawyer. Find out what it is, or let her shop elsewhere;
5. “The Cheater” – those who cheat others may do the same to you. Avoid clients who wish to use the law to achieve unjust or inequitable results; and
6. “The Evader” – those who cannot answer questions directly, provide inconsistent answers, or conceal information make bad witnesses and even worse clients.
Nobody’s perfect. But if you are rude to my staff, display anger or tell me that you need a “pit bull,” you are not likely to become or to remain a client of mine. I prefer to work with people that I like, on cases that I like when I believe I can achieve worthy and realistic objectives. Otherwise, I can just say “no.”