by Michael Djavaherian

The client intake process can be a tricky aspect of the practice of law. Clients who find you from a listing site, or lawyers who refer potential clients to you, may not know specifically what areas of law you practice, or what types of clients or cases you will accept. However, whenever someone comes to you, however they got there, they are there for help at a potentially stressful time for them

The first tip to avoid having a meeting with a client who is not appropriate for you is to do your best to get word out about what you do. In your listing and advertisements, try to be as specific as possible about the kinds of cases you handle, and do it in language that laypeople will understand. With other lawyers, when you get a chance, let them know what type of practice you have, so you get referrals that don’t waste your time. If an attorney refers a case that is not in your area, thank them for the referral, and let them know why you couldn’t take it. That will prevent it from happening again.

Lawyers on XIRA have the opportunity to create their own profile. Use it to let clients know better whether you are the lawyer for them. For example, if your area is family law, let them know that your expertise is representing fathers in custody disputes, or women in battered spouse cases. If you handle all kinds of family law cases, then you don’t need to break it down.

A second method for preventing unnecessary meetings is screening clients first. Many firms use an intake form tailored to their practice, and others use an employee to speak with clients to ask preliminary questions to ensure that neither the client’s time or the attorney’s is wasted. Lawyers on XIRA will be pleased to know that XIRA is developing an intake form functionality that our users can tailor to their specific needs.

On XIRA, clients have the opportunity to set up a videoconference for an initial consult with lawyers listed on our site. Clients can and do make mistakes in their selection of a lawyer appropriate to their case. (The intake form XIRA is developing will help prevent this in the future.) Even outside of XIRA, in spite of your best efforts, there will be times when you meet with a client who you quickly realize is not right for you.

When this happens, I try to let them know, without being rude about it, that it is not the kind of matter I handle. I will let them know the specific kind of lawyer they need, and will try to provide them with a referral for their type of case or situation. I want them to leave with an understanding of why I am not right for them, and be sympathetic to their situation. Being in need of legal help is a trying time for most people. When the client comes to you from a referral by another attorney, you particularly don’t want word to get back to that attorney that you were not nice to their referral.

For referrals, lawyers on XIRA have it easy. All they have to do is suggest that the rejected client look for another lawyer on XIRA, and let them know which practice area they should search for.

You may meet clients who have a problem that is the type you handle, and who would otherwise be someone whose representation you might accept, but for whatever reason, you decide that you do not want to work for that client. You may get a sense they would be difficult, or worry about their ability or willingness to pay, or maybe they want you to take actions that would be unethical. Or their case may simply not be very good. I have encountered all of these, and many more, reasons why I chose not to represent someone who sought my assistance.

Others may do it differently, but in all these types of situations, I try to decline the representation as diplomatically as possible. I don’t tell them that I don’t like them, or their case, or that they are just not credit worthy, or that they are trying to manufacture a false claim. I simply tell them I can’t take the case due to the press of other matters or something along those lines, and then try to refer them to another attorney who may have a different reaction to them than I did. I don’t believe in insulting people who come to me for help, and it is better to leave a good impression with someone than be remembered negatively. Word gets around.

A quick note on good practices: always follow a meeting in which you declined representation with a letter or email to the client stating specifically that you will not be representing them, and telling them they should get other counsel. This is particularly important in situations where there may be deadlines or other requirements coming due shortly. You want to ensure that there is a written record that you are not responsible for any actions that should be taken to preserve rights.