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The Client whose Mouth is Bigger than their Stomach

I have to admit these last several weeks I have been thinking a lot about such issues as client budgets, how to end up with a client base full of perfect clients, how to fire a client, and whether or not a lawyer has a duty to represent a client who has clear rights, but, the lawyer just simply does not want to represent. I have also been thinking a lot about what a large percentage of society simply can't afford legal services let alone litigation.

As I review my client lists and my payable report, I tried to think a little bit about which of these clients really can't afford the legal services that they say they  want. Despite efforts to talk about client budgets, and to insure that clients fully understand what the total cost can be in a piece of litigation, I still find myself on occasion dealing with a client who, despite full disclosure, can't seem to make that third legal bill get paid. I addressed one such client the other day who basically pled change of circumstance. This is the same client who I spent more time with than I ever have in the history of all of my clients making sure they understood and could afford the fairly limited litigation action they were requesting.

Did the client simply forget prior discussions? Do they simply take advantage of the situation? Does an alternative billing policy imply that some clients will be making payments over time?

These are the questions I have today. I will try to weigh in on the answers in my coming posts.

Comments

Robert Williamson(Construction law)

Early in my practice I learned that individuals and small businesses who sue or are sued often stop paying their bills a few months into the case. Often the cases become contingency cases by default. Collecting what's owed for hourly rate work becomes contingent on the case outcome. And since the hourly fee is based on the assumption of prompt payment, there is no kicker for the increased risk.

Looking back, I can't think of any client who set out to take advantage of me. My experience is that many individuals and small businesses don't know what they can afford and not afford. They do not really budget revenues and costs beyond a month or two at a time. And as we all know "stuff happens."

I have had clients who took advantage after I began representing them. That certainly makes a difference in how I deal with the problem. I recall one client who often was behind in paying his bills who told me after the case was settled that he and his wife had not gone out to dinner together the previous year so they could pay what they could. I also recall another client who was four months behind, but apparently forgot I was present when he boasted to a group of friends about spending several thousand dollars to join an exclusive hunting club.

I'm interested in hearing how others address this problem.

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