Some people liken the relationship between lawyers and their clients to a marriage. However, just like marriages, in some cases that relationship just doesn’t work out and a lawyer has to let the client go (despite how much money they might lose.) Sure, it’s never easy firing a client, but sometimes you just have no other choice.
Here, lawyers share why they have made this difficult decision:
“I have fired clients that have lied to me or treated my staff in a disrespectful way. Life is too short.” —Jesse Klaproth, a lawyer in Philadelphia whose firm focuses on employment law, whistleblower law, and consumer fraud class actions.
“Periodically, we must fire clients. Generally, this happens when the defendant has no assets or insurance money, or when the evidence is completely inconsistent with what the client told us from the outset of the case. Thankfully, this is rare, but it does happen.” —Tina Willis, a personal injury attorney in Orlando.
“I once fired a multi-millionaire who thought his ‘brilliance’ was transmitted like osmosis to every other field, including mine. He was a danger to himself and thus to me (figuratively), and it was just too stressful having to deal with the daily BS and drama and was not worth the hassle…….or liability.” — Roger Austin, an attorney who handles election law, administrative law, real estate law, and general civil law in Gainsville, FL.
“Recently, I fired a long-time client—one that I had great success with. I had already won a case for him, and we were working on an appeal of it. It was simple case; not complicated in the least bit. However, my client got their corporate attorney involved, and that person started micromanaging me. They questioned my strategy and tactics to the point where the attorney and my client made an easy case very difficult. So, I decided to drop them.” —Charles Krugel, who practices labor and employment law in Chicago.
“No matter how successful your legal representation, a law firm will never please all of the people all the time. We had a client who literally begged us to represent them in a public works construction project. They recognized our experience and, frankly, our political connections to help smooth over a damages for delay claim they were facing. After the engagement began, they asked us to review documents and participate in meetings for free and they then attempted to negotiate our rates. It was obvious that they knew they needed our representation. However, one of their business partners detested attorneys and did not see the value we brought to their project. Within a month of working for them, it was obvious that the amount of free work they requested and the amount of time it took to repeatedly explain our strategy and costs was reducing our efficiency and demoralizing our staff. Thus, we fired them as a client.” —Mark Cobb, a construction lien lawyer in Georgia.
“We have fired several clients over the years. In most circumstances, it was not a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ issue. Instead, the clients’ expectations and goals were different than those we recommended. Because the client hired us to provide our professional opinions, if a client is not willing to follow our opinions, then it undermines the trust that is a necessary component of the attorney-client relationship. Rather than limp along in the relationship, the client is best served by having an attorney who is aligned in the client’s view relative to critical strategy and decisions.” —Marc Lamber, a personal injury attorney in Phoenix.
“My firm fires clients frequently. When we decide to do that, I make sure that it is for business or legal reasons. More frequently, we fire clients when we feel they will distract us from providing stellar services to other clients, or if the client has unrealistic expectations. We want to be known as attorneys who win cases, and in order to do that we have to be mindful of the cases we take.” —Renata Castro, an immigration attorney in Pompano Beach, Florida.
“I will not tolerate disrespect and abusive behavior to my very caring staff. I see every day how hard they work to help our clients. Certainly, there is a lot of forgiveness as we understand the difficult situations many of our clients’ face. We understand the anger and sadness they often feel. However, when it raises to a level of consistent abusiveness and rudeness, there is a limit. — Tor Hoerman, a personal injury lawyer in Edwardsville, IL, St. Louis, MO, and Chicago, IL.
“I will always remember the first client I fired. While very nice, this client had an unfortunate habit of shading the truth and only ‘remembering’ to tell me relevant facts when the other side brought them to my attention. In addition, the client was very superstitious and often had to consult with the ‘other side’ to determine how to proceed. I prefer dealing with clients who I can see, talk to directly, and trust.”—Francine E. Love, who practices business, arts and employment law in Uniondale, New York.
“A client argued with a brilliant and conscientious judge during the hearing. (The client was seated next to me but did not take the ‘hint’ when I reached over to urge him to be silent.) I informed my client that I intended to withdraw from representation before we got across the parking lot. I hated to walk away from a good contingency fee case, but if the client didn’t respect the judge, the client wasn’t going to respect me either.”—Donald E. Petersen, a consumer rights lawyer in Orlando.
“Yes, I fired a client that made me want to cry every time that she called me. The case should have been simple—an uncontested divorce with no children. However, the wife really did not want a divorce. She wanted her husband to stay with her. By the time I really realized that, it was too late. The wife would stalk her husband in her own home. She would leave her job early and drive by the house at random times to see if another woman was there. She would listen through the walls to hear if he was having sex with another woman because she believed that he would sneak a woman in the house while she slept. While I strongly discouraged these actions, my client refused to stop.
And, oh yeah, her sister was her armchair attorney. So, it became a fight between the licensed attorney and the person who earned her law degree from watching hours of Divorce Court. Finally, I had enough when I was explaining the same thing for the 20th time and she claimed that I was on ‘his side.’ I filed a motion to withdraw, and her response was to send me an email to tell me that she would be married ’till death do us part.’ So, I escaped….but I don’t know what happened to her husband.” —Pamela Williams Kelly, whose firm focuses on legal issues in family, immigration, entertainment/fashion, and probate/wills in Memphis, Tennessee.
“Sadly,we sure have. We have had people misrepresent their cases to us —out of desperation, perhaps, and I understand that, to an extent. They need help, but they know that if they tell us the full truth we won’t take it and they think that if they just hide things from us that we will go to work, get deeply committed to their cause, and make everything turn out ok. But it just doesn’t work like that. The reason certain facts make a case untenable to take is because they also make it impossible to win. Just keeping the secret from us for a while isn’t going to change that.” —Dale Swope, a catastrophic personal injury and insurance bad faith attorney in Tampa.
“I’ve fired several clients over the years. Here are the reasons: Incoherence and diva behavior (mostly back in my rock-and-roll music lawyer days); wasting my time (what I mean is taking up a lot of my time with questions I’ve already answered, concerns I’ve already addressed, and things I’ve already explained, after telling them that they pay for my time and making that type of inefficient use of it, is unnecessarily expensive for them); withholding information pertinent to their matter and/or outright lying; frequently contesting charges on invoice—sometimes every invoice; otherwise always wanting an invoice discounted; and, being very slow to pay invoices. —Paul Menes, who practices transactional entertainment and digital media law for clients throughout the world.