I recently joined an online networking group for female attorneys who own and operate their firms. I also network in person with other solo practitioners and small business owners, and I have taught them in a variety of settings. It seems that some of the timeless issues in all industries are whether, when, and how to fire clients. Those of us who litigate have several limitations on withdrawing as counsel, even when clients aren’t paying because we could prejudice the client’s case. Likewise, transactional attorneys might prejudice a business deal, if they withdraw during negotiations. Yet a demanding client who takes up a lot of time with unnecessary hand-holding and doesn’t pay can cause us substantial hardship. Without sufficient funds, we can’t pay our employees or operating expenses, much less ourselves. So, we work extra hours after already full days, attempting to bring in money from other sources. We sleep less, skip workouts, and eat snacks at our desks because we don’t have the time or money to adequately care for ourselves.
If you see yourself in that scenario, the answers to the first two questions are:
• Yes, fire that client.
• Do it as soon as possible, without prejudicing the legal matters.
We often make this a bigger issue than it is (myself included). We worry that we are being greedy or unfair—because we expect to be paid for our work? If we were clocking in at a factory, we would expect to be paid for our work. Wouldn’t we? We don’t expect to walk into a doctor’s office, get an examination, and walk out without any discussion of payment, do we? Why do we accept non-payment (an astounding form of disrespect) when we provide legal or other services? Do we think we don’t deserve it? Do we think the client’s needs are more important than ours?
These were questions Horst struggled with when his largest client began delaying payments so much that he worried he would have to close his business. With some help from a business coach and the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process, he soon saw that the financial impact of parting with this client was unlikely to be worse than the one he was experiencing. Read his full story here.
I’ve had to part with clients, vendors, employees, and more in my nearly 15 years in private practice. It is never easy, especially because I tend to develop deep relationships with the people I work with. Yet we are all always growing and changing, and sometimes our needs change in ways that are no longer compatible. I acknowledge myself for firing the clients who didn’t continue to align with The Law Studio, as this freed us to focus on the ones who do—and it freed those misaligned clients to find a better fit for them.
There’s room for all of us!