by Pat McCann
If there is one group who should know about bad relationships, it is criminal defense lawyers. We could write books on surviving them, with chapters by local experts [you all know who you are!] but here is one topic that may not get discussed enough – getting rid of bad clients. We all have ones we want to dispense with, appointed or hired, and we all often, in a similar view to our perverse pride in surviving bad relationships, continue to represent them as badges of honor. However, my uncle, who is semi-retired now, had a great point once over dinner; he asked me “If ten to twenty percent of your clients are taking up fifty percent of your time, aren’t you hurting your other clients by keeping them?” That was my wake up.
Here are three simple questions to ask in determining whether you should fire a client. Do you cringe when you hear they are on the phone or see their name come up on your smarty-pants phone? Do you deliberately avoid setting appointments with them? Do you consistently lose your temper with them, or consistently struggle? If the answer to these is “yes”, fire them. Here is how:
Withdrawing from a case requires notice to the client [should be in writing sent certified mail, return receipt requested, NOT email] with a full statement of all settings remaining, availability of the file for pickup or the file itself returned, and a letter explaining, short and sweet, that either they have failed to follow advice or pay you, or that communications have broken down so badly that the attorney client relationship is irreparably compromised. You will also need to file notice with the courts, and if you are appointed, a motion requesting withdrawal [which can sometimes be handled informally by approaching the judge and explaining, without revealing confidences, that this just ain’t working] and ask for another lawyer to be appointed. Do it, and when you feel that sense of relief, you will know you did the right thing.