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Should you ever turn away a client? What about a paying client?
These are questions you have undoubtedly asked yourself before. As attorneys, we're often told that it is our duty to represent even the most repugnant of people. We're told that everyone should be entitled to some form of legal representation.
This may be fundamentally true, but it's also a bit unrealistic. In the following five situations, it's often best for everyone if you decline the representation.
Yes, even if you're being offered money.
1. It would violate ethical rules. This reason should go without saying, but it really does need to be said. Though clients can waive conflicts, it's sometimes better that you don't ask them to. You can't just forget pertinent information.
2. Unrealistic expectations. These clients insist that they have a winnable case. These people will never be happy and will probably file a malpractice suit once they lose. You don't need the liability and they need an attorney who can convince them of the truth.
3. No one else will take the case. It's one thing if a potential client is widely reviled, it's another if the case is just bad. Or the client is difficult. If the client has been jumping firms, it's a signal that the case is a loser or that the client is hard to work with. Clients need to cooperate, and you need to remain headache-free.
4. The client won't listen. Some decisions are yours, some are the client's. Nonetheless, a client who won't listen to you can cause all sorts of problems. If they ignore your advice, it can get them in trouble with the law. They will undoubtedly blame you. This is particularly true in the transactional, non-litigation fields.
5. Personality conflicts. It's difficult to represent someone you simply don't like. Some lawyers like the challenge, but others find it stressful. If you're of the latter category, you should probably turn away the client. You may not be able to do your best work if you can't even stand to talk to the person.
It's ultimately your decision to turn away a client in these situations. But if you're going to do, do it fast. The more involved you are, the harder it is to withdraw.