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August 28, 2014

Write "declination letters" confirming there is no engagement to two kinds of would-be clients: (a) unsophisticated users of legal services and (b) stone crazy people.

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And now, my K Street pimp friend, you're going to write that Answer due tomorrow.

Lots of conversations with persons who approach your firm with a legal issue do not result in your getting hired. The matter might be too small, too insubstantial or not the kind of law you do. You usually know in the first few minutes. But very often the time from the initial call or meeting to saying "no" is protracted. You may need to review documents, or speak with someone they asked you to contact. However, that may take a few days, and involve a few conversations and emails.

In those cases in which you need to put off saying no, write a declination letter. Email. Regular mail. Something. Put it in writing that you are not her attorney. It's easy. It simply says you are confirming that you and your firm are NOT going to represent him, her or it in the matter at hand. It does not say why. It does not need to say why.

If the would-be client is an "unsophisticated user of legal services" or, in your view, a stone crazy person, the declination letter is especially important. You may even want to write one if there was only a short phone call or meeting to evaluate the matter followed by an immediate verbal "no". Again, if there may be any misunderstanding, write a declination letter. And do it quickly.

Frequent questions:

1. Do you really need to do this from time to time?

Answer: Yes. At least 4 or 5 times for would-be clients in a large or BigLaw firm during your career. In the smallest firms count on doing it at least 50 times in the course of a career. If you do plaintiff's PI or represent Mom and Pops business clients, you may do it more.

2. Who do you send them to and when?

Answer: (a) To would-be clients in situations where you take more time than usual to evaluate the matter they bring to you before saying no, (b) to unsophisticated users of legal services or, and most likely, (c) to crazy people who might tend to rely on your legal representation going forward despite the fact that you have declined the representation. Do it as soon as possible.

3. Why? Why would you ever need to send a declination letter?

Answer: Because unsophisticated and crazy clients are legion. They may not listen well. Or no one will represent them--and they may be so desperate for someone to move forward with their marginal or "dog" case that they in effect hijack you and your firm in hopes that you feel duty-bound to act or that you will change your mind. This is particularly true if a jurisdictional deadline is looming.

Posted by JD Hull at August 28, 2014 11:59 PM

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