Do You Have to Act for a Challenging Client?

The short answer to this question is “no.” Although the answer is simple, it can be difficult to apply in practice because:

  • You might not immediately identify the client as being one with whom you will have a difficult relationship;
  • You might think you can handle the client in spite of misgivings;
  • You might feel passionate about the client’s cause and fail to consider the consequences of acting for the client; or 
  • You might worry that turning away any client is bad for business.

Issues with clients may arise in any type of case but are more common in criminal defense and family law cases. Although it may be difficult for these clients to find legal representation, remember that if the case has merit, someone will represent them, and it does not need to be you. If you do not believe you can work well with a client, or properly handle their legal issue, do not hesitate to tell them no. 

Refusing to Take on a Client

If you decide not to accept a new client, best practice requires you to send a non-engagement letter. If you do so, make sure that:

  • The letter is precisely worded; 
  • You inform the person that neither you (nor your firm) are representing them;
  • You warn the person about issues such as impending limitation periods or court dates; and 
  • Return the person’s file or documents and, if necessary, confirm you will not be responding to their communications in future. 

For more advice on writing a non-engagement letter please review Module 7 – Retainers.