Non-Engagement Letters

Let’s address the fact that not all inquiries or interviews result in a retainer. Almost as important as having a proper retainer agreement in place when you commence a new solicitor-client relationship, is ensuring and confirming the lack of a retainer when you decide to decline a new solicitor-client relationship.

Not every potential client is a good client and you should not be fearful of rejecting a client. Doing so may save you the stress of a difficult client, minimize fee collection issues, avoid malpractice claims, and even improve morale in your office. A client who is difficult for you, is generally also difficult for your staff.

Sometimes you will decline a client relationship for ethical reasons, such as:

  • – conflict of interest,
  • – matters beyond your competence,
  • – not having time or capacity to handle the matter, or
  • – the client lacks the capacity to give instructions.

Other times, different considerations will take precedence. Red flags might include that the potential client:

  • – has bounced from one firm to another,
  • – has unrealistic expectations or demands,
  • – is rude or abusive to you or your staff,
  • – can not explain to you what they want to achieve,
  • – wants you to pursue a case that is without merit, or a “principle-based” or “hurt feelings” case (little or no quantifiable damages), and/or
  • – wants you to represent them but refuses to sign a retainer agreement.

Trust your judgment about potential clients and act accordingly.

If you decide not to represent a prospective client, send a non-engagement letter. The purpose of a non-engagement letter is to dispel any notion in the mind of the prospective client that you represent him or her. In the non-engagement letter:

  • – Advise the individual that you do not act for them and that you will not be taking any steps on their behalf.
  • – Return any documentation or other property that you may have obtained during your initial interview.
  • – Be sure to advise of potential limitations periods, so they are not placed in a disadvantaged situation.
  • – Advise the client to seek other legal counsel.
  • – Do not include an opinion regarding the merits of the matter you have declined.

Retain a copy of the non-engagement letter on your file and ensure that you have entered the relevant information in your conflict checking system.

We’ll cover more information on dealing with challenging clients in the Difficult Clients module.