This is kind of awkward for a lawyer to write, but it needs to be said, so here goes….
Even if your dance card is not filled, it is in your interest to rid yourself of certain clients that will harm your career and/or you cannot service appropriately. Non-optimal client relationships include the following, and you certainly know it when you see it:
- They want you personally to do everything.
- They don’t seem to care at all about you or your personal life or your other client/customer demands.
- They are enormously focused on price — no matter what service you provide or pricing adjustments you give them, they always want the price lower.
- They don’t make referrals or tout you or give strong references or show a desire to be helpful to you.
- They make you unhappy — possibly you are always worried you will lose their business.
- They monopolize your time so you can’t build relationships with good clients.
- You cannot service them properly because you don’t have the expertise or the staff but you are clinging to them even though it is not actually in the client’s interest.
Take a deep breath and end these relationships. You will feel great afterwards and, more importantly, a yoke will be off your neck that will permit you to do other things that will be advantageous for your career and at the same time better for the client as well. Instead of servicing a client that will not lead to anything good for you or the client, you will now have the chance to find clients that will be great win/win relationships.
Along these lines, reject the view that you will keep the non-optimal client until you find the good client. The non-optimal client will take up too much of your time and hinder your efforts to get the new client. This is scary to do but necessary.
And of course, one way or another, life is too short to not enjoy at least a good amount of it.
By the way, I don’t advocate terminating a client or business relationship rudely. You are in the same industry, and you don’t want to make an enemy. But you have a career to build and this is ruining your chances.
Also, sometimes a “bad” client can be a “great” friend and great relationship for you in the industry you work in. Occasionally, I have just spoken to a client and said something like this:
“Look. I think it is obvious we are great friends but the lawyer/client relationship isn’t a good one for us. Let’s end that and stay the closest of friends and try to help each other in the real estate world.”
Each time I have done this there has been a very positive — almost relieved — reaction from the client. It seems that when I am feeling it isn’t ‘right,” typically the client feels the same, and our relationship changes in a positive way. And a couple of times this has led to a discussion as to what is wrong with the lawyer/client relationship and we have fixed it and continued on, much improved.
A related issue is to try to pick your clients wisely. They should be ones you are simpatico with, who find your value propositions useful and inspiring, who like you personally, who benefit from your Power Niche, who you just click with, and most importantly who you can provide value to. If you can do that then the odds are that the relationship will be a good one for both of you.
Indeed, you can fall in love with a client like this, and really help the client build his/her business and add dramatic value. Also, hopefully, this client will add great value to your career.
To sum up, a good lawyer/client relationship is two-way in nature and, if it grows right, it can become truly a labor of love for the lawyer. I can truthfully say that I love my clients dearly. Of course have our “moments” but these are people who mean a lot to me and it makes just about every day a good and fun time to service them and help them in their careers and in achieving their business goals.
Bruce Stachenfeld is the managing partner of Duval & Stachenfeld LLP, an approximately 70-lawyer law firm based in midtown Manhattan. The firm is known as “The Pure Play in Real Estate Law” because all of its practice areas are focused around real estate. With more than 50 full-time real estate lawyers, the firm is one of the largest real estate law practices in New York City. You can contact Bruce by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bruce also writes The Real Estate Philosopher™, which contains applications of Bruce’s eclectic, insightful, and outside-the-box thinking to the real estate world. If you would like to read previous articles or subscribe, please click here.