SL@P SPECIAL: Formula Identifies Which Clients to Fire – Actionable Insights
When I first opened my practice, I was completely willing and more than ready to serve each and every potential client regardless of who they were and how they treated me. However, the longer that I practice law, the more I realize that not all clients are equal.
In our office, certain more difficult clients are called “Companions.” If you are wondering why we chose Companions, well its simple. Companions always seem to be by your side and they are just always there. The exhausting and utterly draining workload produced by our favorite Companions is amazing to me. I constantly wonder how such a select few, (less than one (1) percent of our clients have ever earned this title) can create so many issues and conflicts.
So after much reflection on the matter, following a particularly onerous run-in with our best Companion (and worst client) this week, I decided to do some investigation into the matter. My goal was simple: create an objective test for determining within one week of being hired which clients were so difficult that it would benefit us to NOT represent them. Yes, I said it. I wanted to create a test to determine which clients are more trouble than they are worth. During this process, I uncovered some interesting information and data on these persons and my practice.
If this offends you, feel free to stop reading.
After much consideration, I determined that the subjective nature of our current Companion Identification process was likely going to affect my ability to create an actionable and objective means of reaching the goal. Given that we lack the typical objective data for this kind of analysis and there is an overwhelming volume of subjective information, in the form of staff opinions, this task seemed impossible at first.
I began by gathering the relative case files for these clients. After a thorough review of their files and records, nothing in their cases or case facts revealed anything that I could point to. I did notice that Companions did seem to receive, on average, more medical treatment than was typically necessary, in my opinion. But this again was a subjective interpretation of facts and wholly unhelpful in reaching the goal.
Without a solid foundation on which to begin, I continued this process by creating a list of warning signs or character traits that I know all Companions possess. Here is my list:
They make unreasonable demands.
Possibly the worst issue to deal with in the legal profession is a client who refuses to allow their expectations to be managed. Too often, through online legal research (Googling) or the advice of mysterious and unnamed “friends,” clients have developed unreasonable expectations for their legal case’s outcome. After these expectations are formed, the client refuses to see any other perspectives or acknowledge counter arguments. They have by all accounts transcended advice and knowledge from the likes of lowly lawyers. Clients will call and schedule appointment after appointment to ensure that you understand their position and refuse to be told otherwise. These calls are often argumentative, loud and frequent.
They refuse to listen to sound advice.
This characteristic or trait speaks for itself. We have all had clients that patently refuse to see any other perspective other than their own. Moreover, they simply refuse to listen to anything and talk incessantly. Companions exhibiting this character trait tend to constantly question why you don’t know what you are doing.
They refuse to understand the process.
This is probably the most common problem we have. We spend an extraordinary amount of time, energy and paper ensuring that clients understand the entire process and likely timelines, as well as keep them updated if that information changes. However, the typical Companion will call repeatedly to demand information on why we are “not doing our job properly,” and constantly question why things are taking so long.
They exhibit a complete lack of courtesy.
Each and every Companion has constantly shown an utter disregard for others, especially our support staff. Companions will call excessively or scream, curse, or raise their voices frequently. Companions will treat support staff poorly and refuse to speak to anyone but the Attorney. Companions refuse to hear or listen to what you say.
An Idea is Formed
So after creating this list of character traits and doing some thinking, I came to a sudden realization. First, it is a mistake to try and pigeon hole clients with their varying needs and issues. A significant component of the accident process is dealing with the stress of trying to figure everything out. So there is likely going to be some error if we create a bright line test that references only the client’s behavior. Moreover, many of the behaviors that the clients were exhibiting on my Warning Signs list were behaviors that were taking place months or years after being hired. As a result, I needed to look for a solution that eliminated stress factors and allowed for early identification. After all, the goal is to create an objective test for determining within one week of being hired which clients are so difficult that it would benefit us to NOT represent them.
That’s when it hit me. Almost all character traits on the Warning Signs list resulted in the Companions taking some kind of action. That action was most typically a phone call to the firm, or in some cases, multiple phone calls. Once I realized this, I began investigating our phone VOIP phone service for more evidence. In doing so, I discovered that our VOIP phone service, RingCentral, logs and documents several pieces of information about each incoming and outgoing phone call. Most notably, RingCentral logs the following information for each call: day of the week, date of call, call time, duration of call, call status (connected, vm, missed, dropped, etc.) and the phone numbers.
After exporting the last year and a half of call data from RingCentral, I began analyzing what information I would need from the Practice Management Software. Naturally, I realized that clients typically have more than one phone number and RingCentral doesn’t display caller ID information, but rather only displays client phone numbers. As such, we needed a way to integrate the Client data from our Practice Management Software with the RingCentral data. Enter Microsoft Excel.
After toying around with Excel for thirty or forty minutes, I was able to merge all the information that I needed. The net result was a spreadsheet for the last 18 months showing each time a client called, who that client was, when they hired us, and all the relevant information about that call.
As it turns out, this act of gathering the data and compiling it into a workable format turned out to be simple. We simply took the data and compiled it to show a list of who the top 500 callers to the firm over the last year were. We accounted for calls that were incoming from referral sources and insurance companies to ensure that we were only looking at client calls. Sure enough, our top 100 was filled with every Companion for the last year and a half, although it did include some other clients. However, this wasn’t enough. We still hadn’t developed a test to determine within one week of being hired which clients are so difficult that it would benefit us to NOT represent them.
Using the top 100 callers to the firm, we created several graphs using the incoming calls within the first 60 days that each client had been with the firm. After reviewing the data, we discovered that many calls come before the client actually retains the firm (Retained Date). After a few minutes of confusion about this fact, I realized that each client had to make an initial call to the firm before they were hired. So the minimum number of calls that are required for an initial consultation would be one phone call before retaining an attorney of the Retained Date. This meant that any client who made more than one call before hiring us (Retained Date) was interesting from a purely data-centric perspective.
Filtering the data to view only those clients who had made calls before retaining the firm, I noticed that there were several individuals who had made between 5 to 22 phone calls to us before they hired the firm. Since all consultations are in person, more phone calls before being hired is technically a bad thing. Also, 22 incoming phone calls from a single client before the Retained Date is a massive number of phone calls. One almost has to wonder how technical scheduling a consultation could be for our Companions.
Filtering the data again to show only the names of people who have called between 5 to 22 times before being hired, I noticed that it contained nearly all Companion clients. However, there were several Companions that were missing from the list. In addition to this problem, only looking at the number of calls before the Retained Date may cause us to fail to identify prospective Companions who refuse to listen to medical treatment advice or refuse to consider the process as a whole.
I really only began to see the value of what we were trying to do after playing around with data and filtering it one more time. This time I filtered to show the occurrence of each phone call from the top 100 callers to the firm from ten days before the Retained Date to 50 days after representation began for each client respectively. And wow! This data shows just how many times our Companions have called and it can only be described as a proverbial productivity black hole considering the sheer number of repetitive calls.
Taking this data and making some additional changes to the window of time and the number of top callers (reducing the number from 100 to 50), I was able to create a workable theory for Companion Identification.
Companion Identification Formula
First Call – The date that we first received a call from the client. This date is typically before the Retained Date but may be the same day as the Retained Date.
Retained Date – The date that the client retains the law firm to represent.
Total Number of Calls – The total number of calls received from a single client within a given time period.
Desired Action – Desired action described the necessary action to be taken by your firm if a client is identified as a Companion. This action could range from a polite conversation to termination of representation.
If the TOTAL NUMBER OF CALLS between FIRST CALL and Ten Calendar Days after the RETAINED DATE is greater than 12, THEN take DESIRED ACTION.
After developing this policy and speaking with my office manager, the wondering and incredibly insightful Ms. Jessie See, we decided to give the Companion Formula a test run at the office. I am not certain what the results will be, but we will be implementing this effective immediately on all new opportunities.
By the way, if you have been reading carefully, you have probably noticed distinct issues with this test:
This test will create false positives:
Any client with multiple concurrent cases may create false positives, as you likely won’t be able to determine which phone calls related to which case very easily.
Repeat clients may be difficult to track in both Practice Management Software and RingCentral.
Any client who has minor children who are also represented by the firm may create numerous phone calls. It may become difficult to track which calls relate to which case.
Jared Pierce hung his own shingle right out of law school and has spent every minute since then discovering the joys and difficulties of chasing success. Anyone who has ever met Jared will tell you h