Immigration Practice News

June 2013 (Vol. 4, No. 4)

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Spot Red Flags: Tips To Screen for 'Bad' Clients by Susan Pai T he most effective way to manage your time is to reduce or eradicate irrationally demanding clients. As the saying goes, 10% of your clients will cost you 90% of your time. Effectively screening out problem clients will increase your efficiency as an attorney exponentially. INTAKE BY SUPPORT STAFF Have your staff conduct an intake on any email or phone contact from a potential client. If the person is not calling about him or herself, then first, find out who the person is calling for. If too far removed (i.e., a "friend" or someone from the church), ask to speak with the foreign national directly. If the potential client is in custody, then allow only one point of contact aside from the detainee. If the family wishes to have more than one point of contact, then charge them for the additional work that will be generated by the additional points of contact. The same goes for company employers. In addition, if you find that a potential client is not willing to, or is very reluctant to, complete the intake with your support staff, then this could be a telling sign that this individual will always insist on speaking with you directly. This could be a future problem client. PHONE SCREENING Obtain as much information as you can from the phone intake. I usually spend at least 15 minutes and sometimes up to an hour to do a thorough intake on the phone. You must question the foreign national not for what he or she tells you, but for what he or she is NOT telling you. It is the "not tells" that are most telling. For example, a foreign national has been in the country without status for 10 years. How did she support herself? If she worked under the table, does she have a bad I-9? Has she used a fraudulent document or bad social security number? These are questions not to screen the client out but to give you a better idea of what you are signing up for as her attorney and can therefore quote her appropriate fees over the phone. I do this because there is no point in meeting a potential client who cannot afford you. MEET IN PERSON It is supremely important that you set expectations precisely when you meet with clients for the first time. Don't be too accommodating and don't be aloof. Give them the respect of your attention but make it clear that you are their lawyer, not a magician and not a friend. Tell them your priorities in the case and how you will execute. If your support staff gathers all the information in preparation for attorney drafting, then make it clear. Ensure the clients know what is expected of them as far as gathering documents, answering questionnaires, how much back and forth there will be, and that you will contact them when you need something from them. My contracts are broken down so that 20% of the retainer is allocated to client initiated communications and 80% is allocated for attorney preparation time. Once the client is close to reaching the 20% mark, they will be charged my hourly fee for duplicative or unnecessary "status updates" for example. FEE STRUCTURE Now, give an idea of what you will do for the client: soup to nuts or phase by phase. Most of my cases are soup to nuts (from filing to interview). However, I will breakdown certain removal cases and all fiancée/ fiancé or foreign spouse cases into at least three phases. I do this because when a couple is married, at some point during representation, they will become irrationally demanding with you because of the frustration of the separation. If you represent these clients in phases, once they become irrationally demanding, either you or the client may terminate representation. Susan Pai is a member of AILA's Central Florida Chapter and practices in Jacksonville, Florida. AILA'S PRACTICE AND PROFESSIONALISM CENTER offers 24/7 assistance to members. Find timely resources that offer insight, advice, and opinions on developing your practice, improving firm management, and addressing practical ethics issues such as When a Client Lies: Balancing Candor and Confidentiality. 2

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