Issue link: http://ailahub.aila.org/i/33622
How To Properly Decline a Potential Client By Reid Trautz
f you have met with an indi- vidual to discuss his or her immigration matter, and then
decline to represent that person, you should provide a non-engage- ment letter to that person. The non-engagement letter helps to avoid malpractice and disciplin- ary problems raised in situations such as the following example: A person consults with you and you orally decline the case at the consultation, but the person later claims (to authorities or others) that you are his or her attorney. (See Page 2 “Hello There, Are You My Attorney?”) If you have no written record of your declination of the case this situation could get messy. A non-engagement letter sent to the client would help to avoid this growing type of mal- practice claim. Consider these elements when draſting your own non-engagement letters:
A clear statement that you are not accepting the individual’s
case. Avoid using legal jargon that may be misconstrued by the
would-be client. Be understand- able and concise that you will not be representing the person in this legal matter. Consider sending a copy of the letter in the person’s native language.
Your reasons for declining the person’s case. Although you
need not disclose all your rea- sons, you may want to state gen- erally why you declined. For ex- ample, you may inform the per- son that you do not practice that area of immigration law, or it may be more complex than you have resources to handle at the present time. In either case you must be truthful, but again, you need not disclose all of your reasons.
Avoid commenting on the merits of the matter. This is es-
pecially true if you are unfamiliar with all the legal issues or you are unsure of all the facts presented by the person. Your opinion as to the merits of the case might influence the person’s diligence in obtaining other counsel. Unless you were hired to research and investigate the issues, you might
even include a statement that de- clining the case is not an opinion of the merits.
Avoid giving specifics on time limitations, but it is accept-
able to state that time limitations may exist. Encourage the person to seek other counsel as soon as possible.
Hand the letter to the person when leaving the initial con-
sultation, or send the letter to the individual by certified mail or other delivery method that you believe is appropriate. Put a copy of the letter in the person’s file (or a pooled “Declined Client” file), and keep it until your risk of a malpractice or disciplinary claim has passed—at least five years in many jurisdictions. If the non-engagement letter comes back to you as undeliverable, take notes of your efforts to locate the person, and attempt to send the letter again. Keep these notes in the file.
Reid Trautz is the director of AILA’s Practice & Professionalism Center.
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