Identify Red Flags That Warn of Bad Clients

Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.

“Experience is that marvelous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.” ~ Franklin P. Jones

Every experienced lawyer has had at least one client that she wishes she never took on.  Most of us have had quite a few. To stop repeating the same mistakes, make a list of all those undesirable clients. Think back on the initial conversations and meetings you had with them before you signed the engagement agreement. Were there any red flags that you ignored? What do those undesirable clients have in common with each other? Did they quibble over a retainer? Did they fail to bring requested documents to the first meeting? Were they wedded to victimhood? Were they unduly suspicious of you? Did their story seem to have holes in it? Did several of them come from the same referral source? Did you have an uncomfortable feeling about them that you just couldn’t nail down? Did their problem require you to do a lot of work that you don’t enjoy?

Write down whatever you noticed in your review, and keep the list handy. From now on, before you sign up a new client, take a moment to review that “Red Flag List,” and remember how you regretted ignoring it before. Turn mistakes into wisdom, by learning from them.

To Do or Not To Do

The season is upon us! You know — the season of fa-la-la-la-la, holiday decorations, greeting cards, family parties, gift buying, travel plans, winter snow storms, and year-end business.  The list goes on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on….too much to do and not enough time.  If you make it to January 1, then your knee deep in a different set of tasks headed into tax season.

So what is a smart attorney or paralegal to do?  Organization is key, but who has time – or money — right now to implement complicated practice management software?

SOLUTION:  Pick one of these quick, easy and inexpensive online task management solutions.  Register for a free user name and pick a password.  Then start listing everything congesting your over-crowded mind.  Start with just the basics by listing the task and assigning a deadline.   That’s it!!  You can expand your vision and develop a more-rounded solution when the time crunch has eased.

  • This solution has been specifically recommended for attorneys in several American Bar Association articles, and it is often referred to as RTM (if that milk thing bothers you).  It fits the above-mentioned criteria, but can be further expanded by building as many different lists as you can dream, assigning deadlines, priority levels, repeat intervals, tags and reminders.  The free version will get you started, but you might need to upgrade to a paid version to get the full mobility you want.
  •  Easy integration with Gmail and Outlook, browser plugins and mobile access are all features which might lure you to consider this solution, but I suspect that the ability to create sub-tasks might be the one that snags you.  “Big things are composed by smaller things and smaller things are done by action.”  A call to action for incremental steps is critical to seeing completion of that large project.  You also might get a few more options on your reminders.
  •  Sub-tasks are also available here along with many options for customizing the alarms and reminders you want.  Folders, tags, contexts and sub-tasks help you zero in at the desired overview level.   Create your hotlist and analyze details to most efficiently complete similar tasks.  Set your alarms and reminders for email, iPhone, Twitter or sms.  This tool will also let you import tasks from other lists you have already created.
  •    Making your list and checking it twice to see who is naughty and nice?  This one might be for you!  This handy tool’s claim to fame is being the easiest web-based to-do-list-maker. Make as many lists as you want, keep them or hand them out to your helpers.
  • Egretlist:  This i-Phone app is ideal for those of you having a love affair with Evernote.  Your to-do list syncs with Evernote to keep all your notes, memos and lists in the same place under the umbrella of one system. 

Before you commit 100% by investing lots of time and energy, it is always wise to test the tool on a couple of projects.  If you see that it is making a difference in your perspective and the management of your workload, then go a little deeper.  If not, then try a different tool until you find the one that fits you like a glove.

Cathy L. Ribble is a senior level litigation paralegal who decided in 2009 to offer virtual services to U.S.-licensed attorneys when she founded Digital Paralegal Services. She is certified by the National Association of Legal Assistants as an Advanced Certified Paralegal in the area of Trial Practice. She matches attorneys looking for virtual paralegal support with NALA-certified paralegals by practice area and geographic location.

Debra’s Speaking at the HBA Labor & Employment Law Section

Debra will be speaking at the HBA Labor & Employment Law Section on Monday December 12th from 11:30am – 1:00pm on “Social Media Issues in Employment Law” (includes .25 hours ethics credit) at the Magnolia Hotel: 1100 Texas Ave., Houston, Texas 77002

Cost: $30 for section members and law students, $35 for non-members or persons without an advance reservation. See more info here.

RSVP by 11:00 a.m. on December 7 to Anel Valdez at No phone calls please.

Seating is limited and valet parking is available for $7.00; first 30 participants will receive free valet when requested. If you make a reservation and do not attend, you are expected to pay the cost of the lunch unless you cancel by 11:00 a.m. on December 7.

Introducing Guest Blogger Tamara Portnoy – “Attorneys: Stop Cannibalizing Documents”

Tamara Portnoy has worked for attorneys since 1985, but her real passion is computer software. She expresses this passion in law offices by creating tools to make work flow more smoothly.

She has worked for six firms, in three different states, in nearly every area of law, whether the firm had 2 attorneys or over 500, and all of these attorneys used computers as just glorified typewriters.

She earned her paralegal certificate and then returned to the same program two years later to develop and teach computer use to paralegals. No course was offered at the time she went through the program.

From 1995 to 2000 she worked in Silicon Valley at an internet start-up, seeing it grow from angel investors to initial public offering and merger with a competitor. After spending several years at home raising two children, she returned to working in law offices and found that many attorneys have improved their computer skills but most still use computers only as digital typewriters.

She learned to leverage the power already built into software. Now is the time to improve efficiencies and reduce duplication, waste, and errors in the law office. Pressure on the billable hour and client demands for cost reduction make this the perfect time for lawyers to embrace the power of the technology already sitting on the desk.

Stop Cannibalizing Documents

Commonly, when you need to prepare a pleading or document you think “the last case I did one of those for was _____.”   Read more «Introducing Guest Blogger Tamara Portnoy – “Attorneys: Stop Cannibalizing Documents”»