What do you say when a prospective client calls with a question outside of your practice area?
Here are some possible responses:
- Go away.
- Do I look like a bankruptcy attorney?
- We don’t do that here.
- You must have dialed the wrong number.
- I’m not that kind of lawyer.
- I have no idea what you’re talking about.
- Sorry, I can’t help you.
- You should have Googled me before calling.
All of these will likely achieve the desired result – i.e., send the prospect packing.
But none are very satisfying. None will help build a client base. And none will do anything to boost your bottom line.
But I’ve Never Done a Real Estate Closing Before
Here instead are five other ways to respond to a prospective client who comes from left field.
- Team up with qualified counsel. Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1 says it is okay to accept a case outside your comfort zone if you associate a lawyer who is competent to handle it. Just be careful to pick the right one. As the rule says “Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”
- Expand your reach. “If you are getting lots of calls about a particular practice area, you may consider adding it to your areas of expertise,” writes attorney Gabriella Khorasanee. “Perhaps you live in a town or city that has particular legal issues that arise. Take advantage of this. If it’s something that’s more than a one-time deal that you could take care of with a contractor, consider actually hiring attorneys or partners with experience in that practice area.”
- Make a referral. This is a win-win move. You are not only helping the client but you are also building a referral network. The lucky recipients of your referral will repay the favor by sending clients your way.
- Decline, but do so politely – and keep your door open for future business. Clients do not live in isolation. They have spouses, families, friends and co-workers. If you are courteous, professional and helpful – regardless of whether you are able to help them today – they will remember you. And who knows? They may call you tomorrow with a case right up your alley.
- Use non-engagement letters. Send a letter confirming the initial contact but making it clear that you have not accepted the case and will not be doing anything further on it. This is good risk management. And if drafted with care, non-engagement letters are good marketing. Thank the prospect for calling. Include a business card or two. Be professional.
Note: Lawyers Mutual has sample letters of non-engagement (as well as engagement and disengagement) that you can download here.
Beware Fee Splitting
If you do team up with another lawyer on a matter, be sure to review the ethics rules on dividing fees.
According to Rule 1.5, a division of a fee between lawyers who are not in the same firm may be made only if:
- The division is in proportion to the services performed by each lawyer or each lawyer assumes joint responsibility for the representation.
- The client agrees to the arrangement, including the share each lawyer will receive, and the agreement is confirmed in writing.
- The total fee is reasonable
So there you have it. Safe and simple ways to decline representation while planting seeds for lucrative work in the future
Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 919-619-2441.
- N.C. State Bar – Rules of Professional Conduct http://www.ncbar.com/rules
- Findlaw.com http://blogs.findlaw.com/strategist/2013/10/what-to-do-when-your-client-calls-about-a-different-practice-area.html?goback=%2Egde_2691620_member_5793728204703289347#%21