Wednesday, 9 January 2013

6 Signs that show the Client doesn’t want to pay. (Tips for the Hustling Lawyer)

Credit: Google Images

Ok, you have broken off the “employee” mould.  You now live for yourself, not merely existing in the shadows of another man’s dreams. You are young. You are smart. You are poised to rule this Profession.  But, tarry awhile. First; you must note that Clients make or mar you. Yes, that’s the irony of being learned. These lay-persons outsmart us every day.  In the jostle to win more and more of them, you forget to talk money first; and the population of poor lawyers swell by the day.
Remember the Pareto Principle? (The 80-20 Rule).  Choose the effective clients. Trash the rest.
Now, a few favourite phrases of the Client who wants to manoeuvre past Legal Fees:

1.       “I lost my phone. I had to call your mother to get your number again”
This is the guilt-card. This Client is probably an old friend you had lost touch with. In human relations, you only lose touch with people you don’t need. The natural implication is that you never valued him as your friend. He is the one doing all the chasing. And he still has your mother’s number since University days! You have been a bad friend, so you quickly want to remedy things. The story then starts; “I sold a land and the buyer gave me a bounced cheque...blah blah blah”. (Ridden with guilt, you forget to ask why you were not consulted during the sale in the first place).  Anyways, you offer to draft a petition to EFCC. “Don’t worry, no charges. What are friends for?” He gains eventual remedy, pockets the cash and playfully reprimands you for not staying in touch. RESULT: You have finally been a good friend; but a horrible lawyer. Do not fall for such cheap tricks again!  
RECOMMENDED RESPONSE FOR THIS CLIENT: “Wow, Funny, I was just thinking of calling you myself just now: strange world.” Having said this; you are on equal footings. You both think of each other, but the days have been too busy to stay in touch. Anything else is business.

  1. “Can you help me review a Short Proposal?”
[Smart client this. He deliberately understates the issue and plants the idea that there is really nothing much to the work.  The Proposal is already drafted, he merely wants you to browse through it and fine-tune where necessary.  This approach is typical with professionals in other specialist disciplines.  They are not dullards, so it becomes flattering that they need your approval for a document they had painstakingly prepared.  Without thinking, you croon, “Sure thing, swing it across”. By that singular phrase, you commit yourself and it becomes a matter of honour. 
Then, he sends you an email “FYI. Thanks boss.” You open the attachment to see a twenty-page shoddily pieced assemblage of incomplete sentences and tentative paragraphs. “Kindly feel free to expand as you deem fit” He quips in red highlights.
You slave through it for hours and hours. A lawyer never signs off on a shoddy job. You send it back and he responds with a boisterously warm text. And you are none the richer.
RECOMMENDED RESPONSE FOR THIS CLIENT: “Oh, I would rather you briefed me on the preferred content of the Proposal so I can develop an initial draft. You may incorporate your thoughts for my final review.”
Now, you have caught him both ways. And he will be constrained to ask “Ok how much will it cost to do the proposal and review?”

3.       “Don’t worry about your Transport and Lunch, I’ll fix those”
 This Client is like a Nanny for male infants: He short-changes you.  He does it so smartly that you have no chance to come up with a formal Legal Fee.  Conveniently, he merely pays you an  “Inconvenience Allowance”. The stated Brief may vary from filing at the Lands Registry to conducting a Search at CAC. He avails you just enough to defray the formal statutory charges and no more. Now, he encloses a further 20k in a mint envelope. And therein lies the trick: Because you know that lunch at Iya Ibeji’s (opposite TBS) does not cost 10k; nor does it take up to another 10k to bus to the Island from Kilo-Aguda; you are full of praise for his generosity. And for a mess of pottage; your right to a fair Fee is waived.
RECOMMENDED RESPONSE FOR THIS CLIENT: “No thanks sir. In fact, let me do you the favour of actually waiving Lunch and Transport. Just pay the Legal Fees only”.  
This way, you appear to be the one doing him a favour by limiting his aggregate legal costs. But of course, you have totally lost this client, trust me.

4.       “My last Lawyer was so shoddy on this job”
Another very ingenious approach. This Client waves the “competence” card. By rubbishing a learned colleague; he motivates you to prove yourself as different.   Plus the unspoken promise of “If you satisfy me on this one; you automatically become my new lawyer.” This Brief then becomes more of a test-run. You concentrate on proving yourself as opposed to striking a hard bargain. And it is only after you have slaved on the task that you remember that you did not issue a formal Bill.  Need I say that this is likely to be the last and only job you ever do for this guy?  He was just in an unusual fix, and played that card. Ordinarily, he never really needs a Lawyer.
RECOMMENDED RESPONSE FOR THIS CLIENT: “Oh, too bad about your Lawyer. These things happen. But I won’t work miracles. I will only do my best”.
The implication being that you are putting in your best in this. And that best must be paid for. QED

5.   “There’s this deal we can partner on, and it falls under your Specialty”
This Client activates all the buttons that weaken a Lawyer in one fell swoop.  Every Lawyer wants a bigger stake in the client’s business not just the crumbs of Retainers. Having sufficiently whetted your appetite, he proceeds to give you a sketch of the Project. Odds are it would be quite ambitious but the language will be vague: Some cross-border collaboration to create a specialist monitoring platform for overseas-remittances. There is a lot of mystery in the unformed phrases, and like the show-off every Lawyer is, you dive headlong into the preliminary research. Plus, he has the funds. You then fix meetings to educate him on the legal aspects of the Project, observing his frantic note-takings as good signs of an enthusiastic partner.

Then suddenly, he drops out of touch. Your reminders are met with curt references to “certain unexpected bottle-necks”, and gradually, he stops responding to your emails.
You shrug it off and move on. But tomorrow, you see his name on the neon-lights. The idea came to light after all. The language on his heavily subscribed websites are all yours down to the last punctuation. But in your eager haste, there was no talk of intellectual property or percentages. You gave it all out, free! So you miss out not just on the cash, but the fame as well. You are the anonymous brain behind it all. Note that an anonymous Lawyer is an oxymoron.
RECOMMENDED RESPONSE FOR THIS CLIENT: “Thanks, but I will prefer to be your Consultant. Let’s hear the details, and I will send in my scale of fees.” 

6.    “I am a bit tied up tomorrow; my niece in Law-School  will come down to your office with the files.”
This comes to cancel a pre-fixed Briefing meeting.  At the last minute, he sends you the above text. Odds are that the niece in question is very pretty and appealing. She will also have a great dress sense (meaning; a pencil skirt riding dangerously close to her thighs).   This Client expertly sets the primal-trap. And it happens on cue: The girl enters in the wake of a bewitching perfume, and coiffed lashes overhanging a disarming wide eyed innocence.
You struggle not to lose your composure and go through the files with her. Time speeds by. Your other files suffer. But no, you are undeterred in the present task. In a bid to impress, you go overboard and almost complete the Case even before you have been fully briefed. And when it all had to end; you initiate small talk and sustain it for another hour. The just-past-her-teens Beauty hangs on your every word; and nods in hypnotic awe. It would be impolitic to mention Fees, because while the girl is old enough to ruthlessly stir the blood; she doesn’t look to be of earning age yet. She eventually rises with “I will take the files; Uncle is sooo lucky to have such a smart lawyer as you”. You shiftily adjust your trousers as she wheels off to the seductive clicks of heeled shoes.   

And when the Client calls to know how it all went; you will be burdened with the guilt of having harboured impure thoughts for the possibly under-age niece.  Breezily, you will say “Ah; don’t worry. Nothing I can’t handle. Plus, you should encourage that Niece of yours. She is quite smart." And no talk of fees arises again.
RECOMMENDED RESPONSE FOR THIS CLIENT: Oh, never mind sir. I will send my Assistant to come pick the Files up. Along with our Invoice.”
And the matter will end sweetly.

Great tips, yea? Now, pay me!


  1. Great tips? yay!
    Pay? Indeed!
    You read like you have had your fingers burnt before. What do they say again..once bitten thrice shy, lol.

  2. lol, you're rite on that. The fingers haven't stopped getting burnt tho. Cos clients think out evasive strategies faster than I do these tips. So, they still win!

  3. Haha. Good one Sir. We only want good paying clients!!!! Thanks for sharing. Cheers.

  4. Thanks boss! A Lawyer's life is too "brief" for stories, u know!