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Client Selection: Guidance for Lawyers to Avoid Problem Clients [Resource Roundup]

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be used in place of professional advice, treatment, or care in any way. Lawyers, law students, judges, and other legal professionals in Massachusetts can find more on scheduling a Free & Confidential appointment with a licensed clinician here.

Difficult clients can create a range of well-being problems for lawyers, with everything from emotional to financial impacts. 


Some difficult clients are easier to spot than others, and experience helps. Still, even lawyers who have been in practice for years might need to review red flags to ensure your client selection filter is working well. We’ve rounded up recent guidance to help. First, we want to note what might be an obvious distinction between problem clients and clients whose work is simply challenging, and acknowledge (and support) those who work with clients who face some of the deepest systemic issues as well as trauma. Lawyers can find more here on vicarious trauma / secondary trauma. 


Identifying Problem Clients 

Avoiding Headaches: The Problem Client (NCBA Center for Practice Management, July 2021) 

Client Selection: How to Red Flag High-Risk Clients (Including Relatives) and Build a Solid Client Base (NCBA Center for Practice Management, July 2021)

Pre-qualify Your Clients to Keep Bad Clients Out of Your Practice (Lawyer Meltdown, May 2021)

Keep Bad Clients Out of Your Practice: Trust Your Gut (Lawyer Meltdown, May 2021)

Client Selection Tips (Leanna Hamill, 2010)

‘Client Worthiness Index’ (LexThink)



And Now It’s Time For You To Go: Rules on Withdrawal from Representation (Mass BBO, 2001)

Breaking Up (with a Client) Is Hard to Do (ABA GP Solo, June 2021) – Tips suggested: (1) Plan for the breakup from the start, (2) Document your relationship – with in your fee agreement, specify the work scope, financial terms, make payment and client cooperation conditions of continuing representation, (3) Document any problems, (4) Give the client the opportunity to cure the deficient performance, (5) Always act professionally before, during, and after the breakup. 

How to Withdraw from Representation Ethically in Mass (Sherin and Lodgen LLP, 2018)

Help Me, Help You: Getting Clients to Do Their Homework (NCBA Center for Practice Management, April 2021)

Dealing with Difficult Clients (Lawyer Meltdown, 2014)



Review Your Client List to Improve Your Law Practice (Lawyer Meltdown, April 2021)

Law Firm Marketing Updates for 2021: Planning, Budgeting & Innovating (Mass LOMAP, 2021)

How Lawyers Can Find the Right Clients by Creating Personas [Guest Post] (Mass LOMAP, 2018)


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Lawyers, law students, and judges in Massachusetts can discuss concerns with a law practice advisor, licensed therapist, or both. Find more on scheduling here.

CATEGORIES: Ethics | Law Office Management & Operations
TAGS: client relations | client selection & intake | Law Practice Startup | new lawyers | quality of life

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