Attracting and recruiting new customers is necessary for building and sustaining a profitable law firm. However, not every potential merits representation. A great practice is to have a well-defined client intake procedure that includes exhaustive due diligence. This can avoid surprises that would otherwise cause a case to be delayed or derailed.
Why Are Vetting Legal Clients Important?
Part of being a wise attorney is making judgments that are beneficial to your legal practice while avoiding ones that might be detrimental, such as time loss or ethical issues. Client screening is an integral aspect of this decision-making procedure. For instance, conflict checks guarantee that you do not have any conflicts of interest that would prevent you from representing a prospective customer. Such inspections are part of an attorney’s ethical responsibilities. Inadequate conflict of interest screening might result in a malpractice lawsuit.
Due to its inclusion in the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, attorneys often conduct conflict of interest checks. There are, however, other less visible yet crucial reasons to screen clients.
Confirm client identity: Although it may seem superfluous, you must verify that your customer is who they claim to be. Depending on the nature of the issue, establishing identification may necessitate distinct procedures. If the prospect asks you to represent their business, you must validate their affiliation with the company, such as whether or not they are an LLC member. If the issue includes particular ties to other people, as in divorce and estate processes, you will need to prove these links.
Assess character: You want to represent clients with a good reputation and high moral standards. Checking a client’s background for criminal convictions or previous litigation may disclose red flags that discourage you from accepting their case.
Assess the prospect’s finances: Unless you are representing the client pro gratis, you expect to be compensated for your time and services. Whether the prospective customer is an individual or a firm, researching public, private, and business data, such as lines, judgment, and bankruptcy information, can assist you in evaluating the potential client. In addition, an examination of a prospective corporate client’s finances may reveal indications of unethical business practices.
Find smoking guns: Nothing can undermine an investigation like a smoking gun. When engaging with a potential client who conceals the facts about their case, such incriminating pieces of evidence frequently surface. Numerous instances exist in which a person’s publicly accessible social media activity has been used against them to contest a claim. In the personal injury litigation Romano v. Steelcase, a worker who fell off of a chair incurred “severe permanent” injuries. She then sued the maker of the chair. As part of the discovery process, the defense examined the plaintiff’s social media sites and discovered public posts that disputed the degree of her injuries, such as photographs of the outside of her house.
What Information Should Lawyers Use To Vet Clients?
During the client intake procedure, attorneys might explore public, private, and business documents to investigate their clients’ backgrounds. Although intensive Internet searches may yield some of this information, many of these documents are inaccessible via the Internet. In addition, the information found on the Internet may not be the most recent or thorough. To guarantee that you have a complete image of your prospective customer, you will need to conduct extra research utilizing web apps that offer consolidated data records, such as:
Confirming a prospect’s identity: A basic records search can verify a prospect’s current and former residence, date of birth, phone numbers, email addresses, and places of employment. Public, private, and corporate data can help validate the client’s familial ties, current and former marriages, and business partners.
Assessing a prospect’s solvency: Bankruptcy filings, liens, evictions, foreclosures, and a history of litigation and judgments are all relevant to constructing a financial profile. Property deeds and car registrations can be identified with the assistance of record checks.
Looking for red flags: Social media may be a goldmine for attorneys wanting to evaluate a client’s character and run a preliminary scan for big red flags. Images may contradict the client’s description of the severity of their injuries for personal injury or worker’s compensation claims. In criminal proceedings, clients may upload text or video implicating them in the commission of a crime. Activity on social networking sites like Twitter or Facebook may indicate a predisposition for online abuse, therefore ruining a prospect’s reputation.