How to Reject a Client (A Guide for Law Firms)

Attorneys can find endless resources on how to get clients. We’ve even talked at length about how to turn prospects into clients to grow your law firm.

There are far fewer resources available on how a lawyer should reject a client. Turning away a prospect might feel unnatural, especially for firms who are eager to take on new cases. But it’s often the best thing for your firm and client.

It’s important to follow a few best practices when you decline to handle someone’s case. You can usually not only stay on good terms with the prospect, but also leverage the situation to build relationships with other firms.

If you work at a law firm and are looking for a rejection letter template, backdocket has you covered. Simply enter in your email address and you’ll get a free rejection letter template right away.

Why on Earth Would You Turn Away a Case?

If you’re just starting out in the legal field, the thought of turning away a case might feel like blasphemy. However, knowing the cases you shouldn’t take can be just as important as knowing the ones that are the right fit.

Taking on cases you don’t have the resources to handle can set you up for failure. The client won’t get the results they want, and you’ll be forced to pass up other cases because of the time and energy you’re investing in a case you should have rejected. For example, this could easily happen when a high-volume personal injury firm takes on a complex, catastrophic injury case.

In short, it’s better to have cases that you can be sure will provide a return on investment than a full caseload will only a partial chance of success for any individual case.

When Can an Attorney Turn Down a Client?

Many lawyers offer free initial consultations to potential clients to better understand their legal issues. The free consultation allows an attorney to listen to the potential client’s case, ask questions, and review evidence. However, they can decide not to take the case.

You can always reject a prospective client for any reason, but you must let the client know why ‌immediately. If a decision to deny a client was made during the consultation, you can give them a paper statement outlining their reasons for the denial before the client leaves the office. If the consultation was virtual, you can send a copy of the statement through certified mail to the client and receive proof of delivery.

Common Reasons Why Attorneys Reject Cases

A lawyer is always there to provide legal advice and preserve the rights of those harmed by others. If you decide not to take a case, you are always justified in your reasoning. The top reasons that you may decline a case include: 

The case demands more than your firm can handle

Taking on a personal injury case means you and your legal team must be sure you can get paid for the time you invest in a case. When a personal injury lawyer agrees to work with a client, they work on a contingency basis. This means the lawyer does not receive any money until the case is successful.

If this is your payment model, you must pay for court costs and other related legal fees out of pocket for the case to have a favorable outcome. You must balance the possibility of recovering this time and money, especially if the case takes months or years.

As the complexity of a legal case increases, you will be required to devote more time and effort to the case. When considering all case factors during a consultation, you may decide not to take the risk. Your choice doesn’t indicate that the client lacks a case but is based on your business concerns and time constraints.

Difficulty establishing liability

In some personal injury cases, another party did not directly cause a potential client’s injuries, or the client was partially at fault. In these instances, you may need to dedicate more time to proving liability than focusing on assessing damages for the injuries.

You might refuse cases requiring you to gather excess evidence to prove liability or cases unlikely to result in a favorable verdict.

The lawyer’s practice has a different level of expertise

Not all lawyers have practiced every single aspect of the law. Some attorneys specialize in criminal law, others in consumer protection, tax, or civil law. Within these broad categories, you may further specialize in one area, such as medical malpractice or DUIs.

If your area of specialty is not related to a prospective client’s situation, you may not want to take their case. You may refer a client to another lawyer who has successfully represented clients with similar cases.

Potential conflict of interest

A lawyer may decline a client’s case if there is a conflict of interest, such as when you agree to represent another party in the same case. In some situations, you may deny a case if it involves someone with whom you have a personal or professional relationship.

How to Reject a Client

If you’re considering turning away a case, keep the following tips in mind:

Make it clear to the client that you’re not accepting their case. One of the biggest mistakes an attorney can make is failing to clearly communicate to the client that they aren’t handling their case.

This mistake can be costly. In the worst case, the client could operate under the assumption that you’re their lawyer. If there’s no evidence you’ve rejected their case, you could even be opening yourself to a legal malpractice lawsuit.

You can avoid all this by notifying the client that you’re not their attorney by giving them a formal letter. Keep a copy of the letter for your own records, too.

Show empathy to the client when declining their case. Rejections are always difficult to hear, so try to do it with that client’s best interests in mind. That means declining the case as quickly and clearly as possible, keeping any personal opinions to yourself, and, if possible, helping them find representation elsewhere.

Use this opportunity to build relationships with other attorneys. A case you won’t handle might still present an opportunity to refer it to another firm. This can increase your firm’s revenue through referral fees, help you build your referral network, ensure the client has the help they need, and leave the door open for future business, either from that client or the firm you refer them to.

Put the Statement in Writing

Communicate your decision in writing as soon as you decide to refuse their case. You must also recommend the potential client visit another lawyer who can assist them with their case. A written letter serves as a factual record that you turned down the potential client’s case and explains the reason for the decision.

Always prepare a statement when declining a case. If you’d like a template to work off of, we can help. Simply enter your email address on this page, and you’ll receive a free rejection letter template right away.

Let backdocket Help Grow Your Firm

At backdocket, we’re eager to help law firms grow. Our blog is full of practical tips to help you do just that. However, our primary goal is making our practice management software available to small- to mid-size law firms.

We’d love the chance to show you how backdocket can make your firm more efficient, communicative, organized, and, ultimately, profitable. Contact us today to schedule a free demonstration.

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