12.6 If You Agree to Take On a Difficult Client
If you decide to take on a difficult person as a client:
- Be direct and clear as to how the relationship is going to work, both in terms of your expectations of the client and what the client can expect from you;
- Put the structure of the relationship in writing and stick to it;
- Remember that you have an obligation to respond to clients in a timely manner and to keep them informed of the conduct of their file;
- Take a substantial retainer up front if you suspect the client's ability or willingness to pay may be a problem. Explain to the client that the retainer may be held as security for your accounts, that they will be expected to replenish the retainer as it is depleted, and that you will not continue to work without a replenished retainer or prompt payment of your accounts (see the Retainer Module for discussion of retainers);
- It is especially important to bill your client frequently, rather than waiting and sending a large bill down the road. As time passes after you have completed your work, the less value your client is likely to place on that work, and the more likely the client is to complain about your work or the fairness of your bill, or to refuse to pay. More frequent billing in smaller amounts keeps the client apprised of the status of the billing, which also helps avoid a situation in which you put in a large amount of work and then discover the client is unwilling to pay for those services. If a client stops paying smaller bills you can take steps to withdraw before you get to that point; and
- Ensure you maintain proper communication channels. Consider having support staff copy you on communications with clients and keep records of phone calls for you, so you are aware of any ongoing issues and questions from the client. Be sure to follow up any important conversations with the client with written confirmation of the significant points discussed or instructions given by the client.
These guidelines will help to manage difficult persons and will prevent others from becoming difficult. While you are free to take on a difficult person as a client, take steps to ensure you do not become a cautionary tale.