Scope of Representation

“Fewer clients.” This is the ideal that began the story of the transformation of Jerry Maguire.

Haven’t seen the movie? Watch it. Absorb it. It’s a great premise by which to build your practice.

Now that January is over, an invaluable piece of paper walked in to my office. In prior years, I attempted to mentally keep track of who called me and who hired me, but I wound up forgetting a lot of the details. This year I’ve made some changes. On a monthly basis, I’m reviewing prospective clients who called, as well as who referred them, who took their calls, their case types, and whether I was retained.

The percentage of calls-to-retained used to be “most.” Most potential clients that came to my office retained me. I made it easy. I’d bring them in, spend some free time, smile a lot, negotiate the fee, and get the case.

Now that percentage has gone down, way down.…

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So the matter/case (whatever you call it) is over. You’ve resolved the contract dispute, formed the corporate entity, ended the marriage, had the criminal case dismissed, resolved whatever the client’s issue was for which you were retained.

You’ve taken my advice and narrowly defined the scope of representation in your written, signed, retainer agreement. Now what?

Your guess is that you send a nice letter advising the client that you’re done here, thanking them for retaining you, and possibly reminding them that there’s a balance due.

Not a bad idea.

Not the best idea, but not a bad idea.

I suggest that the end of your representation is where you give the free consultation, instead of at the beginning.

Time for a face to face meeting with the client, to continue the relationship. Time to ask: “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

I’m terrible at this. I rarely do it. I generally say goodbye to the client in court, or with a phone call and tell them to “take care.” I may say, “Call me if you need anything,” but I don’t often take the extra step to continue the client relationship. Many times the relationship is already established through the representation, so I don’t feel the need for the face to face “exit interview,” but I’m missing out on an opportunity, and I know that….

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Be forewarned: I’m citing case law here, so if that scares you, stop reading now.

There are two things lawyers are doing wrong when it comes to scope of representation, as in, “What is your obligation to this client?”

The failure to comprehend this critical concept begins when you are retained, and rears its head again when the representation is over.

So let’s talk about the dumbass things you are doing to complicate your life, and how to fix them.

First, understand that there are few things more important than a “scope of representation” clause in your retainer agreement….

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