How to Get Rid of Toxic Clients

We have a policy standard that explains how to spot toxic people, ideally so that we don't accept them as clients. But if we find ourselves with a client who turns out to be toxic, these are the steps for getting rid of them.
  1. 1

    Review documented examples of bad behavior

    As a standard practice, we should be documenting all the times any client didn't follow advice, or failed to pay on time, or had any kind of problem.
  2. 2

    Plan carefully

    Plan carefully before telling them you're letting them go because they'll react with toxicity and not "go quietly into the night."

  3. 3

    Contact referral source?

    If they were referred to us consider contacting the referral source if it makes sense (i.e. if we have a good relationship with them). Then explain the situation as much as possible (given attorney-client considerations) before you notify the toxic client that you're letting them go.
  4. 4

    Review the engagement agreement (update if necessary)

    Make sure our Client Engagement Agreement explicitly says that you will terminate a client relationship if they engage in the bad behavior at issue. If that type of behavior is NOT listed in the engagement agreement , UPDATE IT so it covers that kind of behavior in the future.

    Reasons listed in the agreement are:

    • Failing to pay bills, or pay in a timely manner.
    • Failing to cooperate, such as not getting requested information in a timely way, 
    • Not telling the full truth about situations, 
    • Failing to follow our advice, especially after indicating they will do so, 
    • Not paying on time (or replenishing their retainer account in a timely fashion)
    • Failing to miss scheduled appointments (especially without any prior notice)
    • Being rude to staff
  5. 5

    Decide if it's best to speak on the phone to inform them

    Decide if it's best to speak on the phone to inform them
  6. 6

    Inform them in a phone call

    Make sure you have drafted the email that summarizes your conversation ahead of time (i.e. the email you'll use in the next step). Work off of that as your script during the call.
  7. 7

    Send them the email outlining reasons for termination of the representation

    Outline all the reasons for the termination (i.e. documented examples of bad behavior, as explained in Step #1 above).

    If you spoke to them by phone, indicate the email is a summary of the phone conversation. Send the email immediately after the call, and cc the referring lawyer if you think it helpful (especially if you already talked to them on the phone).
  8. 8

    Consider refunding some or all of what has been paid

    Consider refunding some or all of our collected fee because we can expect they'll claim we didn't deserve what we earned. And refunding the fee will help bolster our case if they file a bar complaint, which they often will.
  9. 9

    Consider contacting the bar association

    Consider contacting the bar people to get advice, mostly to establish your case before it becomes "official."
  10. 10

    Be prepared to respond to a bad online review

    Be prepared to respond to a bad online review from the client. Create a standard response along these lines
    "The vast majority of our clients are happy with our work, and recognize the effort and commitment we have to helping them in every way possible. But some clients aren't happy, and that is often because they're unreasonable and don't follow advice or act in a way that advances their best interests. We won't comment on this situation specifically, other than to say we did our best in this case as we do in all cases, and wish our former client the best."
    Unreasonable, toxic clients will not be swayed by this kind of response but we shouldn't care about them.
    Reasonable people will understand what we're conveying, and they'll appreciate the low-key, and sensible response.

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