Opening Statements

Warning Signs

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Unless you have a very sheltered career, you’re going to end up dealing with a prospective client who is, as New Britain, Conn., lawyer Adrian Baron puts it, “a few pages short of a legal brief.”

Baron, who writes most days at the Nutmeg Lawyer blog, recently ruminated about the red flags that help him recognize when he might be getting into a bad attorney-client relationship—or something worse. He says he listens for key phrases like “I don’t want any money; it’s the principle of the thing” or “I can do this myself, but I don’t have the time” or “She must have paid off the judge.” If he hears “danger words” like conspiracy or terrorism he may run the other way. He cringes if presented with laminated paperwork.

Baron’s musings inspired us to ask you, dear readers, for your red flags. Here are some of our favorite responses:

“Key tells for me are such words as my first lawyer and conspiracy. I look at the degree of anger manifested and the overall attitude of the prospective client, references to the opposition as “all crooks.” Strangely, I have found that—almost universally—school-teachers at any level are difficult to deal with. (They are always vested with superior wisdom and are always right.)” —JHSLAW

“I think the key is not so much about having a list of red flags. It is about listening to our own gut reactions and trusting ourselves. The lists justify the emotional and intuitive messages and are the evidence for doing what we know we ought to do.” —J. Kim Wright

“Become familiar with the diagnosis and symptoms of “borderline personality disorder” and with behavior known as “gaslighting,”often practiced by people with BPD.” —David

“Crazy eyes. If the client has crazy eyes, I don’t retain them.” —David Gotzh

“There are little red flags and big red flags. Little red flags I’ve unwisely ignored were: Clients who have a sense of always being wronged, and a tendency to take business disputes personally; clients who have been ‘screwed over’ by previous attorneys; clients who tell a long-winded ‘victim’ story and dwell on irrelevant facts when describing the dispute to you; and clients whose faith in their position is not supportable by the law or the facts.” —One who learned the hard way

“Do yourself a favor and trust your gut. A venerable old Texas lawyer once told us, ‘The first time you hear the story is the best it’s ever going to be.’” —daviel

“If the client is drooling uncontrollably—and smiling.” —Pushkin

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