A True Story
For the six years prior to entering law school as a Regional Sales Manager for a Japanese company and traveling 3 to 5 states, it wasn’t uncommon for me to travel over 100,000 miles a year. During that time, cell phones were many years down the road. Back then, it was necessary to find a pay phone if you wanted to make a call. It seems almost strange to think in those terms these days with cell phones which are ubiquitous.
As a sales manager, who had dealers in five states, I had to keep in touch and use pay phones wherever I could find them. On one occasion, I found myself sitting by the side of the road parked right next to a pay phone with the hand piece just reaching inside the window of my truck as the rain was threatening to pour into the window with thunder and lightning threatening. So, I wanted to get off the phone as soon as possible. One of my dealers left a message to call him for he needed to talk to me. Against my better judgment, I decided to call him and find out what he needed even though I knew this dealer was a “talker” and a “complainer”. He sold less than most of my dealers and always seemed to have complaints about everything we did and about his customers. But, I kept him as a dealer in spite of the aggravation I felt every time we made contact. I so dreaded those meetings either in person or on the phone.
On this particular occasion, I was really anxious to get off the phone and, sure enough, he began complaining about something that I cannot recall. But I assure you it was not something that warranted more than one minute of my time – yet he droned on and on. Finally, in total frustration I almost hung up on him when it occurred to me that a better course of action would be for me to hang up on myself. That is exactly what I did. As I was talking I hung up in mid sentence. Doing so freed me to get on my way to my next appointment. Later that day I called that dealer and he commented on how “somehow, we had gotten disconnected” never suspecting that I was the cause of that breach.
One of the common lamentations I hear from experienced practitioners is that they didn’t learn sooner the importance of turning away individuals who should have been fired sooner. We often tolerate clients who we would like to “hang up on” but hesitate to do so because they might speak badly of us to others. We also fear the possibility of a grievance or malpractice claim. That rarely happens.
The truth is, as I have hear it said – “20% of your clients take 80% of your time. If you choose our clients carefully, wouldn’t it be nice to have only the 80% of your clients who only took 20% of your time? At one of the seminars I attended some time ago, the presenter said that the best gift you could give to your staff would be to give them permission to fire one client per year of their choice. He said they would almost agree unanimously who that client should be and they have been dealing with the complaining and abuse long enough. So have you.
Take a look at the best clients you have and what characteristics do they exhibit? When someone crosses your threshold seeking your services, don’t hesitate to turn away those individuals who tell you how they want the case to be managed. If they dicker with you over your fee or if they say they must win, it is about the principle and they don’t care what it costs – get rid of them. Send them to your worst enemy, but take heart that the clients you turn away will have just saved you a lot of time and anguish. If you feel that you need to give them a reason, “hang up on yourself”. Tell them that the issue that they have is far to complicated for you to take on and that they need to seek the expertise of someone else who has the ability to take them on. Don’t let it be you. . . .