- Lack of merit. From time to time a potential client will come to a law firm with questions about a circumstance that, after a closer look, turns out to not meet minimum standards for filing a lawsuit. A client in this circumstance often has a real grievance, but for one or more technical reasons the lawsuit isn’t going to work. A firm’s ethical obligation is to tell the client why the case probably won’t succeed. In extreme cases, attorneys can be disciplined or disbarred for filing frivolous lawsuits.
- Conflicts of interest. From time to time a client will come to a firm with a case that turns out to raise conflicts with other clients of the firm. For example, if a firm represents a moving company on unrelated matters and is approached by a person who was hit by a truck owned by the moving company, the firm will face a conflict of interest problem if it decides to take the injured person’s case. In some circumstances a firm may be able to take the case despite a conflict of interest, but in others it’s more appropriate for the firm to turn down the work.
- Lack of necessary expertise. A firm that doesn’t have the right skills to appropriately handle the client’s case should turn the case down. Oftentimes a firm can recommend another firm that might be able handle the case.
- Insufficient resources. A firm should not take a case that it can’t devote the necessary time and resources to. Some firms take every case with the expectation of following a cookie-cutter approach that might save the firm some money but ultimately doesn’t give the client the best possible representation. Other firms overload their attorneys, with a similar result. A firm should recognize when it is spread too thin to take on new work and caution potential clients that they may be better off finding representation elsewhere.
Someone who is searching for an attorney to represent them in a personal injury case may be surprised when, after an initial consultation, the attorney turns down the case. Despite the reputation of personal injury attorneys as people willing to take any case, the reality is that most attorneys have a process for evaluating cases. The evaluation process needs to take into account the interests of the law firm, but more importantly it needs to account for the interests of the client. Sometimes the client is better off working with a different firm. There’s no hiding that law firms are businesses, and attorneys naturally do their work in part because they need to earn a living. Naturally there are firms that only accept cases that are worth a certain amount to the firm. But money matters rarely are the sole reason why a law firm turns away a potential client. Other reasons include these: