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Most lawyers — whether they practice alone, with two friends from law school or in a large, multi-city firm — spend at least some time wondering where their next case or client is coming from. Marketing, business development, rainmaking — whatever it’s called — all boils down to the simple fact that you have to keep the revenue pipeline primed. But rainmaking, which is all about building relationships, presents issues that can perplex even the most savvy attorney. Among them: How do you set boundaries with clients after you spend so much time and energy to land them in the first place? Here are a few rules of thumb to guide you safely through the minefield. Neighbors: It’s a simple rule. Never represent your next-door-neighbor. You’ve got to live with this person and his or her family for a long time. You just can’t be as objective as you need to be if your client is helping you unclog your kitchen sink an hour before your big party. And if anything goes amiss during the case, you’ll be wishing that fence the two of you built was 10 feet higher. Family: Relatives are another potential problem for many of the same reasons. Your uncle, cousin or sister-in-law is going to wonder at some point whether the old adage, “You get what you pay for” has any application to your situation. Friends: Close friends are also to be avoided as litigation clients. It’s impossible to be as coldly objective as you will need to be. Of course you can be friends with your clients — in fact, studies show that’s one of the best ways to keep and expand business. However, if the client started out as your uncle, your neighbor or your old college roommate, then you’ll be doing them and yourself a huge favor if you refer them out to someone else — someone good. You can get into just as much trouble with a referral as if you’d done the work yourself. TAKING THEM ON Once you’ve referred the obvious cases to other attorneys, the question becomes, “How do I protect myself from problems with more casual acquaintances and friends?” First, it’s a good idea to have a very candid discussion at the outset. Set ground rules that can be included in your written retainer agreement. Spell out all fee and cost issues. An “end-of-matter” retainer (akin to a security deposit, which you hold until the end of the case while the client pays your regular bills) is an even better idea to avoid any uncomfortable collection calls. You’ll also get an advance test of just how businesslike your client is — if he or she balks at paying the retainer, you know it’s only going to get worse. Explain and enforce rules: Make it clear that you won’t talk about the case other than during business hours or in your office. This is difficult to do under the best of circumstances, but if you don’t draw a “line in the sand” early on, you’ll regret it. Your goal is to gain the trust of your clients — becoming their best friend is really up to you. If a true friendship develops with your client, consider whether another lawyer — in your firm or elsewhere — might be a better counselor. Just recognize that it is virtually impossible to be both friend and objective advisor. Be sure your friend understands that nothing is free — you keep track of your time and you’re going to bill. Prepare the same kind of notes, memos and letters that you would for any other client to document the case. Draft a case plan and budget at the beginning of the case and update both as often as necessary, then send a copy to the client. The fewer surprises about the case or the fee, the better. David Evans is a partner in the San Francisco office of Haight Brown & Bonesteel and is a member of the firm’s professional liability practice group. He can be reached at [email protected]

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