For small law firms, client acquisition essential to success. But sometimes in the process of adding more clients to the firm’s roster, lawyers forget to ask themselves if their new prospects are really a right fit for the business.

Unfortunately, bad clients can have a major negative effect on your firm’s morale and day-to-day operations. They can easily become unprofitable and at the same time, take away from the hours spent servicing good clients. If you’re gearing up to take on a new client that makes you feel a bit wary, ask yourself these questions:

Are their expectations realistic?

Sometimes, people try to hire law firms in the hopes of achieving completely unrealistic goals. If you know from the first meeting that your firm cannot possibly satisfy a client, consider politely declining their request to work with you. Neither you nor the client will benefit from pretending that you are a good fit for each other if you are not. Save time, and avoid entering a client relationship that you know can’t last.

Is this case in your area of expertise?

Most firms specialize in a few legal areas. If a client matter doesn’t fall clearly into your area of expertise, your firm could easily fall behind simply trying to get up-to-speed on the necessary procedures and background information. Unless you see a specific, compelling reason to stretch outside of your usual work, refer the client to a firm that handles their type of need regularly.

Do you have the appropriate amount of time to devote to this client?

Sometimes a potential client is a great fit for your firm but you just don’t have the staff or the time to take on their work. Be honest with yourself about your firm’s available resources. It’s better to turn down a new client than to let service to all your existing clients suffer because your firm is overextended.

Client relationships can devolve well after work has begun and their matters can develop unexpected complications if you fail to heed the warning signs and red flags at the onset of the engagement. Save your firm the extra headaches and simply avoid the cases you can tell are trouble from the beginning.

What have you learned from bad client experiences? In retrospect, what would you do differently?