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Client control: How not to pick a loser

This week’s ABA podcast sounds so promising: “Picking a winner: How to identify great contingency cases.” Or, as moderator Stephanie Francis Ward puts it, “If you do plaintiff work, sometime in your life that million-dollar case will come in your door. But how do you know it’s the one?”

Alas, we never do find out. But the participants  — Paul R. Kiesel, of Kiesel Boucher & Larson in Beverly Hills, Calif., and Kerry M. Wisser, of Weinstein & Wisser in West Hartford, Conn. — do have a lots of advice about how not to pick a loser.

Among the red flags: Clients who come in with expectations that their case is worth a certain amount, clients who are less than forthcoming about their checkered pasts and “a client who’s had a couple of different lawyers… for the same matter.”

On that last point, Wisser was wary, saying he would investigate what happened but “would certainly think hard and fast about” taking such a client, especially if there were more than one lawyer before him.

Kiesel was even less forgiving. But then, he has his reasons:

Paul Kiesel: “If it’s more than Lawyer Number One, I don’t care how good the case is, I run away from it. It’s not worth the effort of taking that case. I would say what kills you is not the cases that you pass on, it’s the case that you made the mistake in taking in the first place.

Stephanie Francis Ward: And was this a lesson you learned personally? How did you reach that decision?…

Paul Kiesel: … Yes, I learned that lesson personally on a case. It was a case you could barely not take. It was the third lawyer–who will remain nameless… The client was walking away from a $7 million offer. Came to me, I took the case. I ultimately reached an $11 million resolution only to be sued for legal malpractice, having gotten more money than had ever been achieved in a similar case in the country. And ultimately it was dismissed but … after years of agony. And my antenna went up at the beginning and I learned I’ll never go there again.

There’s plenty more, including advice for “making sure your guy is not lying to you” — and turning the flaw into a feature when it turns out your guy was, in fact, doing just that.

Best of all, you can choose whether to listen to the 27-minute podcast, download it, or read the transcript.