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What are Red Flags?
What are Red Flags?
How can I use red flags to help me weed out bad (potential) clients?
John Margaglione avatar
Written by John Margaglione
Updated over a week ago


Most of us have a strong gut for clients that we should avoid, yet we still end up taking them on. Outlaw Practice enables an objective checklist to weed out bad clients.

We need to always be checking for red flags, not just before we accept them as clients, but especially after we start their case. Although it is best to avoid taking on bad clients, there will always be some that slip through the cracks, holding the unacceptable behaviors at bay just long enough to get through the cracks.

The dangers of a bad client are immense: they do not pay, they file grievances, they write nasty reviews on social media, and they generally make you and your staff miserable. One of our users has a red flag just for clients that treat the staff poorly.

We need to set up a list of red flags, i.e. behaviors or facts that we know, based on experience or education, are signs of potential disaster. These red flags come in many forms, and some red flags could easily cross multiple categories. They can be objective (does not pay full retainer) or subjective (gives the staff the creeps/gives the feeling they might murder you in your sleep).

Categories of Red Flags

We can group red flags into a handful of categories.


Financial red flags represent a risk to your financial stability, i.e. the client will not be able or willing to pay their bills. For example, if the client can not come up with the initial deposit, they likely are not going to be able to replenish the trust either. This is probably the most basic red flag there is. Here are some other financial red flags you might use:

  • The client asks you to start working on their case before they sign a retention agreement and fund the retainer.

  • The client tries to talk you down on your fees, or ask for a firm commitment on price

  • The client thinks their case is a "slam dunk", and should not require much work.


Resource red flags represent a risk to your ability to complete the work due to lack of resources. For example:

  • The client contacts you right before a major deadline in their case

  • The client exhibits a strong victim mentality with regard to their case

  • The client shows up late or cancels meetings with no notice

  • The client requires a lot of hand-holding, or is excessively needy


Malpractice red flags represent a threat to your license. These are critical to get right, and to hold to your guns when you see them. Here are a few obvious ones:

  • The client fired their last attorney

  • The client seems suspicious of your motives

  • The client has written nasty reviews of other people or attorneys

Here are some less obvious behaviors to look out for:

  • The client is slow to provide documents that you request, or downright refuses to provide certain documents

  • Client exhibits a lot of anger

There is also a lot of crossover here. For example, several of the red flags for Financial and Resource apply here:

  • The client contacts you right before a major deadline in their case

  • The client exhibits a strong victim mentality with regard to their case


Temperament red flags indicate that you might be dealing with a loose cannon, one that may cause strife for you and your firm. These typically are crossed-over with other categories, as the impact of the behaviors has a ripple effect.

Here are some specific behaviors to look out for:

  • Client has anger issues

  • Client has a history of drug usage

  • Client has previous arrests for violent behavior (of course if you are a defense attorney, this may not be a red flag)

  • Client is suing "for the principal of the matter"

Some more subtle issues include:

  • Client is a no-show for the initial consultation or a planned meeting

  • Client feels it is ok to harass your staff, or sends nasty messages and claims they were not, in fact, nasty


The final category is one we often overlook in the heat of the moment. Strategic red flags keep you from achieving your firm's goals. For example, if you represent the construction industry, it would be a serious red flag to accept a client suing a construction company, even if that company is not a previous client and the new client is your best friend. Actually, that is another red flag.

Here are some common strategic goals, and red flags that help protect them:

  • Increase Referrals. This is common goal of all attorneys, as referrals are free business, and the referral is generally predisposed to think that you are an excellent attorney. A red flag here would be a client that contacts you right before a major deadline; a client that distrusts lawyers; a client that is having trouble paying their invoices.

  • Focus on (some group). If you are trying to focus your practice on women between the ages of 30 and 50, a red flag would be if the client is a man or not in the target age range. Remember, a red flag does not mean you will not take a case, it is an indicator that you should have reservations about the case and think twice before taking it on.

  • Increase Profitability. Cue Sally Struthers and the commercial for the International Correspondence School: "Do you want to make more money? Sure, we all do." Except you decided to be a lawyer and not a TV/VCR repair man. Some red flags would be a client that can not pay their full retainer; a client that argues every line of their bill (you are using Narrative Invoices, right?).

Relative Weights

Not all red flags carry equal weight. For example, a client that refuses to sign a retainer until you start work is probably a bigger risk than a client that needs extra hand-holding. We recognize this and we let you weight your red flags to be more or less impactful on the overall client risk.

By default, all flags start at a weight of 100%, but after you have some data in the system you can see the real-world impacts by going to Settings/Red Flags, and see the impact on billed/collected. The system will then give you the option to use the new weightings.

We also realize that there is a difference between a client that did pot in 1986 and a client that is currently addicted to cocaine. As such we give you the ability to "boost" a red flag, essentially doubling its weight.

The Final Score

As red flags are tripped during the sales process and running of the case, the client's risk score is recalculated and displayed prominently along with their lead or case. Flags start off green (no risk) and start getting redder as the risk goes up. If a client trips enough flags, they will get a skull-and-crossbones rating.

Use these ratings to help you decide when it is time to refuse a case, or when to get out of one.

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