First, a warning. It feels good when a potential client says he wants to hire you. All lawyers like to hear that, just like everyone likes to hear “yes” to the question, “Would you like to have dinner with me?”
But the best time to set boundaries is at the start of a relationship, not piecemeal while muddling through one. That’s why lawyers need an exit strategy.
I once agreed to represent a client that had an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge filed against it. But I wondered about the client’s solvency. So, the engagement letter stated that my representation was limited to representing the client before the EEOC and any subsequent litigation would require a new and different engagement. My instinct was right, and dropping the client was easier because the letter addressed the issue up front.
Dana Adam Shapiro brilliantly explores this idea in relation to dating in “You Can Be Right (or You Can Be Married): Looking for Love in the Age of Divorce.” His book recounts interviews he conducted with divorced people. They all wished, in hindsight, that they had been more candid about themselves before they wed. That’s true in love, and it’s true in the law.