How do you know when you’ve crossed the line with a prospective client? How do know when it’s morally appropriate, or even necessary, to abandon a prospective client? What treatment is reserved for “clients” only?
Many of you may not be aware that in the field of law, there are some amazing, defined duties protecting prospective clients (and, as the scenario permits, lawyers) that are universally acknowledge. It’s a shame a lot of these rules are neither applied to business in general nor even moderately well-known by the average professional. Following is a list of these wise duties and what they mean, but first you need to find prospective clients: this five-star No Pressure Prospecting course teaches you how to find prospects who want what you sell.
To the unseasoned sales executive, every single person in the world is a prospective client. But in law the definition is much more accurate and professional: a prospective client is one who has discussed, to any extent, the likelihood of forming a professional relationship. The key word here is “discussed.” In other words, a list of leads is not a list a prospective clients. There’s a big difference there.
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#2: Confidentiality At The Highest And Lowest Levels
Let’s say you’ve had some conversations with your prospective clients in which you talk about wants, needs, figures, etc. Even if no professional relationship forms, you should not take this as a waiver to protecting their information. It would be highly unprofessional to disclose the details of your conversations; doing so would imply that you reserve special treatment for clients only.
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#3: Rival Clients
It is considered very bad form to represent clients or discuss business with prospective clients which is potentially damaging to other clients/prospectives. This can be a difficult line to walk, as turning down business is not exactly easy. The key is to avoid these situations, or to avoid making them worse. For example, if it looks like some malevolent information is going to be exposed, it’s best to end the relationship before it weighs on your conscience for eternity. You would not want to find out, for example, that one client is putting another client out of business. How would you honestly represent both? It would be impossible.
But here’s an interesting twist according to the duties of law: if you happen to find yourself in this situation, your only option is to disqualify yourself from at least one of your clients. You might be thinking, what else would I do? Well, if it’s a valuable client, you might think you can beat the moral rules of this game by transferring your client to your partner or another representative. There is no improvement in this and knowingly causing this to happen is morally reprehensible at best.
#4: Exceptions To The Rule
There are exceptions to rule #3 and some of them can even increase your stock in the eyes of your clients. It’s all about handling things as a true professional and erring on the side of caution (probably the only time in your life someone will give you that business advice).
Consent: The first way to avoid any problems is to be honest with all parties involved. If the clients or prospective clients wish to look beyond any issues, then you must attain informed and confirmed written consent. This protects everyone involved and your clients will also look on your trustworthiness in a new, brighter light.
Ignorance Is Bliss: You can, if you’re very skilled, avoid written consent by taking immediate and appropriate measures to completely limit your knowledge of conflicting interests. As this would vary for every client, I cannot even begin to describe this process, but it appears to be one of “ignorance is bliss.” If you can keep yourself truly separated from any difficult information, then you may continue to pursue a prospective client.
If you’re wondering about specific scenarios, get informed with this post featuring 12 examples of business ethics.
#5: Taking Precautions
Our last duty is perhaps the most interesting and there seems to be a degree of trickiness involved here. While this is certainly a duty on the one hand, on the other it appears to be more protective of the lawyer, i.e. you. Engaging in conversations in which information may be discussed that conflicts with other clients can be performed in an acceptable manner. This requires informed consent that nothing discussed can prevent representation of another client; specifically, representation of another client directly involved in what is being discussed.
Depending on the situation, the prospective client can even consent to the use of information discussed. This would probably be rare and completely unnecessary in all but the most extreme cases, but this is certainly one way that a lawyer can take precautions to avoid conflicts of interest (or more accurately, having to lose prospective clients because of conflicts of interest).
Notes On Prospective Clients
- Just A Taste
Prospective clients and clients alike usually are advised to reveal only as much information as necessary. It is usually the lawyer’s obligation to ensure that this happens. In this way, if a prospective client abandon’s the lawyer, then there is no information that at some unforeseen point in the future will require express written consent. You can see how this would become an enormous waste of time as clients are amassed.
- Defining Prospective Clients
This is an important clarification of the first point I made above. A prospective client is one who has engaged in conversations with a basis of forming a relationship. Any conversations not held on this basis exempt the person from the status of prospective client. Of course, the exempts them from the all of the protections and duties mentioned above.
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- Determining Conflict
The initial discussions with a prospective client should seek to establish that there is no conflict of interest. You do not, for example, want to find this out after five years and realize there is considerable legal backlog. While these initial discussions should be revealing to a certain extent, they should also be protective of exposing unnecessary information. This also serves to protect the lawyer because if no information is shared that causes a conflict, then there is no reason to abandon the client for this reason.
- Malignant vs. Benign
Of the many fine lines we have drawn today, let’s add one more: when is information harmless and when does it have the potential to cause damage? There is a general consensus that a prospective client may remain a prospective client even if information has been been shared that would be of interest to other clients as long as the information does not have the power to be used in a harmful manner.
Keep Your Soul
A lot of the duties and responsibilities listed here serve both to protect prospective clients but also to uphold your moral integrity. You don’t have to sell your soul to conduct professional business, and many times your good practices will only make your business more valuable. Check out this awesome course on how to get a ton of prospective clients without selling your soul