Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Problem Clients

Note:  This is a cross-posting from my Patent Blog.  While directed toward the business owner, I think this information is useful to the consumer as well.  It may help you understand why service providers and businesses don't want your business or never call you back.  If you make yourself to be a problem client, you will end up very unhappy, trying to chase "steals" when you should be looking for fair bargains instead.....


I have written before about the problem client. In any Patent Practice (or for that matter, any profession, business, or other avocation) the problem client can take up 90% of your work time and provide less than 10% of your income. If you can spot the problem client early on, and take steps to avoid representing the problem client, your practice can run much more efficiently, and you’ll have a lot less stress and overhead as well. Problem clients try to shift the power balance in their favor – getting you to dance, while they call the tune. Once you take on a problem client, terminating the relationship can be problematic. Like I said, this advice applies to a number of fields. So you may find this article useful, even if you are not a Patent Attorney.


If you have ever worked in Retail, you already know what I am talking about. There are certain people (of all races, ages, religions, and genders) who believe that if they push hard enough, they can get a discount, a free service, or preferential treatment. It is hard to say how these folks ended up this way. In some regard, we are all a little “problematic” in one way or another. In certain situations, we feel put upon and demand special treatment as compensation.

I hate to say, but when I was younger, and money was tighter, I was probably a problem client to many folks I purchased goods and services from. But as I have gotten older and run my own business, I realize that expecting everything in life for less than wholesale is not realistic. Businesses have to make money, and they cannot offer products and services for below cost for very long. In addition, I have found that when you demand steep discounts, you make the work for the provider miserable. They are losing money on the deal, and as a result, don’t want to return your phone calls or respond to your needs.

Oftentimes, it is worth paying a little more to make the provider happy, so that they are willing to jump through hoops to work with you. A pleasant relationship does not mean you are necessarily being taken advantage of – or taking advantage of someone else. The only exception to this rule is where you are dealing with a provider who cannot say “NO” to the problem clients. Such providers (of any goods or services) end up spending so much time hand-holding the problem clients that they neglect their “good” clients. Not surprisingly, the good clients leave, and the provider is stuck with the problem client, and often goes out of business as a result.

How do problem clients get this way? As I noted above, money can be one issue. But oftentimes, I have found that many problem clients are extremely wealthy. The old adage that the wealthiest man in town is the biggest penny-pincher is often true – and if asked, he’ll tell you that’s how he became wealthy! There is no clear-cut “profile” of the problem client, which is why I say they can be of all races, religions, and genders. Some folks will try to stereotype certain races of people as being problematic. I have found this is not true. What happens, I believe, is that when someone has a problem client of a certain race, they use that experience to reinforce the stereotype about that race. The same person does not apply the same experience about a person of their own race, however, to reinforce (or create) similar stereotypes. So forget profiling, stereotyping, or racism. It not only is wrong, it just isn’t accurate. Concentrate instead on behavior. There are certain behavioral profiles that identify the problem client, and I will enumerate these later.

How someone becomes a problem client is the good subject for a psychologist to discuss. I suspect some folks may have been given everything they have asked for in life, and never heard anyone say “NO” to them before (and hence, problem clients often can be very wealthy). In addition, it can be a very reinforcing behavior. If you whine and scream and throw a tantrum – and get what you want – it teaches you to whine and scream and throw a tantrum. You’ve seen this with children begging for candy in the checkout line, and with adults trying to get a table in a fancy restaurant. If throwing your weight around works, it encourages people to throw their weight around some more.

This neatly summarizes why it is so important to “tank” the problem client early. The worst thing you can do is to cave in to their unreasonable demands. Once you have done so, it is all over for you. Problem clients are “pushers” – they take an inch, and then ask for an inch more. No amount of surrender will satisfy them. You give them Czechoslovakia and then they want Poland. Appeasement does not work. The best defense is a good offense. Don’t get involved with the problem client. If you do, spot the problem early and try to bail out.

The problem client scenario is all about power and control. Problem clients feel vulnerable and powerless. Their behavior is an attempt to shift the power-balance in their favor. Consider the car repair shop scenario. Ask any mechanic who their worst customer is, and chances are it is someone who knows little or nothing about cars. The average Joe doesn’t know how a car works, and thus views any explanation given by a mechanic as suspect, and treats every bill as the staggering rip-off of the century. As someone who actually knows about cars and works on them myself, I often find bills to be much less than expected, and marvel at how a repair place can stay in business at such low prices. Average Joe is powerless in the car repair shop, and thus feels vulnerable. Making a royal nuisance of himself and getting a discount on the bill are his ways of maintaining some semblance of power in the process.

Thus, it might be possible to “convert” a problem client into a good client, if you can make them feel part of the process, and educate them as to how the process works, so they don’t feel defenseless and powerless. I have tried, with my website and articles, to provide information to clients so they understand the process better. My fixed price quote (an industry first) helps them understand the costs up front so there are no major surprises later one. Such conversions, however, are rare. I have found in actual practice, that there are a core group of folks out there that are nothing but trouble, period, and the best thing you can do is walk away from them.


The problem client can be easily spotted by their behavior. No matter how hard they try to hide it, their problem client behaviors bubble to the surface fairly early. Here is a short list I have compiled of indicia of the problem client:

1. The client acts like he is doing you a big favor by sending you work.

2. The client is in a big rush to get something done now.

3. The client demands steep discounts in pricing.

4. After pricing is negotiated, the client continues to demand further discounts.

5. The client picks at imagined flaws in the work or is never happy with the work.

6. The client is slow to respond to your inquiries and requests, but demands instant communication and response from you.

7. The client asks you to “parachute” into an existing case filed either pro se or by another Attorney.

8. The client asks you to perform services outside your field of expertise and/or asks for free advice.

9. The client has a litany of complaints against a previous Attorney or other product or service advisor.

10. The client does not pay.

Taken alone, maybe one or two of these indicia is not an indication of a problem client. But if you see two, three, or more of these “hit list” items – watch out! Let’s review these one at a time and see how these characteristics work to make the problem client such a problem.

1. The client acts like he is doing you a big favor by sending you work.

I get this one all the time from client inquiries. They act like sending you a case is the biggest treat you could have in your life. My practice, however, is swamped with work, and I need another case like I need a hole in the head. Oftentimes, you’ll hear the client say things like “If you do a good job with this one, I have a few more in the pipeline for you.” This may sound like a great promise, but again, doing work for someone is not a privilege. If you get into the mindset that it is, you are headed for trouble. Maintaining control in the relationship is important, and once you surrender this to the client, all hope is lost. Major corporate clients (who often demand steep discounts) play this card all the time. But even small (solo) clients will try this trick. Never accept the premise that getting work from a client (any client) is some sort of special privilege.

2. The client is in a rush to get something done now.

You’ve probably seen those signs in small business with the caption “You want it done WHEN?” with small cartoon men laughing uproariously. These are businesses that have heard the “rush job” story once too often. Problem clients push to get their work done ahead of time, as if their work were more important than that of others. Rarely is there any need for such “rush”, only the convenience of the client.

I’ve recently had two clients who tried this trick. Despite the fact their invention had not been publicly disclosed (or not publicly disclosed for very long), they insisted, no, demanded that their application take precedence over that of another client (who was actually under a “bar date” situation). When I ask the client why they wanted to file so soon, they would reply with vague responses “it’s neater that way”, or “I want to have it on file”. These are not really legitimate reasons.

While it is true that an early filing date is a good thing, it is also a good thing for my other clients who may have been waiting for two, three, or even four months to get their patents on file. Smart businessmen do not allow themselves to be caught up in the “rush job” mentality. When you fall for this trick (and I have, more than once), you do not have time to sit back and carefully evaluate the situation. Everything is “go, go, go” and it prevents you from thinking about the situation carefully.

Some firms will accommodate “rush” jobs by offering to take such cases – at drastically increased prices. After all, there are legitimate situations where “rush” jobs occur. However, in such situations, a firm (or any business) should be compensated for the extra work involved in accommodating a client on short notice.

However, as we shall see, the problem client rarely will pay extra for such service. They want it yesterday, and for free.

3. The client demands steep discounts in pricing.

Steep discount demands are probably one of the primary indicia of the problem client. But not always so. Heck, everyone wants to get a bargain, and you can’t blame folks for that. I have structured my practice to provide Patent services at prices far below that of the competition. However, despite this “discount” pricing, I still get inquiries from folks who want their Patents filed for mere pennies – or even for free.

The easiest way to avoid these types of clients is to be firm on your pricing. In many cultures, a price quote or invoice is viewed as an opening bid in a complex game of negotiation. Thus, you may expect some clients to take your price quote as an initial “high” offer to be negotiated from. This practice even varies from State to State in the US. I’ve found that in the South, folks tend to quote you a price, and are very firm about it. In the Northeast, however, everything is up for a little haggling.

The choice is yours. You can waste a lot of your time negotiating prices with your clients, or just set a price and say “that’s it.” I chose the latter route. If a client comes back wanting me to revise my quote, I simply refuse to reply. In the cases where I have lowered my initial price (based upon this haggling model) it has come back to haunt me, as the client demands further discounts down the road.

4. After pricing is negotiated, the client continues to demand further discounts.

If you fall into the haggling mentality, don’t expect it to end with the first invoice. You have no one but yourself to blame if you let the client “talk you down” on the initial price. The client will (reasonably) expect that your subsequent invoices are mere starting points as well.

As you can see from my website, I have a fairly detailed five-page price quote which I send to clients so they can understand the overall costs of the Patent Application process. Of course, it is an open-ended process, and oftentimes you have to file miscellaneous papers that are not anticipated in the normal course of actions. In my price quote, I spell out that any such additional papers carry a minimum charge of $175, which is quite reasonable in this industry.

Nevertheless, I have had clients complain when such papers need to be filed. They demand further discounts on the filing of such papers, arguing that they had not envisioned such expenses (even though they are spelled out in the price quote). Sometimes the client will make hints that, but for some flaw on my part, such filings would not be necessary.

It never pays to fall for this gambit. If you have quoted a price, stick to it. If you fall into the trap of haggling over every bill and invoice, it will never end, and you will spend half your day in price negotiations, which will cut into your work time and destroy your quality of life.

5. The client picks at imagined flaws in the work or is never happy with the work.

The previous example highlights this next point. I have seen this behavior in all contexts – from the corporate world to the solo inventor. While working at a large law firm, I witnessed this first hand. The client, a major electronics company, hired a new in-house counsel to “reduce costs” in the Patent field. He played all the usual games – trying to make us feel lucky to have the work, demanding steep discounts, and haggling over every invoice. What was most disturbing, however, were his countless memoranda itemizing alleged defects in the work. One memo, nearly two pages long, itemized how items should be stapled together before being mailed to him. Woe be to the Secretary who stapled when she should have paper-clipped!

This silly nit-picking destroyed firm morale, and made what was a dream client, a chore to work for. Moreover, if the client has no confidence in your work abilities, it can destroy your self-esteem and make it difficult for you to work for that client. There is no legitimate reason for a client to retain an Attorney they believe to be incompetent or unreliable. If the client questions your abilities, your professionalism, or your work quality, they should probably find another Attorney. Be sure to tell them so!

This is not to say that we don’t all make mistakes. And it is important that if a client catches a mistake that they bring it to your attention. However, in the “problem client” scenario, actual mistakes are the last thing they actually complain about. What the problem client does is make vague and indefinite innuendos about your work competence. The problem clients do this to try to shift the power balance from you to them. If they can get you to think your work is substandard, then you will start to believe you are “lucky” to have such a client, who continues to use you (and I mean “use” in all senses of the word) despite your obvious flaws. And of course, you’ll handle their job right away and at a discounted price!

Everyone on the planet suffers from low self-esteem at one time or another. Problem clients pick up on this and play it like a violin. Don’t fall for the trap. If the client expresses a lack of faith in your abilities, tell them to find someone they do have confidence in. In the long run, you’ll both be better off (or at least you will be).

6. The client is slow to respond to your inquiries and requests, but demands instant communication and response from you.

I love this one. Client A comes to me and wants their Provisional filed yesterday. For a steeply discounted price, I am expected to file an application based on some sketchy details and some 3rd generation faxed photocopies of a badly lit photo. Stupidly, I agree to do it. I ask the client for new drawings, sketches, or anything, to show the invention. But every time I call, he is out of town, about to leave for an “important business meeting” or otherwise unavailable. He is an important person, right? And I guess I’m worth nothing.

When Client A calls me, he expects the phone to be answered on the first ring, and for me to be available right away to talk (usually while he is on the cell phone in traffic, no sense wasting valuable Office time on your Attorney!). If I am not there, I either get a nasty Voice Mail message, or I am chewed out the next time he does get me, for being “unavailable.” When he does call from the Office, it is often is Secretary calling, who then informs me to “please hold for Client A”, as if the Queen of England were on the line!

The same is true of e-mails, faxes, and letters. He replies to mine days or weeks after I send them, but his have to be replied to ASAP or there will be hell to pay!

Needless to say, I don’t represent Client A anymore.

Again, this entire game (and that is what it is) is all about power and posturing. If the client can get you to believe they are powerful and important (and more importantly that you are worthless and weak) then they have you in their back pocket. Note that people perpetrating frauds and other “cons” often use this posturing trick (and the “marks” often fall for it!). You can get someone to believe you are super-important simply by acting like you are. It’s often that simple.

There is no “trick” or technique to correcting this type of behavior. Clients who act this way are giving you an ample warning sign that they are going to be trouble with a capital “T”. Best to dump them and move on.

7. The client asks you to “parachute” into an existing case filed either pro se or by another Attorney.

A “parachute” case is where the client comes to you with a Patent Application already filed, by himself or another Attorney, and asks you to “jump” into the case and take over prosecution. Don’t do it! Turn all such cases away.

Historically, I have taken on a number of such “parachute” cases and have had bad experiences with almost all of them. To begin with, such clients are my worst payers and often never pay their invoices. Not getting paid is worse than no work at all, as I can certainly goof -off for free, whereas non-paying clients make me pay for the privilege of working. Oftentimes these clients are leaving their existing Attorney not because of quality or other legitimate issues, but rather because they did not pay that Attorney.

In this business, there is an old saying, “if a client comes to you unhappy with their present Attorney, chances are they will be unhappy with you as well.” I have found this old adage to be quite true. Most clients coming to me with horror stories about poor representation are, in fact, concealing non-payment of their previous Attorney as being the real reason they need new representation.

Many pro se inventors have botched up their applications so badly that there is little I can do to fix them properly. If I cannot “rescue” the application, I take the blame. If I do fix the case, I get none of the credit. It is a lose/lose situation for me. You would not ask a skilled carpenter to come into your home to finish your half-completed and improperly done home improvement projects. Why would someone, in effect, ask their Attorney to do the same?

The net effect of the parachute case, is that the client, already upset by paying so much for bad representation, will balk at paying you at all. Pro Se filers are so cheap, they won’t want to pay you either. And any success you might have in fixing these hoary old cases will not be attributed to you – but any failure due to the improper work of the filer will now be your fault. Avoid the problem by just saying “NO” to parachute cases.

8. The client asks you to perform services outside your field of expertise and/or asks for free advice.

One aspect of the problem client is the client who calls you all the time asking for advice, often outside of your field of expertise. “I know you aren’t a Real Estate Lawyer,” they say, “but can you answer a question for me?” When you tell them “No”, they keep pestering you until you answer or hang up.

In addition to the malpractice risk of giving out free advice in areas you are not comfortable with, these folks tend to waste a lot of your time on the phone. They love to call “their lawyer” and chew the fat, not realizing that even a 10-15 minute phone call can distract you from an hour of work. Moreover, if every client called this way, no work could ever get done.

My firm policy is to not charge for inquiries of a general nature, provided they are brief and to the point. Some clients take advantage my good nature, however, and try to use me as a free advice hotline, confidante, or just chat buddy. I find that I often have to be very abrupt and even rude with such folks, asking them point blank to keep it short and “get to the point”. Otherwise, you’ll end up on the phone for hours.

The other side of the coin is to simply start charging for such calls. Be careful, however, if you follow this path. If the client starts jawing and asking you for advice outside of your field of expertise, and you charge for it, then you are rendering a legal service. So be sure that if you are going to play the billable hour game, that you still don’t exceed the boundaries of your field of comfort. Refer questions you can’t answer to Attorneys who specialize in that field. It will save you a lot of time in the long run.

9. The client has a litany of complaints against a previous Attorney or other product or service advisor.

As noted above, the parachute case is a really bad idea. If the potential client has a laundry list of grievances against their previous Attorney, chances are, they will eventually compile a similar list for you. Walk away from the parachute case or transferred representation. But even in situations that are not parachute cases, you can get an inkling of the presence of a problem client.

Problem clients often unwittingly tip their hand when they regale you with stories about their “triumphs” in dealing with other product or service providers. Problem clients can’t help it, and this is one weakness you can exploit to your advantage. As noted previously, the psychological reasons problem clients harangue product and service providers can range from basic insecurity in a field they are not versed, to problems emanating from their childhood. The chronic, serial problem clients can’t help but brag about how they “put one over” on another product or service provider. If you hear such stories, beware! You’re next!

Thus, for example, if the client, in the course of conversation, tells you how they made such a nuisance of themselves at the car dealer that they got a free oil change, you’ll know where this relationship is heading. The something-for-nothing mentality is hard to shake, particularly when other folks are willing to act as co-dependents in such schemes by caving into problem clients.

I tend to walk away from clients who tell me about shady dealings they are involved in as well – abusing a store’s free return policy, for example. Lying, cheating, and stealing are what they are. If the client has no compunction about ripping off Home Depot, chances are they’ll have no compunction about ripping you off as well.

10 The client does not pay.

This seems self-explanatory, however it bears comment. When I get a “problem client” I often find that after all the hardships listed above, I end up not getting paid. This does not happen often, as I do not take on problem clients if I can help it. The client will try to justify their non-payment using any one of the psychological techniques above (I am more important than you, you did not “rush” the job enough, the work was substandard, you are incompetent, I want a further discount).

As an Attorney, there is little you can do to collect from a non-paying client. Suing the client invites all sorts of trouble, and moreover will waste more of your valuable time – time that could be spend on GOOD clients. If a client does not pay, terminate representation immediately. There is no point in prolonging the agony and ending up being owed yet more money (and wasting yet more time) with a problem client.

Fortunately, lack of payment is the one 100% valid excuse to terminate your relationship with a client.


Sometimes it is hard to avoid the problem client, as they may tend to hide their tendencies until you take them on. As I noted, the best defense to the problem client is to not take them on in the first place. And many problem clients are highly skilled at their game. They hit you when your defenses are down, charm the pants off you, and then strike when you are most vulnerable.

The indicia above are a good start in identifying what will be a problem client. Keep them in mind when you talk with a prospective client, and see if one or more of these indicia appear. If you start to see three or four, run away!

If someone comes to you wanting a “rush” job done, at a discounted price, and acts like they are doing you the biggest favor in the world, walk away from it.

But how do you do this? You can’t just say “I don’t want to represent you because you are an asshole.” That could cause problems. Firms have had effective techniques for dealing with problem clients for years, and the following are a few examples:

1. Quote an Exorbitant Price

The easiest way to make a client go away is to quote an outrageous price for the work. Chances are, when confronted with such a bill, they will look elsewhere. You can justify such prices if the client, for example, demands “rush” job treatment.

Be careful, though, about using this technique. Some firms try to steer away solo inventors by quoting huge prices for Patents ($20,000 to $30,000, for example). What do you do when the client actually ponies up the dough?

You could find yourself in some real trouble when the client (now broke) gets angry with you for one reason or another. You can’t ditch him then, as you have taken all his money. And the angry client may end up filing an ethics complaint against you. The “big price quote” can backfire in a big way.

2. Ask for a Huge Retainer Up-Front

Like clockwork, I get inquiries from foreign law firms asking me to file Patent matters, usually on short notice, for clients in Russia, Korea, or somewhere in Europe. I usually tell them I need a retainer up-front, and I never hear from them again. You see, these foreign law firms had no intention of paying in the first place. Once you file the case, they can revoke your Power of Attorney and you are basically stuck.

Since the problem client usually has no intention of paying (or paying much), a retainer may scare them off. However, in some situations, this too, can backfire. If the client pays the retainer, then you pretty much have to take them on. Of course, the retainer is the last money you will ever see from them. And if they gave you the retainer on a Credit Card, don’t be surprised if they try to reverse the charge months later.

3. Tell Them You Have No Time

I tell new clients that it may take 2-4 months before I can get to their case. Again, the problem client will push for a “rush” job, so this usually steers them away. If you take on the “rush” job in spite of your backlog, shame on you! Remember that in addition to all those other new cases, you’ll have Amendments, Appeals, and other prosecution matters to take care of first. So don’t be bullied into taking something on early. You’ll regret it later.

I have tried to “be nice” by promising clients that I’ll try to work them in the schedule somewhere. This can backfire on you, as they take this as an absolute promise to file by such-and-such a date. If you can’t work them in, they get upset. Take the cases in order. If the client can’t wait, better they should find another firm.

4. Refuse Parachute and Other Types of Cases

If you make it your firm policy to refuse parachute cases, overflow work, and work outside your scope of expertise, then you will have no trouble turning away such problem clients. It’s firm policy after all. But it pays to have such policies in place ahead of time.

I know what you are going to say –“Well, aren’t we potentially turning away good work by having such draconian measures in place?” This may be true, but in the long run, for every “good” parachute case, there are 100 bad ones. Better to miss one good opportunity than to take on even one bad one as a result.


Once you have taken on a problem client, they can be tough to get rid of. A Petition to Withdraw as Attorney of Record can take months to process, and in the interim, an Office Action may arrive requiring action. The Patent Office has started getting tougher in granting Petitions to Withdraw, requiring clear evidence that such withdrawal is warranted.

You can’t just file a Petition alleging “the client is a jerk and wasting a lot of my time.” It simply won’t fly. One of the key reasons a Petition almost always will be granted is failure to pay. Problem clients often fall into this trap, failing to pay your invoices for months on end. Send them a warning letter, if you want to, then file the Petition to Withdraw.

One problem with terminating representation is that you can’t leave the client in a lurch. If a response to an Office Action is due in five days and the client owes you thousands of dollars (unpaid for months), well tough. You’ll have to file the response, and then you are stuck. The Examiner will issue a response to your Amendment within a month or so, so chances are, your Petition to Withdraw will not be granted in time.

The last thing you need is a case going abandoned where the relationship between the Attorney and Client has soured. Thus, withdrawing from a case is a tricky thing to do.

The Office takes anywhere from 12-48 months to issue a first Office Action in most cases. Thus, this “golden period” after filing can be your one and only opportunity to drop a problem client, if they have failed to pay you. If you have not been paid in a case after 90 days or so, and the client has been problematic, consider withdrawing at that time. Since there is no outstanding Office Action, and non-payment is a per se valid excuse to withdraw, your Petition will likely be granted in a timely manner.

The other technique for withdrawing is not to take on any new work for that client. If one Patent has issued, and the client was a major problem, turn down any additional work. If you file a Provisional Application, it in no way obligates you to file the Formal application later on. They are separate transactions and disconnected from one another.


There are lots of good clients out there. Most folks in this world are decent, hard-working people who want to treat others with kindness and respect. Occasionally, even the best of us can become a problem client. But on the other hand, there is a small minority of folks out there who are convinced that everyone is trying to pull a fast one on them – and that unless they get the upper hand first, all is lost. Such clients can be a nightmare to represent, and can cause a lot of grief and heartache for you.

Problem clients can literally wreck a Patent practice, or any business for that matter. If you take on problem clients, they can literally chase away your good clients by dominating all of your time. Before long, you have a roster of nothing but problem clients, and you spend your days chasing your tail and making less and less money. Learn to spot the “trouble signs” early and turn away this work before it is too late.

Good Luck!

(c) 2006, Robert Platt Bell

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UPDATE: September 2010:

I had a potential "Problem Client" contact me recently.  It was the same old gag.  A foreigner contacts me from an Eastern Bloc country, promising me lots of cases to file (oh, lucky me!) but wants a discount right off the bat.

I reply that I cannot give a discount and by the way, cash up front, please.

They respond back, taking me to task by not addressing them by their first name in the salutation on an e-mail (a cheap psychological trick, trying to get you to "apologize" for an imagined slight, thus shifting the balance of power).

Oh yea, and one more thing, they said bad things about their previous attorney.

Let's see, foreigners, eastern bloc, demanding discounts, running down the previous attorney, parachute work, getting all pissy because I'd didn't put a salutation in an e-mail? (a variation of picking at imagined flaws in the work).

WOW, this client has telegraphed well in advance that they will be nothing but trouble!

It seems counter-intuitive to turn away clients.  But non-paying and problem clients will wreck your practice tout suite if you let them.  Natasha may sound like a real opportunity, but I think I will have to take a pass on this one....

Another potential client contacted me, requesting I work on a case for another client he is representing as an engineer/contractor.  Right off the bat, my discomfort meter is pegged.  Who is the real client and why aren't they calling me directly?  Is this guy selling some invention services and hoping to wrap my bills with his?  Will he try to control communication with the ultimate client - and thus at best, introduce a "telephone operator" effect, or at worse, distort what I say intentionally?  What is his relationship with the "client"?

My gut is twisting in a number of ways on that one as well.  When I have him on the phone, he always tries to end the call when I ask him point blank questions.  He has tried to shift the balance of power from the Attorney to himself.  And in the meantime, I have not even talked to the eventual "client" who he considers to be a client of his as well.  When I ask specific questions, I get evasive answers.

It is not usual practice and messy.  I hate hammering square pegs into round holes.  I'm afraid that I will have to just say "No" to him as well.

I hate to turn away work, in this economy, but I had to swallow $7000 in bad debt (PCT fees, no less) this Spring, and I am still woozy from that round of rope-a-dope.  Better off to walk away from deals like that.  Being broke and having no work is better than being in debt and working your ass off.  At least if I have no work, I can play golf!

Just say NO to the problem client!