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David Ingall, Past President of the UK200Group, shares his best practice for dealing with potentially tricky situations.

I have often wondered whether the training we receive to become members of our professional bodies prepares us for the reality of our working life. Over the years we develop our personal skills and inevitably we use our experience to reuse phrases or forms of words to meet potentially tricky situations with clients.

Since I will never get on the lecture circuit nor write august articles for professional magazines I thought I might take this opportunity to share a few that I have used over the years in potentially tricky situations.

1. For that client who is asking for more assistance when he/she still owes us money.
Perhaps you would like to bring along the relevant information and there is one other thing, you must bring and that is your autograph. On a cheque that is.
Hopefully this produces a smile and a realisation that you are asking for your money without being offensive (remember that clients have feelings as well).

2. For the client who is really in the Wonga and desperately needs your assistance but you know that there is not a hope in hell you’ll get your fee unless you get it in advance.
I find myself with a conflict between my duty to you as my client and my duty to my partners as one of your creditors. The inevitable puzzled look allows you to explain that you must be paid in advance, preferably in cash. Don’t forget to give the client a fee account after you have collected the cash.

3. At one firm I used to get a regular visit on a Friday afternoon from a bricklayer subbie but always after he had spent a long lunchtime in the pub. Tricky people to deal with, those who are not blazing drunk but shall we say mellow. Not covered in the ethics lectures. First rule never see him (and they are always male) in reception. A small interview room not far from the “gents” is good. Never lose your temper, or get into an argument. Deal with the client politely and try to get him off the premises as quickly as possible. Eventually he will want to see you so never make the appointment on a Friday afternoon. With luck (and I had it, I’m glad to say) he will recall those Friday afternoons and realise what an idiot he was. Hence the need to be unfailingly polite, he may recommend others but make the rule pointedly that you are not available on a Friday.

4. Always listen to what your clients say to you. Newly qualified I asked a male and female client whether they were married (please remember this was in the late 1960’s). I got the positive answer very promptly but the smile exchanged between them emboldened me to add, “To each other?” Important at the time in connection with NH contributions but it kept me out of trouble and taught me to always listen to what is actually said.

5. Clients that lie or at least you catch out in one are a major problem. Just occasionally that can involve your own personal life. Many years ago a friend who I was professionally helping decided to enter into an affair. Not for me to morally judge but he was also a neighbour and my wife and I were manipulated to help cover the messy truth from his wife, also a friend. Once the relationship was revealed I sacked him as a client (nicely if that is possible) and referred him to a sole practitioner in the town. Could I do the best for someone who had lied to me? I decided not.
With the advent of those dreaded Money Laundering Regulations perhaps dealing with lying or deceitful clients is more straightforward or then again perhaps not. The most difficult area is whether a deceit upon you is reportable. But remember we have to maintain the moral high ground (ethics and self preservation are two important issues) so dishonesty in whatever form by a client (or wo betide others) has to be very carefully thought about and recorded, if only in your personal log.

Yes, these are simple things but we do meet such problems in our professional life and perhaps we are not as well prepared as we should be.

Tags: UK200

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