If you have a bad feeling about a client, it may be better to listen to your gut and pass on the job. That’s because working with problematic clients puts you at higher risk of a claim. Professional liability claims involve lawsuits that often put your business and personal assets at risk and can cause harm to your career.
To manage the risk you face as an architect, engineer or other design professional, it’s important to know what red flags to look out for and what steps you can take to protect yourself.
About Problematic Architecture Clients
Problematic clients come in all varieties, but in short, these clients are difficult to work with and hard to please. These clients cause preventable problems that put you, the project and other stakeholders at risk professionally and financially.
Some problem clients are simply unsavory, pressuring you to take unethical or illegal professional actions. Others have deep pockets but a short temper. Other clients can also pose a risk, coming to you with unrealistic expectations of what’s possible and for how much.
How to Screen Architecture Clients
Screening your architecture clients is important from a risk management perspective and something most architects can easily work into their due diligence process. Usually, problematic clients aren’t hard to spot — if you take the time to properly vet them. The first step is to learn as much about a potential new client as possible. Depending on who that client is, your approach may vary. But a lot of the information you need can be gleaned from a simple internet search.
For a business entity, start with researching its history. Note how long it’s been in business and what kind of reputation it has in its industry. Beyond the company’s own website, business directories and recent news articles, you can also consult government resources. Records at your state’s Secretary of State office will have more info about the status of the business and its leadership. Local court records can tell you if the business has faced lawsuits or sued others.
For clients within the design profession itself, architecture colleagues can be a good source of info. Look for someone in your professional network who has first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to work with that client on a day-to-day basis. Note how your contact describes this client’s organization skills, communication and general design expectations. A high turnover of designers, history of litigation or reputation of being difficult to work with are signs it might be best to pass on a project.
For private property owners, similar methods can apply, but realize you won’t get the same kind of paper trail. Small projects involving an owner’s personal residence are best evaluated in person. Ask open-ended questions and listen closely to the answers. Find out about their experience with construction projects and expectations for the current project. Problems can arise when expectations of costs, timelines and control over the work seem unreasonable.
How to Manage Your Client Risk
There is always some risk involved when you sign a contract with an architecture client, since the red flags aren’t always obvious. Even when you and your client get along well, a lawsuit can still happen. Fortunately, there are some proactive steps you can take to minimize the risk of litigation with your clients.
First, realize you may not have much control over a client, but you can control how you hold up your end of the bargain. Practice good communication, set realistic expectations upfront, negotiate the contract specifics, document your professional advice, let clients own important decisions and take other safeguards to protect your career.
Also, make sure you have adequate insurance protection to protect against claims. Professional Liability Insurance from Lockton Affinity Architect + Engineer is designed specifically for the risks architects, engineers and other design professionals face. Plus, policyholders benefit from exclusive risk management resources, including complimentary contract reviews from industry leader Marshall Dennehy for all your contracts.