What factors help determine whether a case should be accepted?

Deciding whether to accept a legal case is one of the most important decisions a lawyer can make. There are several key factors that lawyers consider when evaluating potential cases:

Strength of the Case

The strength of the legal claim is arguably the most critical factor. Before accepting a case, lawyers thoroughly analyze the relevant facts and legal issues to determine the likelihood of success. Strong cases have clear evidence to support the claims and establish liability or guilt. Weak cases lack solid proof or have legal flaws that make them hard to win. Lawyers are more inclined to accept cases they believe have merit and can be proven.

Potential Damages

If successful, the case must be likely to recover meaningful compensation for the client. Lawyers estimate the potential dollar value of damages that could be awarded based on the harm suffered. High-value cases with the potential for large verdicts or settlements are more enticing than low-stakes cases unlikely to result in much recovery. The projected damages impact whether the time and resources needed for the case are justified.

Liability and Collectability

Lawyers also consider whether the opposing party has “deep pockets” and can satisfy a judgment. Even with a strong case and sizeable damages, collecting compensation may be difficult or impossible if the defendant lacks sufficient assets or insurance coverage. Lawyers avoid cases when the liable party is insolvent or judgement-proof.

Costs and Resources

Pursuing a case requires substantial upfront expenditures and attorney time. Lawyers estimate projected costs for investigation, discovery, motion practice, experts, trial, and appeals. Costs must be weighed against potential recovery. Lawyers are more likely to accept cases when the client can pay fees/costs or there is the potential for a large contingency fee. High-cost, complex cases may be declined if the firm lacks sufficient resources.

Risks and Uncertainties

There are always uncertainties involved in litigation. Even strong cases can take unpredictable turns depending on the evidence presented, how key witness testify, judges’ discretion on legal issues, and other variables. Lawyers consider the risks of losing at trial or having a judgment overturned on appeal. Cases with considerable downside risks are approached more cautiously.

Client Relationship

The nature of the client relationship also impacts case selection. Lawyers are understandably more inclined to accept cases from existing clients whom they know and trust. Cases from new clients undergo greater scrutiny. If a client seems unreliable, deceptive, uncooperative or unable to pay legal bills, their case may be refused.

Analyzing Case Merits

Once a potential case comes in, lawyers analyze and assess the facts to determine if it meets the criteria for acceptance. Several key questions guide this initial case evaluation:

What legal claims are available based on the facts?

The lawyer analyzes whether the facts give rise to valid legal claims, and the evidence needed to prove each element of those claims. The strength of evidence is evaluated to identify potential weaknesses in the case.

Who are the potential defendants?

The lawyer identifies which individuals, companies or entities can be held liable based on their role in the incident and conduct. Naming improper defendants weakens the case.

What are the recoverable damages?

The lawyer adds up potential economic damages (medical costs, lost income) and non-economic damages (pain/suffering) to estimate the amount that could be recovered if the case succeeds.

Is there sufficient evidence to prove the claims?

The lawyer determines whether witnesses, documents, records and other evidence are available to establish liability. Missing or contradictory evidence makes the case harder to prove.

Are there viable defenses or weaknesses?

Reviewing plausible defenses, counterarguments and mitigating factors reveals potential weaknesses. For example, the statute of limitations expiring or plaintiff contributory negligence.

What legal costs are projected?

The lawyer budgets for anticipated expenses of taking the case through the full litigation process, including attorney time. Costs are weighed against potential damages.

What is likelihood of recovery?

If the defendant lacks sufficient assets, insurance or income, collecting on a judgment may be difficult even if the case itself is strong. This affects the viability.

Deciding Whether to Accept the Case

After thoroughly evaluating the case merits, potential costs, and risks, the lawyer makes a final determination on whether to accept or decline the representation.

Accepting the Case

If analysis indicates the case meets acceptance criteria, the attorney enters into a representation agreement with the client. A strong retainer and engaged client helps ensure the relationship gets off to a good start. With client approval, the lawyer then proceeds to implement the litigation strategy.

Declining the Case

The lawyer sends a non-engagement letter to the prospective client explaining why representation cannot be provided in this matter. Common reasons for refusal include a weak legal claim, lack of supporting evidence, prohibitively high litigation costs, or a problematic client relationship. Declining cases also helps prevent attorneys from overextending themselves.


The decision to accept or reject a case is a significant one for any lawyer. It requires carefully weighing factors such as the legal merits, projected costs and damages, risks, and client relationship to avoid taking on losing matters. While declining cases can be difficult, it is often necessary to ensure resources are spent on viable matters with the greatest chance of favorable outcomes for the client. Thoroughly evaluating each case before acceptance helps set the representation up for success.

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