We have all been there (or if you haven’t yet, it’s only a matter of time!):
A client who will not listen to anything you are saying.
A client who thinks they know more about the law than you do.
A client who believes only the opposite of your recommendations.
It is exhausting and frustrating. So what do you do about it?
Does your answer depend on whether the client is paying their invoices? Does the answer change depending on how busy you are? In my experience, yes. How one responds to those questions is probably greatly affected by whether a client like the one I just described is paying and how busy you are. But I will also add, it is important to consider how it affects your mental health and your ability to provide the best legal services possible.
Dealing with a client who consistently demands your attention is one thing. If that same client also argues with you more than opposing counsel argue, is the money really worth it?
Remember, your role is to analyze a given situation and offer a solution to the problem presented, or a means of achieving the goal the client has presented. Sometimes, there are several possible solutions, all of which should be offered to the client. Don’t forget “do nothing” is always a possible solution, too. Your role, then, is to advise on the consequences of the different courses of action. It is the client’s job —and not the lawyer’s — to decide which course of action to follow. After all, it is the client’s life, or business, or litigation or estate that’s at sake. Always remind them that you cannot promise or guarantee an outcome in court.
If they expect you to be a magician and obtain an outcome that is nearly impossible, remind them that you can only do some much with the facts that are presented in their specific case and let them know that, although you are recommending a solution, it is coming from your knowledge of the law and experience in court and at the end of the day the client is the decision-maker.
With my practice based in Annapolis, I tend to tell my clients from the initial consultation and repeatedly throughout my representation to think of me as the navigator and themselves as the captain. I am going to provide them with different possible routes to take and give them my recommendation of which route they should take, but at the end of the day the ultimate decision is theirs and if they want to go that route I will do my best to help them achieve their goals. (Managing client expectations should really be a course in law school!)
Additionally, as a solo practitioner, it is always on my mind that a client could file a grievance against me at any time. Be mindful and document well.
Overall, use your discretion, and don’t be afraid to say goodbye to difficult clients and focus on the clients who actually appreciate your services. In the long run your wallet should thank you, and your mental health certainly will.