Contrary to popular belief, most attorneys feel pain when they lose a case. There are several ways you can lose a case – a loss at trial, a bad settlement or a client leaving you. Good attorneys invest in their client’s case not in a personal way but in a professional way, investing their skills, education, and experience in the case to get a good result for the client. Through the course of working on a case, you get to know the client and understand their pain. You have strategized how to make the case go your client’s way. You believe that your arguments will win. Then, out of nowhere, the rug is pulled from underneath of you and the case is gone. This case that you have spent so much time and energy on. There is an actual feeling of loss.
Trial is, by far, the hardest loss, in my opinion. By the time you get to trial, at least in my world, you literally have lived with the case for more than a year. You know every detail of the case and the law. You have spent hours upon hours agonizing over how to present the case to the trier of fact. Then during trial, you eat, sleep, and breathe the case. You now have a personal relationship with the client because you have spent so many hours together.
Typically, a decision is not rendered at the end of trial. There is post-trial briefing and then the long wait for the decision. No one knows when it will come. During the wait, billable or non-billable, you agonize over the trial, the evidence, and every possible outcome. Then one unexpected day, a day you probably thought would be a productive day, the decision comes in. I always immediately go to the last page of the opinion to see the outcome. Defeat. It hurts, bad. Then you have to read the opinion to find out why. The hurt continues and the only way you feel better is trying to figure out if there is a solution.
Settlements are usually a good thing. Both sides value the case and negotiate to a midpoint. Both parties are disappointed, but also happy it is over. But a bad settlement… it hurts. I had a client with a great defense and the plaintiff’s case was very weak. I was confident that we would win at trial. Unfortunately, we lost a motion to dismiss, which I strongly believed should have been granted. Facing lots of attorneys’ fees and the ever-dreaded discovery process, the client asked if we could mediate because he could not fund full litigation. The opposing party took full advantage of this situation.
My client ended up paying way more than the plaintiff’s claim was worth just to stop paying attorneys’ fees. This physically pained me. That plaintiff was not a nice guy and took great advantage of my client both during their business relationship and at settlement. I felt so terrible for the client and I really wanted to crush the opposing party at trial for the client. What a sight it would have been. David would have defeated Goliath.
Losing a client is a different kind of pain. There are a million reasons why clients choose to leave, but, nonetheless, we take it personally. Was it something I did? Was it something I didn’t do? Did I offend them? Did they find someone better? Did they not like the work product or case strategy? Am I too expensive? Clients don’t always tell you why they are leaving or they sugarcoat the real reason. It leaves a void. This case that you have invested your professional self in is now gone. You cannot implement your great strategy. You won’t be able to help get the client resolution. You might not even find out the outcome of the case. It’s like starting a book and stopping half way though. You will always wonder what happened and what if.
Clients of the world, take note: Your lawyer does care and they are invested in your case. We understand that you are suffering and we can appreciate how difficult it is. We are taking the actions we think are the best for your case under your particular set of circumstances. Not to say that you don’t need to check in on us, but we are here for you! At the end of the day, we all got into this line of work to help others.