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Does your lawyer trust you?

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Seems like a strange question
Everyone talks about whether they can trust their lawyers, but who ever hears lawyers talking about trusting their clients? One reason you do not hear much about it is that you do not spend enough of your free time hanging around lawyers (you may want to consider taking up polo and/or Alpine skiing). Another reason is that even if a lawyer does not trust a client, the attorney/client relationship prevents disclosure of the sordid details. Still another reason is that some lawyers see not being able to control a client as a sign of weakness. Probably the biggest reason why you do not hear much about it, however, is that either way, it is the client, and not the attorney that bears the brunt of the distrustful relationship.

You do not want to be distrusted

We are not talking about lying. If you blatantly lie to your attorney, your attorney finds out and decides to keep you as a client, I would have serious reservations about continuing to engage a lawyer who condones lying. What are the odds the lawyer will not lie to you? Instead, what we are talking about is clients acting in an unanticipated fashion: flying off the handle, writing angry letters to the opposing party, failing to pay, drafting their own contracts, filing their own patents, etc. On one hand these types of client do provide job security. On the other hand, they end up paying a lot more in legal fees for far worse results.

Keep your lawyer happy
Early on in my career I was far more concerned with the quantity of clients, rather than the quality. I mean, how can someone paying you $200/hr be bad? The problem is that the same type of clients that ignore lawyerly advice and take matters into their own hands are precisely the type of clients most apt to harangue their lawyer when bad things inevitably begin to happen. Thankfully, I am at a point in my career where I can pick and choose my clients. Selecting only clients I trust and letting the other ones go has been the one thing that has had the greatest impact upon my continued enjoyment of the practice of law. I still enjoy every day, and the fact that I actually like all of my clients motivates me to constantly improve the service I provide them.

Stereotyping
Thankfully, problem clients are fairly easy to spot. Lawyers recognizing any of these signs during an initial meeting, should think long and hard whether these are the problems they want for the next several years. Clients recognizing aspects of themselves need to do some long hard navel-gazing.

Signs you may be a problem client
While I am no expert on the matter, there are several types of potential new clients that give me the heebie geebies:

1) The Complainer. Will not stop complaining about his or her last two lawyers. Fearful of becoming number three on the list, I ask them more about the last two lawyers. If the problems seem to be client-driven, I typically assist them with finding an attorney more suited to their temperament.

2) The DIY guy. They want to do all of the work and just have me look over their shoulder. While there is some legal work a client can do as well as an attorney, most things they cannot. The problem is that the DIY guy does not realize his folly until several months, or even years, later. Clients that demand to draft things like their own patent and just have me “look it over” I typically shuffle toward the door.

3) Ms. Sun and the Moon. She wants five patents, three lawsuits and two new businesses incorporated. One thing though, she is going to have a little trouble raising the $1,000 retainer. Strangely the slow pay/no pay client is often the one requesting the most legal work. Ms. Sun and the Moon continues to fall in arrears until the point when she tries to argue a bad outcome merits a hefty discount on her outstanding balance.

4) The Amnesiac. You tell them one thing and they do another. Luckily you can usually spot these clients in the initial interview. They ask advice, you give it to them. Then, five minute later, they say something that indicates that they intend to completely ignore your your advice.

5) The Bully. Every attorney/client relationship is different, or at least it should be. The problem arises when the bully client demands you start pushing the envelope as to what is ethical or legal. This relationship cannot help but end badly. This is one relationship that can actually end quite badly for the attorney as well as the Bully.

While many attorneys proffer advice on how to fire these types of untrustworthy clients, it is far preferable not to be hired in the first place. For you clients out there recognizing yourselves in any of these stereotypes, if your legal woes never seem to end, it may be time to change your untrustworthy ways. Having an attorney whom you trust AND who trust you, is the most important aspect of any attorney client relationship.

Brett Trout

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