Practice tip: Doing your best for your clients when they’re unlikeable
Posted on December 30th, 2010
There is a kind of lawyer you will meet in practice, who is a man in his 60s or 70s, who is gruff, a bit sexist and old school, but who is (usually) benign. Example: he might stare at your chest, but he would never pinch your ass. If you’re a woman in a male profession (somehow I keep picking these), you learn not to mind these guys; they’re pretty harmless. (It’s the young ones who are threatened by you who are actually dangerous.)
But in any case, very early in my lawyer life, one of these lawyers said to me, “I don’t understand why it is that women lawyers always talk about whether they like their clients. You don’t hear men talking about whether they like their clients or not.” And he had a theory that, in order to do their best work, women lawyers had to like their clients, and men didn’t.
I can’t remember what I said. In the early days, I had a hard time representing people I didn’t like. I could do it, but it was more difficult. In the early days of law practice, it’s so easy to take your client’s case too much to heart or to read a response to a motion too personally. (I got over this one by always reading a letter or response for grammar errors first, then for content.)
Attorney Work Product’s post yesterday reminded me of one of my most difficult clients. And how clients…clients can be so disappointing. They lie to you. They make stuff up. They forget to tell you key facts so you end up discovering these key facts in court, when opposing counsel uses them. The worst? They don’t take your advice. It is so maddening to work your ass off for people who don’t take your meticulously researched and oh-so-thoughtfully worded advice. And then, after they have not taken your advice, they will call you at all hours to tell you and to tearfully ask, “What do I do?”
So what do you do?
You set up healthy boundaries. I think the old lawyer was partially right, in that men seem to be better at certain types of work/life boundaries than women are. You remember that your client is a person (or a legal fiction of a person) that operates on his/its own. You can only advise. You can’t live your client’s real (or legally fictitious) life for him/it. You document your disappointment in an oh-so-thoughtfully worded CYA letter. And you go home and have a beer, because at the end of the day, if they don’t want to be saved, you can’t save your clients from themselves.
Bonus practice tip: Don’t ever give a client your cell phone number. For real.