Clients You Will Meet: The Idiot
Posted on April 27th, 2012
There is a saying that the practice of law would be great if it weren’t for the clients. (OK, I may have made it up. But it’s true.) So to add to my practice tips and lawyers you will meet series, I’m bringing you the clients you will meet. Because if you thought lawyers were a mass of crazy, just wait ’til you start meeting clients. Whoo-boy!
I’m starting with the Idiot, because he (generic pronoun; there are a lot of female idiots, too) pops up a lot, often in the context of a personal injury case.
The Idiot is actually sad. We can laugh at him, sure, but the fact is, when there is a guy in your office with a 60 IQ, there is just not a whole lot that’s fun about the situation. (Unless the client spends the entire consult farting on a wooden chair. Loudly. That is fucking hilarious…but only until the windows won’t open.)
The Idiot does not understand. Not the representation agreement (or why you should even get paid at all), not the statute of limitations, nor why you don’t want to spend two hours on the phone with him every day talking about his case, because he really doesn’t understand that you are busy. The Idiot definitely doesn’t understand that when you tell, write, and email requests to him for documents, you really, actually, truly need those documents or else a judge might make his case go away.
The Idiot doesn’t understand why his whiplash case isn’t worth a million dollars.
In the Idiot’s mind, I suspect the lawyer only exists when the Idiot is talking to him (kind of like when you play peek-a-boo with a baby), and it’s one of the reasons why the Idiot needs so much reassurance.
But that stuff does not matter. The Idiot will suck your practice dry if you let him, so you need to get used to saying the following things:
- “That information is in the material I mailed you. I don’t have time to go over it with you right now, but you may set up a meeting with my secretary.”
- “Please write down every question you have for me and we will discuss them at our next meeting.”
- “I’m sorry, but I am not able to speak to you right now.”
- “What happened to you was terrible, but I do not believe you can bring a successful lawsuit. If you disagree with my conclusion, I suggest you consult with another lawyer.”
Instruct staff on how to handle the Idiot, and let them screen the calls. This is why you have staff, in part. Also, if your staff are telling you that the Idiot is harassing them, consider firing the Idiot for that reason alone. Your staff will love you for it.
The Idiot, if he is smart enough to know he is an idiot, may bring a family member or friend along for all of your meetings. This is when you get to explain about attorney-client privilege and how it will not apply to conversations with a third party present (generally). No, the Idiot won’t understand this, either.
If you are a solo practitioner or have some control over your professional fate, do yourself a favor and don’t take the Idiot’s case. It’s not worth it. How do you do this? Easy-peasy. Use the line above, or “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I have the resources to devote to your case right now. Let me give you a list of lawyers [you hate the most] who may be able to help you.”
If you can’t bring yourself to say “no,” then triple your average retainer for whatever type of case it is. Quadruple it.Whatever it takes. And every billing cycle, lay out in excruciating detail how the client wasted your time, because when a bar complaint comes, you’ll have it all ready to go.
If it’s a PI case, up the contingency percentage, because you will spend a disproportionate amount of time on client-control issues, on discovery issues, and on preparing the witness for deposition and/or trial. Also, if the case settles, your office will be inundated with multiple calls a day demanding to know where the check is, why you got paid so much of it, and threats of being reported to the bar.
Oh — and get all the fees/costs paid in advance. Idiots seem to understand that they get what they pay for, and it helps invest them in the process.
When I think back to the Idiots I have represented, I have been pretty lucky. I went to a CLE about working with impaired clients very early in my lawyer life, and it helped. If I got the feeling the client wasn’t smart enough to understand the process of litigation, I wouldn’t take the case. (When that is happening, it’s generally because someone behind the scenes is pushing the Idiot to take legal action and has convinced him he has a rock-solid case. Of course the Idiot doesn’t listen to anything that might run counter to that notion.) The few times I had trouble with clients, I’d put the onus on them: Here is a notebook. Write down everything you need to talk to me about and we will schedule a time to talk about these issues.
You should never, ever give your cell phone number out — I imagine you know that. BUT NEVER give your cell to an Idiot. They really will call you at 11 PM and wonder why you aren’t happy to hear from them.