Clients You Will Meet: The Faux Victim
Posted on April 30th, 2012
This is part of my Practice Tips series.
In my past professional life, I represented victims of brutal assaults. This post is not about my clients. This post is about people who are always victims, at least in their own minds, and who lack any sort of perspective when it comes to the vagaries of ordinary life. (I’ll call them Faux Victims.)
They’re people who think that because they slipped at a big box store they should get a half million dollar payout. (Um, sorry about the bruise on your ass, but…no, no you don’t get a payday for that.)
Everything that happens to the Faux Victim — and it always happens to her, because she takes no responsibility for the path of her life — is someone’s fault. And that someone should have to pay. You, as their lawyer, are on the front line of this war against injustice.
It’s…it’s an exhausting place to be. If you take one of these clients on, you’ll not only have to worry about the actionable case, but she’ll call you to tell you about all the other injustices in her lives, too.
I had one client — also an Idiot — who was a drug addict and who was shocked — SHOCKED, I TELL YOU — that her baby had to spend time in the hospital detoxing after delivery. And that the nurses were not nice, no, actually RUDE to her about it. As if it were her fault! (Of course, she would never believe that delivering a drug-addicted baby was her fault. She said — and truly believed — it was the fault of doctors for not telling her this would happen.)
The Faux Victim makes for a bad client, but unlike the Idiot or the Buddy, you’ll find yourself taking her case because sometimes she does have a legitimate case (or has convinced your boss that she does) — and the personality to immediately jump to the notion that litigation is the way to punish the bad actors and/or solve their problems.
(You’ll notice you have a disproportionate number of personality disordered individuals as clients. This is because most grown-ups know how to settle most problems amicably, to put things in perspective, and to go on with their lives. Those people, those lovely, nice, normal people, go to lawyers only when they need legal advice or assistance — not for every single one of life’s annoyances. And they also have a tendency to value their attorney’s time and expertise. Having them as clients — well, that is a singular joy!)
So how do you handle the Faux Victim?
- Once you’ve done your intake, research the hell out of the client (especially if it’s a civil case). You will be amazed at how many other people she’s threatened with litigation, actually sued (and generally lost), and — oh, yes — her criminal record. Trust me, you want to know this before you file and you most certainly want to know it before you engage in discovery. Every minute you spend doing this will save you thousands of dollars later. Trust me. It’s a great time to fire the client if she needs firing.
- Limit your interaction with the client. Communicate by mail. (Do not communicate by email with this client, because she will see it as an invitation to send you ranting, crazy twenty page email messages multiple times a day.) The mail is so you have a paper record for — yes — a bar complaint. Remember, if this case goes south because the client has either lied about the facts or because she has no jury appeal, whom do you think she’ll blame?
- Assign someone on support staff to manage the client: this means reminding her about appointments and taking her calls about the fact her landlord is threatening her with eviction (but sorry, we can’t help you with that) and why hasn’t her case settled yet and why is it taking so long? It’s been two whole weeks since we filed! Yes, staff’s time is valuable, too, and no, it’s not fair to them. But this is about saving your sanity.
- Promise nothing. NOTHING. Put that promise of nothing in the client agreement in big, fat, bold letters. Put it in a letter to the client right off. Because while you should never give a number to a possible case, if you say something like, “in this jurisdiction, cases like this one have resulted in jury verdicts of eleventy-bazillion dollars and they have resulted in nothing, depending on the jury and the defendant,” the Faux Victim will hear: “Your case is worth eleventy-bazillion dollars and I absolutely guarantee we will get that or more.”
- You should never talk numbers with a potential client, ever, anyway. Ever, ever, ever.
- Do not take on anything more than the case before you. If she calls and tries to embroil you in her ongoing battle with a neighbor, recommend a real estate attorney. If she gets popped for a DUI, recommend a criminal attorney. Just focus on the case in front of you.
- Set boundaries. VERY CLEAR BOUNDARIES. This means setting up specific meeting times, sticking to them, and not letting the client dictate the case to you. Yes, she gets to make critical decisions like to settle or not, but remember that you are the professional. I am not a big one for saying things like, “I am the lawyer and this is what I think is best –” (because I try to have a relationship with clients where that isn’t necessary), but sometimes you have to.
- Do not let the Faux Victim treat you badly. If she tries to verbally abuse you, hang up the phone or kick her out of your office.
- Also, don’t be afraid to say, “This is not acceptable behavior. If you do it again, I will fire you as a client.” (Of course, it helps if you have a boss that will back you up. My boss had the absolute worst sense of who made a good client, would sign anybody up — with a very special knack for picking utter losers — and then expect me to do all the rest.)
- So if your boss does not back you up? Find a way to ensure that the boss has to take all of the Faux Victim’s phone calls. If your boss is the kind of person that doesn’t back up staff, and the staff hate the Faux Victim, too, you’ll find it doesn’t take much persuading to get staff to route all those phone calls to the boss.