Clients You Will Meet: The Addict
Posted on May 8th, 2012
This is part of my Practice Tips series.
I never found anything humorous about dealing with an addict, so this is a somber post.
With the disclaimer that everything I know about addiction comes from my practice, some psychology courses in undergrad, a few CLEs, and the fact I watched the first two seasons of Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Rehab, here’s my post on how to handle your addicted client.
First, addicts lie. Oh, do they lie. You’d better check their stories six ways from Sunday if you take their case, because even though they may be completely believable and oh, so earnest: they lie.
Second, they can be very charming — as they lie to you. Trust nothing. Use a buddy system if you think you might get sucked into their BS. Have your most hardened investigator sit in on your interviews — and then send them out to check all the facts.
Some firms won’t take addicts who aren’t in recovery as clients, and have it as part of the client agreement. I think that’s brilliant. Do that. I didn’t have the option.
Third, it’s hard to keep an addict together throughout the long process of civil litigation. Now, the prospect of a big money award IS motivating, but realize you’re dealing with someone with almost no impulse control (if any). It’s very tempting for them to slide back into their old habits.
So in dealing with an addict, your main goal is to keep the client from self-destructing as the case progresses. I don’t know how you do this other than what I tried: get the family (who is usually estranged because they’ve been victimized by the addict) involved as much as possible; make sure you keep in contact with them (put it on the calendar to contact them at least weekly); and keep them working at a job where they have to be accountable (and make money for living expenses).
But for all that, you can easily lose contact with an addicted client as bills don’t get paid, cell phones get turned off, they move (or are evicted) and don’t tell you where they’ve gone, and suddenly you’re getting all your mail bounced back and you have no idea where your client is while court dates are looming. (Check jail rosters, because an addict has probably been in and out of jail/prison for drug-related offenses.)
Those are fun requests to write: “Plaintiff respectfully asks this court to reschedule the upcoming hearing because of Plaintiff’s unforeseen scheduling challenges.” Or something. And opposing counsel can smell the blood in the water, too.
Here’s a bonus tip: don’t leave any checkbooks or valuables in the room with the client. I’d heard stories of attorneys who were ripped off, so I never left my handbag unattended. I always felt kind of guilty — what with having a fiduciary duty to them and all — but at least I never had to change my bank cards.