Clients You Will Meet: The Engineer
Posted on August 23rd, 2012
Another one for the Practice Tips series.
Given all the wingnut clients you’ll see as a lawyer, when an engineer wants to hire you, it’s like lawyer nirvana.
An organized, intelligent client that you don’t already have to explain the law to? (Because he’s already looked it up.)
A client you don’t have to sell your services to? (Because he’s already researched you thoroughly.)
He brings every relevant file to your office the first meeting. If you give him a list of things he must do, he’ll do them.
It sounds like heaven, right?
But it isn’t.
The engineer will trick you into thinking that he understands the law and the nuances of the case, because he’s done the research and can cite the cases. He usually has a decent case, because he wouldn’t have gone out of his comfort zone to get involved in the legal system otherwise.
The problem? The engineer thinks like an engineer, not like a lawyer.
The engineer thinks justice is a real thing, an equation to be solved, as if there’s some Cardozo constant that allows lawyers to calculate the result and value of any case.
What the engineer doesn’t, and can’t, factor into the case is the crazy part of law practice, like the personality of the judges (yes, engineer, it does matter which judge we’re assigned to), the vagaries of the calendaring system, the gamesmanship in depositions.
(Pro tip: spend a lot of time explaining that the objections in depositions are largely for show — and before anyone argues with me about their utility, yes, sometimes they are useful. But how many of you won or lost a case on an objection to the form of the question in a deposition? Really, now.)
He hates that the statute says one thing, but the judge may decide another. That even though the judge is wrong on a procedural point, we don’t just stop everything and appeal RIGHT NOW. That there are little injustices and big injustices, and if we want to play on this playground, we have to let the little ones slide.
If you’re lucky or smart, you found a way to explain that justice is an artificial construct.
The engineer quickly becomes a bigger pain in the ass than all of your other clients, combined. They want meetings. With whiteboards. With lists.
He starts to call all the damned time. He emails with bullet points, lists, and follow up deadlines.
He really don’t understand why you want to settle a $10,000 case instead of litigating it up to the Supreme Court. Because he’s right, the other guy is wrong, and that’s what the court system is for, right?!
He may fire you. You may fire him. If it’s a low value case, that’s not a bad thing. He’ll never be happy with the result you obtain, because in his exhaustive research, he found that most cases of his type settle for a much larger amount of money (never mind they’re in the wrong county or the wrong state).
In any case? Document and CYA. Make sure it’s explicitly clear in your agreement that even on a contingency case if you part ways and even if you lose, you’re entitled to recoup your costs.
And enjoy the sense of relief when the case is over.