“Come get your file.”: 4 Reasons to Fire A Client

So, first things first, I know I didn’t exactly keep up with the two posts this week, one on Wednesday and one on Thursday. I had a very painful, very intimate health issue that I can tell you all about if you want to hear about it, but I’m pretty sure nobody wants the details on that one. Let’s just say that my house and office were filled with curse words until sweet relief came in the middle of the night last night. It was like a biblical plague.

Every lawyer has clients that they just can’t fucking stand. If you’ve read any of my past blog posts, which by now you damn well should have, you know that I’m of the general opinion that every client should be dropped and the practice of law should simply consist of people handing me money to review high-minded concepts. Still, if you’re a real lawyer (i.e not one of those carefully preened, always correct, latte-sipping in-house monkeys that only has to deal with “Gary from Sales” and has fucking interns to make a Starbucks run for them) eventually you’ll have to get over your longstanding disdain for people and take on clients. In theory, this should be a mutually beneficial relationship, as clients will come to you with problems, you will advise them and/or represent them in regards to their problems, and you then get paid for resolving those problems.

Isn’t that just the fucking fairy tale?  Still, we all fucking know that’s not how this shit actually works, because at one point or another every lawyer has received a phone call or an email from a client that made them sit the fuck up and say “I’m firing this asshole.” It’s damn near a rite of passage for attorneys, firing their asshole clients. But it’s one they give you absolutely no training on in law school, so how the fuck is a new attorney expected to know when is the moment to tell a client “Fuck you, come get your file.” Is it when they start to be annoying? When you have too much goddamn work to do? When, Lord? When is it appropriate to unilaterally terminate your relationship with the chucklefuck?

Have no fear, shitstains, Boozy’s here.

When You Can’t Reach Them.

Amazing thing about clients: right up until they get a lawyer they can’t think of anything more important than the goddamn case. Sometimes, though, after they get a lawyer and work with them for a little bit, the client will drop off the face of the fucking earth, and it’s never at an opportune time. It’s always when an opposing party is waiting to hear back from you, when there’s a court hearing pending, or (as we’ll talk about in a second) after you’ve sent an invoice out to them. This client goes to the same place Malaysia Air flights go to, apparently. They pull a Houdini, and as you send notice after notice to them regarding the case you begin to wonder if they ever even existed at all.

Hey, you know that rule of professional conduct which requires an attorney to have reasonable communication with their clients? Did you know that shit goes both ways? A client has to have reasonable and regular communication with you as well, considering, you know, that communication is something of a requirement for you to represent their goddamn interests in the lawsuit they hired you to handle. You’ve sent 20 fuckin’ emails, ten phone calls, four letters, and your client is still off in the wilds somewhere? Withdraw from the goddamn case and send them their file back.

Before you do that, though, send them a drop dead letter. Don’t know what a drop dead letter is? Shit man, how are you a lawyer? It’s a letter that lays out all the attempts you’ve made to contact them regarding the case and then says “If I don’t hear from you by X, I’ll be withdrawing from your case.”

When They Fight About Paying.

This is one near and dear to my heart, because as we all know by now I get fucking angry when people don’t pay me. This guy is going to come into your office willing to pay anything to get “justice” and “have their day in court,” and they will…for a little bit. Then you’ll notice that your invoices are going longer and longer without getting paid in full until, one day, he sends an email that reads “I want to review this first.” Don’t be fooled by anything else in that email, this asshole is about to start arguing about the bill with you and refusing to pay for shit. You know what you should do in that situation?

Drop his ass like a bad habit.

Hell, I’ll even go further than that. If a client that just hired you immediately starts bitching about their bills upon getting the first fucking invoice, you should strongly consider dropping representation immediately. That’s a sign the sonuvabitch is going to fight you on every fucking invoice, and that’s just not a headache you really want to have. Especially since it’s unethical to bill a client for time spent resolving a billing dispute with them, and these fucking disputes will happen every fucking time you send them an invoice. These clients can turn into fucking time sinks that you ain’t getting back, and it’ll get worse as you swallow entire bottles of Pepto to get rid of the fuckin’ ulcers they’ll give you.

Of course, a word of warning, this one may be easier said than done. Once you’ve entered an appearance in a case, you have no firm right to withdraw just because you aren’t getting paid. That’s right, the court can make you stay in the fucking case even if your client has stopped paying you, so if you’ve entered your appearance you need to make sure you make attempts to resolve the matter before trying to withdraw. Most judges are reasonable, and as long as they’ve seen that you’ve tried to work with the client they’ll let you out of the matter.  Some?  Some motherfuckers think it’s your fault for not getting a single fee in advance.

They Treat You Like a Servant.

There’s this whole thing going on these days where people like to treat intellectuals or learned professionals like they’re retail clerks. I don’t like it, and I’ve been known to tell clients that they can recognize they hired me because I’m the goddamn professional or they can get the fuck out of my office. Famously, I had a corporate client that kept calling me by my last name (Let’s go with “Barrister”). “We’ll send this to Barrister.” “Barrister, this came in the mail.” “I’ve received your latest invoice, Barrister, and…”

This went on for a month before I emailed him with a message:  “My name is Mr. Barrister. I’m your lawyer, not your employee. I’d appreciate you prefacing my name with ‘Mr’ or ‘Attorney’ from now on.” It seemed petty, but there were huge problems arising in the businesses matters because of his laissez-faire approach to my actual position, my role, and his treatment of our offices as an extension of those under his command. His response? “I pay the bill, so I’ll call you what I want.”

Okay then.

I sent a letter out the next day, cc’d to the owner, explaining that while I appreciated their business in the past, certain situations had made continuing the attorney-client relationship untenable for me. I didn’t go into detail, but stated that I would continue representation on current matters until they told me they had other counsel then hand over the files, or if they preferred I’d hand over the files immediately. The owner called to ask what had happened. I told him, and explained that I couldn’t keep representing the company if the company’s representative did not fully appreciate our role and relationship.

Want the long story short? That guy is gone. I still represent the company.

They Treat Staff Like Shit.

I’m a lawyer, though, and I have a pretty thick skin. My clients can call me whatever they want (except dishonest, that’s the one thing that gets my ass-hairs quivering in rage). Water off a duck’s back. My staff, though?

Oh, you don’t mistreat my staff.

Clients will often fail to realize that our secretaries and paralegals are just as important to the office in their own way as the lawyers. They view them as administrative staff, and therefore not deserving of consideration or respect. They’ll be dismissive, angry, and confrontational with staff. For instance, there’s the guy who called in while I was in court and, upon being told I wasn’t available, cursed out the staff.

He got a letter with his file that read, “Find enclosed your file. This office will no longer represent you in this or any other matter due to your treatment of our staff. We expect our clients to treat our entire office with respect.”

I don’t need, and you don’t need, the money of anyone who treats your staff like shit. Staff is important to the office, and clients need a reality check on that. The client will come and go, the staff will stick around. Don’t let people fuck with your staff.

The Takeaway?

Look, there are a lot of other reasons you should fire a client. You could fire a client because they aren’t listening to legal advice, because they violate the “don’t talk about the case” rule, or because they wear a blue shirt and you just don’t fucking like blue shirts. These are just four of the most common ones that I’ve had arise in the past.  There are definitely more, and at some point in the future I’ll do another post talking about those, too.  For now, though, it’s Friday and I need to catch up on other shit that being laid low prevented me from doing over the past couple days.

-BB