Problem Client Identification: 3 More Species of Problem Client

We’ve established several times on this blog that I’m not the biggest fan of clients. Like most professionals who have to, in some way, deal with the general public, lawyers are genuinely convinced that the practice of law would be a wonderful thing if, you know, it wasn’t for the hordes that beat down our doors. But, because only law professors and federal judges get to be esoteric about the practice of law, here’s the sad truth of the legal profession: we all have to deal with people that, under any other set of circumstances, we wouldn’t want to touch with someone else’s twenty foot pole.

Now, I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like helping people out. But Jesus fucking Christ can clients become irritating. They get to a point where they’re like yapping little dogs at times, you know, the sort that you shove in a purse and zipped closed, not caring that they’re likely shitting all over your new iPhone just so long as they’re not barking at you for once. Add into this the fact that clients often think they know exactly how you should be, you know, practicing goddamn law, what with their mastery of Google and the degree they have in an entirely unrelated field, and you end up in the worst fucking nightmare that a lawyer can have.  The phone never stops ringing, the emails never stop coming in, and the small matter that you took on for a flat fee because it was relatively simple and should have been quick and easy is now a thing that makes you sit bolt upright in bed at night considering how many other career paths you could have fucking followed if only you’d dragged your head out of your ass long enough to heed the warnings of the broken fucking shells of senior attorneys.

But, hey, that’s the life we fucking live, right?  In the past I talked about how to identify problem clients and gave you two types: The Junior Lawyer and the Speed Demon, but I realize that the multitude of problem clients extend far fucking beyond just those two particular types of dickweeds, so today let’s take a look at 3 more clients that make lawyers run for the goddamn hills, desperately in search of the Fountain of Scotch that restores our faith in humanity.

The Phone Stalker

This client fucking sucks, and they suck hard. This is the client version of the person that sends a text message and then stares intently at their phone for the next two hours, waiting to see those three little dots that mean the other person is responding, and if those dots don’t pop up oh my fucking God will they send you eighteen more texts. This client will seem normal on the first meeting, but shortly after that you’ll be expected to provide three to four fucking updates per goddamn day on their case. If your office opens at 8:30 a.m., then the phone will fucking ring at 8:30 a.m. If the office closes at 6:00 p.m., then the phone will ring at 5:59:59 p.m. If they find out you take lunch at noon, expect a call at 11:59 a.m. and another goddamn call at 1:00 p.m., because they honestly think you may have spent lunch eating fried rice and working on their goddamn file.

I get it to some extent, because people don’t come to a lawyer when everything is peachy keen in their lives, and a lot of times when a person hires you it’s because shit has gonna seriously fucking pear-shaped. Jenny did not wake the fuck up yesterday and say “You know what I’m gonna do today? I’m gonna go hire a lawyer then harass him to the point of alcoholism on the phone for the next three months for shits and giggles.” No, these poor souls have a legitimate concern, but for christ’s sake, the law is so goddamn slow you guys. There is not a development every 24 hours. There may not be a development in your case for 24 weeks. This shit takes time.

That recognized, it doesn’t matter how many times you tell the Phone Stalker that you’ll call when there’s a development. They have grown up on a steady diet of lawyer shows that make it look like a case goes from filing to trial in a week, and their expectation is you will be the Jack-fucking-McCoy of their pissant property boundary dispute and shove the thing through the court system. The only solution is to be patient and keep billing. Hopefully after they get the invoice they’ll realize you’re actually charging them for those calls.

Outside Counsel

Outside counsel is an asshole. The Junior Lawyer may sit around and read up on the law themselves and be convinced of the meaning, but outside counsel “helps” you along by going to other lawyers who offer free consults to ask for information about their case. This isn’t because you’re a bad lawyer, it’s because they grew up in “second opinion culture” where they genuinely believe that going to another attorney and, without disclosing they already have a lawyer, they’re going to get an honest opinion about their case that they can then bring back to you. What the Outside Counsel doesn’t realize is a lot of lawyers will say fucking anything to sign the client while couching it in lawyer terms like “Of course, this all depends on what the documents actually show” or shit like that. The end result is Outside Counsel comes back into your office with a list of shit lawyers who are less involved with the case have told them.

I don’t blame the other lawyers, I blame the client in this circumstance, because you can bet your ass that if Outside Counsel had been honest with the poor schmuck across the conference table about the status of their case and the fact another attorney was handling the matter, the advice they would have gotten would have been much different. I also blame the client for having absolutely no intention of hiring another lawyer, but choosing to waste that guy’s time just to second guess their own attorney or “get more information to help out.” Seriously, fuck those guys. I flat out refuse to meet with anyone who is already represented unless they can give me a good reason why they don’t trust their current attorney to handle the matter and tell me they’re prepared to switch lawyers already.

That said, though, there’re good reasons for clients to meander their way into another law office, but all of them should be related to the client not getting answers from their attorney and actively questioning whether or not the case is being handled appropriately. If a client comes to me talking about “another lawyer told me” after retaining me in an effort to get me to do something the client wants me to do but I think is a horrible fucking idea, my response is generally “This isn’t their case, they don’t know the case, and I don’t care what they said. If you want another lawyer, hire another lawyer and I’ll return the unearned portion of your retainer.”

“You Can Fix It, Yes?”

This is the most pitiable client, and in many cases my least favorite. This person should have talked to a lawyer months ago, but decided against doing it. Instead, they “went their own way” and dug themselves into a latrine trench with no way to get out. Now, appropriately covered in shit because they merrily disregarded the advice of “Go see a fucking lawyer before you screw shit up,” they’re sitting in your office with a judgment against them, a writ of possession after sheriff’s sale of their home, or a non-appealable judgment simply because they wouldn’t…fucking…listen.  What they want isn’t a lawyer, though. What they want is a goddamn magician, someone who can turn back time and go make them not be a dumbass. Unfortunately, there are no white tigers or effeminate Germans in my office (except for Klaus the Intern and he’s fucking fabulous), this ain’t Vegas, and that judgment is final.

This client sucks because they just won’t accept that you can’t do anything to make the situation go their way. They won’t believe that, because they have a friend (who is never a fucking lawyer) that told them about an arcane legal process from the days of the Holy Roman Empire which will fix all of their problems. For them, though, it isn’t stupidity or dickishness that makes them a problem client, it’s desperation. That, right there, is why they’re the worst type of client to have: because they’re literally the only client you’ll have where being able to do something for them is foreclosed beyond a certainty.


Alright, so Thursday I’m gonna review Brian Cuban’s new book, then this weekend it’s off to dance with the furries in the pale moonlight of the Steel City. Till then, hunker down and hope Avvo doesn’t call for another day.