Let’s go back to talking about something I absolutely love discussing today: Clients. Clients, in case you’ve managed to somehow forget, are the literal bane of my existence. They’re also the reason that I can afford to do things like eat food and sleep indoors. As such, clients and I have a love-hate relationship, in that I love taking their money but hate having to deal with the minutia of human existence.
However, today I’m not going to rip clients a new asshole. I want to, oh lord do I want to, but at some point I’ll have to acknowledge that clients are people too. Frustrating, infuriating people who you wish would just send in their goddamn invoice payments and leave you the hell alone to work through some shit in lawyer land, but people nonetheless. Until my proposed legislation reclassifying clients as big game, and therefore open for hunting once or twice a year, passes, we’re just going to have to accept that your clients, and likely most of my clients (the jury’s still out on this) are human beings.
As clients are, debatably, humans, they are also deserving of a bare minimum of understanding. Maybe, some schools of thought that I believe are absolutely incorrect would say, clients aren’t bad people. Maybe they’re good people having a bad time, and I should mention that. In the interests of fairness, though not agreement, today I’ll take about a few things every attorney, be they a bright-eyed asshole or a salty old veteran, likely needs to understand when dealing with their clients in any litigation matter:
How clients and lawyers view a legal matter vis a vis the importance of it is drastically fucking different.
Let’s Just Say It: We’re Used To The Shit.
We’re lawyers, and besides being abrasive assholes who obsess about shit like socks or whether or not hot dogs qualify as sandwiches or not, that means we deal with legal problems every goddamn day of the week. For us, putting on a suit and going in front of the judge for a hearing or a jury for a trial isn’t something that’s out of the ordinary, it’s simply another goddamn day at the office. We eat, sleep, and breathe stress and liability, crimes and defenses, and we do it regularly on behalf of the other side.
The outcome of this is we tend to forget the imposing nature of a court case for the uninitiated. Oh sure, we were once knock-kneed novices trembling before the might of YOUR HONOR on the bench above us. Our voices cracked and we broke out in a sweat at the mere thought of arguing a case, but as time passed we loosened up because the judge on the bench stopped being some almighty god and started being “Judge So-and-So” who you had a beer with at the last Bench and Bar conference or some sort of shit. You humanized the court, and you realize that (with some exceptions), it’s all a business.
Additionally, it doesn’t matter if the client is going to jail, we’re not. We’re going home, changing into our jeans, and mowing the lawn before watching a bit of television and going to bed. That isn’t to say, you know, that we’re like “Fuck it, doesn’t matter, I get to go home no matter what.” Every lawyer who does work in a courtroom wants to fucking win. We will, work our asses off because we’re goddamn mercenaries. But outside of reputational damage, our personal stakes in the outcome of a case are low, because we’re going the fuck home.
The same can’t be said for our clients.
Clients Are Literally Stalkers.
Clients have a tendency to fucking overreact. They’ll call you incessantly, sometimes daily, and drop by your office unbidden expecting you to have worked some weird form of legal voodoo to make everything fucking go away in the three hours since the last time you spoke to them. They email the fuck out of you. Sometimes you’ll get eight, nine calls a day regarding the same issue, and each time you’ll have to sigh, stop working, and switch over to the fucking call because if you don’t take the call they’ll call you even fucking more because they’re convinced you’re in the office.
How bad can this shit get? I once had a client drive by my office to verify my car was there when my secretary told him I was “unavailable” after the second phone call of the day. He then called back and said, verbatim, “He’s there. I’m coming inside to talk to him.” Keep in mind, this wasn’t a client I’d been actively dodging, it was just a client that insisted on several contacts every day even if the contact was “nothing has happened, we are waiting for the next thing to happen, I will not have an update for you until next month at the earliest.”
This is the type of shit we deal with.
But Clients Are Scared Little Sheep, and the Court is the Wolf.
Clients by and large have never been in court before. For the vast majority of mouth-breathers that stumble through our doors, presumably because they were looking for a Blockbuster Video or some shit to rent A Few Good Men in an effort to understand, the matter they’re coming into your office for is the first serious brush they’ve had with the justice system. Sure, maybe they’ve had a parking ticket or something in their past, but they’ve never been sued or foreclosed on before, they’ve never had someone accuse them of a serious crime, they’ve never had to deal with any of this shit. So they’re fucking scared and sometimes amazingly goddamn angry when they come into your office. This has upended their entire fucking world, to the point that they don’t know what to do next and all they can think about is the lawsuit that’s pending against them.
So, you know, they don’t really appreciate the “Oh, okay, this is alright” attitude that a lawyer can put off. It’s not reassuring when they’re being told the thing that’s fucking up their entire sleep schedule and causing them to buy enough antacids that Pepto Bismol is purchasing a new “pink chalk” mine (that’s what they make that shit out of, right? Sidewalk chalk and the nastiest cherries they can find?). For the client, nothing is fucking alright until the case is over. The world is darkness and misery.
These Two Things Are Related
Clients that flip out and seem to be overbearing are being overbearing because they’ve never had to experience this shit before. They’re worried that their entire life is about to fall apart, and in some cases that’s a completely accurate worry. Even in the cases where it isn’t a reasonable worry to have, this is their fucking life they’re talking about.
Years ago, my dad, also a lawyer, told me to remember that “For me, the case is just another case. For them, it’s literally the most important thing in their life.”
My Dad, by the way, once had a client that he was convinced had placed a tracking device on his car, because every time Dad was at the office, be it on the weekend or the evening, the client would show up shortly after that.
How Can You Handle It?
I mean…the best way to handle this shit is just empathy with the client. Let them know early on that you’re doing everything you can, and that you’re always going to contact them, but they can’t call repeatedly. Reiterate that you understand the importance, but you’re going to do everything in your power to help them. Tell them, and in a reassuring manner, that this is a typical case for you, and you’ll handle it. Make them have some faith in your ass.
I mean…remind them that phone calls are billed and don’t write shit off on the first couple invoices. I’ll talk about that more in a future post.
But in short, you can’t really deal with it because these clients are always going to freak the fuck out. I’m not here to give solutions. I’m just here to tell you why this fucking divide exists.
Fact is, dealing with the client who thinks the world is ending is just a fact of practice. They’ll keep it up until they die or the case is over, whichever happens first, and you’ll have to deal with it. It helps, though, to understand where your client is coming from.
You know, before you lose your shit and call them a fucking idiot.