Every lawyer has the type of client who is unreasonably demanding, annoyingly stupid, or practically worthless—and likely all three. The sooner you recognize you have one of these clients from hell the better. Because if you at least recognize that the client is the problem (isn’t that always true?), you can try to isolate the problem to make your day-to-day practice a little less hellish. At least that’s the theory.
Here are five types of legal clients from hell. We bet at least two of them are in your client portfolio right now.
Pyrrhus was a Greek general whose costly but victorious military battle led to the common phrase “Phyrric Victory.” As a client, however, Pyrrhus is even worse, willing to throw down $10,000 to get a $500 judgment or two years of litigation to “prove a point.” Worse, he sees himself as a Civil War general and feels it necessary—in his own words—”to destroy the other side’s physical and psychological capacity to wage war.” Except this guy’s March to the Sea involves getting the county sheriff to remove his ex-wife, kids, and the kids’ pet hamster from the shared family home. Sure, he’s a good client for covering monthly overhead and more, but you lose a bit of your soul every time he’s around.
This client questions every move you make on his behalf, essentially because he has researched every issue and concluded that you are “pursuing an interesting but misguided legal theory” or “blindly going—legally speaking—in the wrong direction.” The problem? All the “directions” or “approaches” he suggests are trivial and irrelevant because the “research” he does is from Ally McBeal, online forums, and the interactive questionnaires you complete on LegalZoom. If you have a client who requests that you file a SLAP suit against opposing counsel’s law firm, run away. It’s Lay Man, hell bent on yet another mission to take you out of the reality of thinking like a real lawyer.
In a typical half-hour discussion with Basketcase, the notion of fairness surfaces about three dozen times. As in, “but I don’t see how that’s fair.” Each time after mentioning “fair,” however, the client collapses into heaving sobs and says she (or, on occasion, “he”) is not sure she “can go on like this.” You explain it all again as best as you can, particularly how things ended up in your office, but after the sixth time you figure the client isn’t going to absorb the fact that, by not paying rent, you probably are going to be evicted. Besides having a fresh box of Kleenex in your office—two boxes just in case—make sure you instruct the client not to show up at the office without an appointment. Otherwise, Basketcase will be in the law firm’s lobby thirty minutes before you start most workdays.
This client always has a fresh lawyer joke every time you meet with him or talk on the phone. Or two jokes. Every single time. Sometimes the same joke a few hours after he told it the first time. And it’s typically a joke you first heard before you were a lawyer and continue to hear about every other month while you remain a laywer.
The thing is, to the Joker everything is funny about your chosen profession—the way you dress, how you talk, the fact that lawyers actually insist on making a living. Even the case you are handling for him is a tableau to riff off what’s supposedly hilarious about lawyers. The main problem, though, is you can never get him serious enough to understand, say, a filing deadline or that he must be available for a conference call with the court to discuss settlement. When things get really tough, the Jokester disappears, leaving you to call, write, and cover your ass with voice mails and memos to the file. Then the Joker shows up again at the last minute, just seconds before you are about to withdraw from the case. What does the Joker say about his absence: “hey, did you hear the one about the lawyer, the penguin, and the stripper?”
Antitrust doesn’t trust anyone or anything, especially anything coming from opposing counsel and that “lying sack of shit” he calls his former business partner. Opposing counsel wants to reschedule a settlement discussion a day later because of a holiday or a personal family matter? You think, hey, no problem, sounds fair enough. But you make the mistake of checking with Antitrust, who says “fuck ‘em. Fuck ‘em twice over. They’re trying to pull a fast one on us with this whole Yom Kippur thing, don’t let them do it.”
Worse, Antitrust typically has an element of Pyrrhus and Lay Man in his blood, making his own deposition a godawful and painful exercise. It will actually be the only deposition you will ever defend in which you use the phrase “for Chrissakes,” as in “for Chrissakes, Bob, answer the question by stating your name for the record.”
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