Unless you’re completely ignoring opportunities to gain practical experience, there will come a time in your law school career when you will finally be allowed to work with clients; either as an intern with a firm or a prosecutor’s office or as a student attorney in one of your school’s clinics. In the interest of helping you
avoid the temptation to shank your clients ensure courteous and professional service during your first interaction with clients, I’ve prepared some advice for common client situations.
- Look, I know I don’t have a strong case, but I really just need to get whatever settlement I can and I’ll defer to your judgment on that. Here’s a box of all the relevant documents and receipts and I’ve taken the time to sort and label it all logically. Run. If a client says this, run. They’re lying. Oh, everything they give you may be accurate and correct, but there will be something missing and they’re hoping that the rest of their organization will lull you into missing that fact.
- It’s just not fair! This is a very common client outburst that generally accompanies any explanation as to why the client isn’t going to win in court. At this point it is not very productive to hunt down the client’s parents and berate them for not explaining to their child that life isn’t fair; that complaining about the unfairness of life is about as productive as using the legislative history to try to sway Scalia over to your side of the case. Unless your client is especially delusional (always a possibility), the best course of action here is just to agree that it’s unfair and help the client understand that, fair or not, you can’t change the law and, although you’re happy to bill hundreds of hours to the client, that it’s probably better for them to settle while they can. Exceptionally delusional clients can be managed by explaining that the courts are “in on it” and that’s why the client won’t win even though the client is “right.” Make their delusional state work for you! As satisfying as it can be to allow the client to go to court with an unwinnable case and receive a judicial beat-down as punishment for failing to listen to your good advice, this is really only an option if the client can afford to pay the firm for whom you’re interning afterwards (if they can, well, it’s doubly satisfying). That, and it’s unethical to pursue frivolous claims on behalf of clients.
- My friend who’s a lawyer says you’re wrong! It seems that everyone has a friend who’s a lawyer, but they never seem to actually hire this friend. Strange that. The proper response here is usually to explain that lawyers often specialize and that’s probably why their “friend” is saying things that are generally correct but don’t actually apply to these facts because of recent court decisions that are on-point . . . blah blah blah. No matter how strong the temptation, don’t suggest to your client that his “lawyer friend” shouldn’t perform his legal research on Yahoo! answers. But feel free to point out that no matter what the internet says, your client does in fact have to pay his taxes.
- You know, I took a few law classes when I was in school, so I know about this stuff. Smile and nod, just smile and nod. As tempting as it can be to inform the client that a few things have changed since he went to school – for example, women can vote now, that’s not a great way to build a rapport with your client. Still, this can offer a path towards a client really liking you (which isn’t always a good thing) if you’re reasonably adept at faking enjoyment of their stories of their previous pro se exploits. Try not to ask, why are they’re now hiring you, if they were so successful as pro se litigants in the past. Save that attitude for opposing counsel.
Now get out there and serve the client! Or run like hell.
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