One of the most challenging aspects of legal practice is dealing with difficult clients.
There are many kinds of difficult clients.
- the angry client;
- the obsessive client;
- the over-involved client;
- the secretive/deceitful client;
- the dependent client;
- the client who already knows everything;
- the depressed or mentally-ill client;
- the client affected by drugs or alcohol.
What should I do?
Whatever the type of difficult client, the first thing to ask yourself is whether you, as the client’s solicitor, should be acting for that client.
After all, solicitors don’t need to act for everyone who comes through their door.
Some of the questions I would be asking are:
- Has this client been to a solicitor before for this particular problem?
- If not, who else has been involved?
- What sort of personality does the client have and do I feel comfortable with that personality?
- Do I have the resources for this particular client?
- Can I meet the client’s expectations on costs, timing and deliverables?
- Is the client asking me something beyond what I can deliver?
- Is the client worth my professional time?
Should I get a Barrister?
If your matter involves litigation, your barrister can help you manage a difficult client.
This is because Barristers can:
- Provide you with a quick character assessment of the client.
- “Cut to the chase” and speak directly to clients without much tip-toeing.
- Give clients a quick reality check when they are being unreasonable in their expectations.
- Confirm the advice provided by you, the client’s solicitor, or add to your advice to give a broader picture.
- Re-frame a client’s expectations, which can be very difficult particularly when you have an ongoing relationship with a client.
- Test the truth of a client before allowing them to get into the witness box.
- Give you a frank assessment of a client’s character and how they are likely to perform in court.
There are many other advantages of using a barrister to help you manage a difficult client.
When a client makes really important decisions, ideally you want to have written and signed instructions from the client.
It’s also important to take detailed and accurate notes of what is said in conference with your barrister and your client.
Client management is something truly unique to the legal profession. The skills involved in managing clients never go out of fashion and only get better over time.
All clients deserve to be treated with courtesy and respect.
As lawyers, we will inevitably encounter difficult clients. Being mindful of how we deal with them is something that should be a top priority for all of us.