“No thanks” to Bad Clients

The older I get, the more I choose to spend time with nice people and the less time I choose to spend with mean people. My philosophy has evolved to include family members, spouses of family members, friends, spouses of friends, and clients. Even though clients, unlike the other categories of people I have listed, are paying me to spend time with them, I limit the time I spend with clients to those who conduct themselves in a professional manner, who treat my staff and me with respect, and who value my role on their trial team. I am not an attorney and as a result, I cannot engage in the telling of “war stories” many of my clients use when interacting with one another. My opinions are derived from scientific research and as such, are often vastly different from the opinions of my clients. When my clients and I have differing opinions, most of them attempt to understand the basis for my opinion because, after all, the reason they have hired me is to obtain my objective evaluation of their case from my, not their, perspective. A few clients, however, have turned a situation involving our differing opinions into a battle. And, not just any battle, but a battle they intend to win at all costs. On the occasions when my staff or I have been bullied, badgered, screamed at, cursed at, or otherwise victimized by a client, we finish the job for which we are being paid as professionally as possible. Then, the next time this client contacts us, we politely decline the opportunity to work for him/her again. Saying “no thanks” to an abusive client is, for me, an absolute requirement for maintaining my mental and physical health.

We are fortunate that we have encountered only a few clients who are so abusive as to be the bad ones Melissa described.  The worst one we have encountered was a scorched earth litigator, but in his world, this extended to even include everyone on his team – and to us.  But, his true self did not reveal itself until we were well into our engagement – that seems to be the way these things go.  More likely, the badness only rears itself when the pressure is on.  How one handles pressure is important to one’s success in may worlds, especially in the high stakes world of litigation.  Not being able to keep things in perspective, and to understand that others are trying to help you is a recipe for disaster.  When we finished our engagement, and the trial was over (after the two-faced client presented himself favorably to the jury and won the trial), we thought he might lighten up.  He didn’t.  When he called again with another case I had to break the news to him that we would not take his money and work for him.  He was shocked, and, perhaps not unexpectedly, erupted again.  With the use of many selective curse words, he blasted me for being unwilling to take his abuse, along with his money.  As hard as it is for me to turn down work, he made it easy.  We have a duty to protect our staff (some of whom he had already cursed out for no reason).  We have a duty to protect the mock jurors from abuse which he was capable of delivering.  We must also protect ourselves from such people.  I know lawyers sometimes have to “fire” their clients due to an inability to represent them given the client’s behavior.  People have suggested that perhaps “special pricing” might make up for the behavior of such clients – the good old PITA charge.  Sometimes it might.  But, there is a point when every business owner must determine for herself/himself when enough is enough.  Some clients are unfortunately, not worth it.  Part of the reason is that life is too short for that level of conflict.  But, it is also the responsibility of owning a business; it is a duty we have to others.  Put the two together and the painful decision not to take money from someone who is a “bad” client becomes more palatable.  The ultimate irony in the case of the bad client noted above was that his verdict was overturned on appeal.  He had to try it again, which he did, but without the support we provided, or that of others he was relying on the first time who were acting as local counsel – he burned that bridge also.  He didn’t do so well the 2nd time around.  Karma may work sometimes.

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