When things don’t make sense: 28 days off

The work we do as trial consultants requires us to work closely with our attorney clients for several weeks or months, or even years. Clients are typically respectful and courteous. But, as we have written before, there are a few outliers – clients who abuse everyone around them, including us. We have had a few other experiences working with attorneys that just seemed “off.” These attorneys were demanding and rude. In these situations, we wonder why they are so abrupt with us, the consultants who are trying to help them. These attorneys are making no attempt to “win friends and influence people”!. These antagonistic working relationships are disturbing to all of us at Magnus. They make it difficult to be helpful; walking on eggshells does not make for a good working relationship. Why this is happening is difficult to ascertain. In some instances, the attorneys are described as not “people oriented.” But, in more than one instance, there was another issue at play. The unexplained, erratic, behavior had other causes. We have had multiple client attorneys who have quietly “disappeared” for about a month (28 days) after the research day. It turns out that these attorneys had substance abuse problems that were manifesting themselves in the abnormal behaviors we were observing. In these situations, the stresses of the cases they were litigating were apparently too much. The research day was the end of their rope; it became impossible for them to hide their abnormal behavior any longer. It is easy to ascribe other explanations to some of these people – they could be just your basic “jerk”; other adjectives could be used. But, sometimes there is more to the story. The bottom line of this story is that sometimes, you just don’t know what is going on in someone’s life; imagining something like substance abuse might not be on the radar. Now that it has now shown up in our world more than once, it is something we consider when things are abnormal. Not that it makes anything any easier, but at least we know what’s wrong. And, we are glad when these attorneys get the help they need.

One of the most interesting aspects in my career as a jury consultant is unrelated to the expertise I provide to my clients on things such as trial strategy, jury selection, and witness preparation.  This interesting aspect of my job happens when my clients, all of whom are educated and intelligent attorneys, forget I am, first and foremost, a psychologist.  Although I am not a clinical psychologist who provides therapy to those in need, I am a pretty good judge of people.  In fact, I would go as far as to say judging people is something of an “occupational hazard,” due to the fact that it is difficult for me to avoid assessing people with whom I interact, including, of course, my clients.  Therefore, when one of Magnus’ clients acts strangely, including: (1) yelling and screaming, at the slightest perceived provocation; (2) constantly cursing; (3) jumping up and down, all the while flailing their arms; (4) talking at an excessive speed, between repeatedly sniffing their nose; (5) starting our first conversation by complaining about my partner and/or my employees over next to nothing; (6) taking handfuls of pills held in clammy hands while eyes are glazed over; etc., I immediately say to myself, “Uh oh.  Here we go again.  Another client with a mental health or substance abuse problem.  I will take care to distance myself from him.” (I intentionally said “him,” due to the fact that, so far, I have never witnessed the mental health breakdown of a female attorney.)  The unpredictable nature of people who are experiencing a  mental health crisis, including one related to substance abuse, is something I understand, but I prefer not to be the target of this type of client’s rage.  In that I have experienced all of the above types of strange behaviors in the years I have been working with attorneys, and, in addition, my training and education as a psychologist has prepared me on how to handle myself in strange and stressful situations, I am quick to size up the attorney who is “acting out.”  This being said, I am relieved when the time comes for our working relationship to end and I am always happy to hear that “Mr. Attorney is out of the office for undisclosed reasons.  He will return in about a month.”  Word to the wise: It’s hard to fool someone like me.  And, please get help if you need it!





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