“You’re Making Me Look Bad” (Because I Didn’t Read the Contract)

More often than one may think, I’ve been told by attorneys, who are the majority of our clients, that they never read our contract. This usually emerges when some detail “surprises” them. Yes, they received and later signed the contract to authorize our work. Yet, they often indicate that they did not see or understand some term or condition. The terms and conditions in our contract have evolved over the years as various clients have found ways to twist things to their advantage, that is, they try to take advantage of us and our work. And, while it is a small minority of clients who do this, we have tried over time to modify the agreements to be fair, but clear, as to the conditions. We don’t like surprises either, so we believe “spelling it out” makes sense. Many years ago we had a client say, “I didn’t realize I’d have to pay the travel and facility expenses on top of your fee.” Really? That’s why the contract says “plus expenses.” Expenses cost money; we do not know the full extent of them in advance (unless a client demands a detailed estimate of these things in advance), and it is usually easier and more cost effective to tally them at the end and submit them for reimbursement – we certainly don’t make any profit on expense items! Yet, once again, I heard from a client recently, “I thought the number you gave me, the number in the contract before the words “plus expenses,” was the total number. This client went as far to say “You’re making me look bad to my client.” Well, I’m sorry about that, but what more can I do than put “plus expenses” in multiple places in the contract, and advising the client about it verbally? The first time an attorney told us he “didn’t read” the contract, we were shocked. How could an attorney not read a contract? All these years later we are still at least a little shocked, yet we have learned that, despite our best efforts, these things will happen and, hopefully, everyone can get beyond them. Our goal is to make the client/attorney look good by helping them learn critical information. We don’t want to make anyone look bad, but when it happens, it is difficult to accept that I made them look bad when it was they who failed to read what was there, in plain sight!

It has been my experience, more often than not, when someone says “You’re making me look bad,” it is actually the case that the person saying this is making himself/herself look bad. Think about it. How many times has someone else made you look bad? Looking bad is something most people can do on their own, without anyone else “making” them do it! This client’s ridiculous attack on David was, of course, met with extreme politeness and respect; David would never respond with anything other than an attempt to explain to the client that, perhaps, it would be a good idea for him to actually read the contract that was provided to him. Contained in the contract, of course, was a detailed description of the fact all clients are billed for all our expenses at their cost. We do not profit by marking up any expenses (such as air fare, rental cars, facility rental, mock juror recruiting fees, mock juror incentives, etc.), however, we certainly are not in business to lose money by paying other people’s expenses. I daresay the attorney who berated David for his own failure to read the contract would be incensed if his client refused to pay for his hotel room, flight, meals, etc. In fact, many attorneys on whose cases I have consulted are self described “hotel divas,” “travel snobs,” and “A listers,” requiring our mutual clients to pay for them to stay at the Ritz, fly first class, and be driven to the research site in a chauffeured limousine. (This is no joke! Some of our clients have been late to arrive at our research location because they were too busy enjoying the amenities at the Ritz. Others have had their hapless limo driver stand outside, in the heat, for the entire research day, in case they need to be chauffeured to the local McDonald’s. I don’t make this stuff up!) All of this is to say that, when a client complains about our contract, because he/she didn’t bother to read it, or begrudges paying our expenses, all of which have been required to perform our work on his/her behalf, it reveals to me that this client is doing a fine job looking bad on his/her own and definitely needs no help from David, me, or anyone else in this regard. “You’re making me look bad!” should be said by this type of person while gazing into a mirror!

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