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  • Writer's pictureCooper Shattuck

The Perfect Client

An old lawyer once said, “If it wasn’t for clients, lawyers, and judges, practicing law wouldn’t be half bad.” Clients are why we exist. But is there some wisdom in what that old lawyer was saying? One of the few things that most of us can control in our practice is who we represent – who our clients are. While judges and other lawyers may still give us fits, our clients shouldn’t. Many times, that is something we can manage but don’t. And therein lies all the makings for trouble.

A sour relationship between any professional and his or her client is problematic on many levels. Dissatisfaction not only could result in no more work from that client, but could also torpedo any future referrals, contaminate other client or potential client relationships, foster online negative reviews, or worse, generate a complaint with a regulatory authority (the Bar). Regardless, at a minimum, it’s unpleasant and unhealthy.

The negative impact that bad client relationships have on our outlook, disposition, and attitude can easily affect our other work (and thus other clients).

Good professional relationships are built on the same foundations as any others: trust and respect. Unfortunately, but ideally, both must be earned. In sizing up a potential client, we must look for telltale signs of obstacles to their ability to trust or respect us. Do they complain about everything and everyone? What makes us think we will be different? Are they mad at the world? We’re a part of it. Are they the smartest person in every room? Ugh.

We must do more listening. And we must trust our gut. After all, that “gut” isn’t located in our abdomen but in our head. It is our brain subconsciously processing millions of interactions we’ve had with individuals over our lifetime and evaluating and analyzing what we are hearing and seeing to determine how we should react. If your gut (brain) tells you no, listen. Pass on them.

Take a moment to think about your ideal client. What traits do they possess? Go on, write them down. Ideally, how would they interact with you? Are your systems and procedures best suited to allow that type of interaction? What would one of these ideal clients expect from you? How do you ensure that you can meet those expectations?

Even the best relationships will face challenges. As lawyers, we are already disadvantaged. People don’t come to us when they’re happy and everything is going their way. No, many times they have been wronged, injured, lost a loved one (or are planning for their own demise) or been sued. They aren’t happy with the fact that they need our help. We must realize and appreciate their perspective from the very beginning. And when further disappointment is encountered in the course of our representation, we must recognize that as well. But when disappointment in the facts, the law, or their options turns to dissatisfaction with us, we must deal with it head-on.

As with any relationship, we must call it out and talk about it. As uncomfortable as it may be, talking about how our client feels about us is much better than giving the client no alternative outlet for his frustration than telling others, or worse, posting something about it.

Let’s face it, the perfect client doesn’t exist. And when times are tough, we lower our standards even further. But we must have some standards, some minimums that we must respect. We must appreciate the risks that we are taking and be prepared to deal with any problems before they fester.


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