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Clients Making You Miserable? You're Not Alone

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By Catherine Hodder, Esq. on July 24, 2019 3:00 PM

If you are a lawyer reading this, you are aware of stress in your profession. School debt, long hours, high pressure, and less-than-soul-uplifting work can all negatively affect a lawyer's mental health. Sprinkle in a bit of alcohol, recreational, or "performance enhancing" drugs, and it's a volatile mix that can quickly lead to addiction or burnout.

But what is one overlooked source of stress? Our clients.

When You Have Challenging Clients

Every lawyer encounters those problematic clients. Clients may have unreasonable expectations about what you can deliver and also are:

  • Wanting to push you outside your legal expertise
  • Offering unsound legal positions
  • Not forthcoming or truthful
  • Unresponsive
  • Hostile or offensive
  • Reluctant to pay a retainer or legal fees

Dealing with an unpleasant client is one thing, but if they genuinely push you beyond your limits, you need coping strategies.

When You Have Challenging Clients Who Are Also Attorneys

It can be incredibly stressful when our clients are other lawyers. If you support legal departments or in-house counsel, they demand quick responses and clear communication.

It is one thing to have a pushy client. It is another when the client is a legal team with an entire company behind them. Constant demands can make outside counsel operate in crisis mode. These demands are especially damaging to their mental health and lead to issues with depression, addiction, and anxiety.

How To Handle Difficult Clients

Most attorneys are used to high-pressure, high-stakes situations. Many may not be so good at managing client expectations. Taking steps before and during the representation can eliminate client issues and stress.

Evaluate Your Clients Before Representation

It is crucial to identify potential issues that could sour a client relationship. If you see problematic issues, you may want to decline the representation. Finding a new client is easier than handling the challenges of a bad client.

Of course, you may not know at the outset if a client is difficult, but you should look for any red flags. For example, do they want to do anything illegal or unethical? Are they reluctant to share information, or do you suspect them of lying?

Set Expectations at the Beginning of Representation

One way to handle demanding clients is to set out manageable expectations at the beginning of the relationship. You can do this with a client meeting or in a retainer letter.

When clients agree to your representation, they should also agree to manage their expectations. Outline how you would like the attorney-client relationship to work and the preferred method and timing of communications. Define what an "emergency" is, so clients do not expect return calls in less than five minutes.

Reach Out to Other Attorneys for Help

Every attorney has war stories of demanding clients. If you get in a situation where a client is hard to deal with, contact another attorney for advice. They may have a similar experience and would likely want to help you.

Help Your Clients Help You

By setting out expectations and defining your relationship, you eliminate many stressful encounters. Explain to your client that by following the relationship guidelines, you will be better able to represent them successfully.

You can't get rid of all stress in your law practice, but you can reduce your interactions with demanding clients.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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