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Is the Customer Always Right? Not When You Practice Law

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on July 24, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Like it or not, the law is a customer service profession. Getting clients and keeping clients depends on your ability to please clients. As the old cliche goes, the best way to do that is to remember that "the customer is always right." Right?

No way, at least not when it comes to issues involving the law. Where the attorney-client relationship is concerned, the client is not always right. Here's why.

You're the Expert

There's a reason your clients need a lawyer: they don't know the law. When it comes to representation, you're the expert. It's your knowledge, experience, and law school debt that the client is paying for, which you may have to remind them in their more obstinate moments.

Of course, as an expert, your job is to work for the client. That means allowing the client to determine the goals of representation, to make significant decisions about their matters, and to set the parameters of your relationship. But that doesn't mean the client should micromanage, control strategy, or resist your conclusions on the law. This can be especially important to keep in mind when you're dealing with a client who learned law at Google University.

You've Got Ethical Constraints

As a lawyer, you're not allowed to do just anything to please your clients. Lawyers are forbidden from assisting clients in criminal or fraudulent behavior. They're required to be truthful to third parties, within the bounds of attorney-client confidentiality. If a client wants you to advise them on how to defraud the IRS or to make a knowingly false statement to a third party, that's something you simply can't do without violating your ethical obligations.

You can always advise your client of the potential risks and legal liabilities of any course of action -- but if you think what their proposition is blatantly illegal, advise against it and record your objections.

Finally, if a client refuses to acknowledge your expertise, you can always simply say goodbye. Some clients just aren't worth the trouble.

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