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What to Do When a Client Puts a Gun to Your Head

By William Vogeler, Esq. on July 12, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

"But for the grace of God, goes John Bradford."

It's a quote attributed to the religious reformer, commenting as prisoners were led to execution. He was later burned at the stake.

It's also apropos for lawyers who have advocated for clients, only to have them threaten them. Like Jack Swerling's client, who was convicted after holding him at gunpoint.

At Gun Point

Swerling had defended Jimmy Causey in two criminal cases, helping him get reduced sentences in the 1990s. But Causey kidnapped Swerling, tied him up and robbed him because he was angry about his sentences.

Causey is serving time in a maximum security prison for his crimes, but has escaped two times. He was recaptured each time, but Swerling still took steps to protect his family.

"Naturally, there's anxiety," he said. "This is the guy who robbed me, my wife and my daughter."

The angry-client scenario is familiar, although it does not usually involve a gun. Lawyers are easy targets for clients who blame them for their losses.

Dealing With Client Threats

Anger is inherent in client threats, whether they are angry about a bill, service, or sentence. They may lash out by threatening to sue, complain to the State Bar, or worse.

It takes empathy and a strategy to deal with them. In his book, If It Wasn't for the Customers I'd Really Like this Job, Robert Bascal recommends the CARP approach:

  • Control
  • Acknowledge
  • Refocus
  • Problem Solve

Basically, you should control situations by acknowledging customer complaints and refocusing their attention on solving the problem. It may require accepting some fault, or another alternative.

Also, you may need to consider a restraining order or court-ordered counseling before there's a gun to your head.

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