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When Clients Are Defiant, What Can You Do?

By George Khoury, Esq. on April 11, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

While you may be able to let loose the likes of Terrible Terry Tate when your associates or staff members are defiant, when clients are uncooperative, your options are much more limited.

Basically, you have a couple options when you begin to notice that clients are uncooperative, or acting out. You either sit them down to make them understand the error of their ways and what it means for their case and your representation, or you may be faced with having to cut them loose. However, before you take the nuclear route, you'll want to try talking it out a few different ways.

The Pep Talk

When you sit your uncooperative client down for a talk the first time, you need to both stay positive and stress the fact that client cooperation is incredibly important. Stress the fact that when a client doesn't follow an attorney's instructions or advice, the client is jeopardizing their own case, and potentially hamstringing the strategy. Use a sports metaphor if you have to. Get them to understand that you're on the same team, and you, as the attorney, are both the coach and captain of the team.

The "We're Going to Lose" Talk

If the pep talk doesn't sway your client to cooperate, you may need to use fear as your leverage. Explain to the client that you cannot take the actions that they personally need to take, and that their failure to do what you tell them WILL result in a loss. For example, if your client intentionally doesn't show up to a deposition, you need to explain that if they do it again, the other side will likely seek both monetary sanctions as well as terminating sanctions that could very well prevent them from being allowed to testify at trial, which could tank their case. If there are large potential losses, stress the fact that they are on the hook for paying those losses.

The "I'm Going to Quit" Talk

If you can't get the client to cooperate using positive motivation, or the fear of losing, you may need to threaten to withdraw. During this talk, put your retainer agreement in front of them and highlight the clause that allows you to withdraw for a breakdown in the attorney client relationship. If your retainer agreement is good, it will be spelled out explicitly that a client's failure to cooperate equates to a breakdown in the relationship.

If a client is preventing you from providing effective representation, you may need to just cut your losses and get out.

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