I have been giving a great deal of thought to some words of purported wisdom that I heard from another attorney a few weeks ago. She in her turn claimed that these words of “wisdom” came from her father, an attorney before her.
“The client,” she said, “is the enemy.”
That certainly seemed like it could possibly be true. It’s got that catchy, snappy sound that sometimes comes with the wisdom of a true old-timer.
But – when, exactly, is the client the enemy?
Sometimes the relationship between attorney and client can be rocky, particularly if the attorney is not managing his client’s expectations correctly. On many occasions I have had to tell clients “You can’t get there from here,” or words to that effect. When they don’t believe me I explain the law thoroughly and then invite them to get a second opinion. Or another lawyer. Because, sometimes, the law simply does not provide what the client wants.
That, however, does not make the client the enemy.
Occasionally an attorney will make an error in the case he or she is running for the client. This requires an understanding of a few different principles: first, one is going to make mistakes in judgment when prosecuting complex cases; second, that seldom will constitute malpractice of any kind if counsel did his due diligence in reaching that decision with the client; and third, an attorney must take accountability for his mistakes. I think it is the last, fear of accountability, that may lead some attorneys to fear their clients.
But… that doesn’t make the client the enemy.
At times, the client who hired us to tell him how to get what he wants will bend our ear, take our time, listen to every word we say, read every word we write, and then do the exact thing we told him not to do. That is frustrating, and even more frustrating when the client blames us for his bad actions. This, however, is not atypical behavior in a client.
But… even that doesn’t make the client the enemy.
What can make your client your enemy? I can only think it is arrogance, that same overweening arrogance that leads some of us, as attorneys, to think we should be able to control every aspect of a person’s life… for his own good, of course. It is that same arrogance that leads an attorney to think the client came to the attorney for the attorney’s benefit, not for the client’s benefit.
We exist for the benefit of the client. We are hired to benefit the client. We owe the client the great duties of loyalty, and of diligence, and of competence. When we decide that the client owes those duties to us, we have lost our way. When we decide that we do not owe those duties to anyone but ourselves… then we profane our profession.
When we decide the client is our enemy, we are guilty of an incredible arrogance.