Celebrating 10 years! 2007-2017

Solos: What percentage of your stress comes from upset clients?

And I mean losing clients, not clients upset about the bill. superttthero09/11/18
Usually it's a relief getting fired by a client. 90% of the attorneydavid09/11/18
I guess I mean less about money, but more about a client who superttthero09/11/18
By the time that occurs, your client should have been counse jeffm09/11/18
I'm not a solo but I agree with jeffm. If you've been doing pauperesq09/11/18
It must be really tough working with people who can be sent catwoman33309/13/18
I think this is great advice. But I slightly disagree with i thirdtierlaw09/13/18
@thirdtierlaw, interesting points! I get what you say. catwoman33309/13/18
"because I work solely on a contingent fee basis" I'd say wutwutwut09/13/18
Excellent post. A lot of stress can be avoided by turning aw cranky09/13/18
@cranky, spot on!! And you said it all in far fewer words t catwoman33309/13/18
Catwoman333, made an EXCELLENT post. I can't stress the greenhorn09/14/18
superttthero (Sep 11, 2018 - 2:20 pm)

And I mean losing clients, not clients upset about the bill.

Seems deadlines, money stress, afraid of Judge/disciplinary actions, workload can all wear you down, but I am asking specially about the stress of having to stand next to (and later chat with) someone who is being read a sentence/judgement/deportation/ruling against them, and you are their sole attorney--no firm to blame, just 1 guy.

How do you deal with this? I have some past experience in Bankruptcy and with Immigration but as a solo, the having to face a client who I've built a relationship with over the months/years after a loss seems so stressful/embarrassing. When I did it before, I was in a mill, and I was just sent to the hearing to lose, so I didn't really have to deal with it They'd go straight to the office after a loss and let the managing/owner partner have it.

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attorneydavid (Sep 11, 2018 - 2:49 pm)

Usually it's a relief getting fired by a client. 90% of the time their retainer had run out so it's a real happy dance moment.

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superttthero (Sep 11, 2018 - 2:51 pm)

I guess I mean less about money, but more about a client who did put down all the money you asked, and then you got him/her no results for whatever reason (bad judge, bad facts, bad strategy/execution).

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jeffm (Sep 11, 2018 - 2:54 pm)

By the time that occurs, your client should have been counseled in such a way as to not be surprised by the adverse result. Disappointment is fine.

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pauperesq (Sep 11, 2018 - 4:49 pm)

I'm not a solo but I agree with jeffm. If you've been doing your job, the client should already be aware that the bad result is a possibility (or likely). Put it in writing so the client cannot later say you never told him this could happen.

If you badly misread the case or, even worse, strung the client along knowing the whole time a bad result could happen, you deserve every bit of the client's ire.

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catwoman333 (Sep 13, 2018 - 12:54 am)

It must be really tough working with people who can be sent to jail or deported. Frankly, that's why I've avoided criminal defense and immigration law.

There is never a "pleasant" way to deliver bad news, esp. if you don't want to appeal and the client wants to vent on you--at length and tries to browbeat or guilt you into continued representation, appeal. I guess high stress is just the "price of admission" in law practice and dealing directly with stressed people, clients or judges.

I always tell CLTs up front and in writing (before we appear before a judge): "I will do my best to represent you, but I NEVER guarantee an outcome. I cannot predict how a judge will rule because each case is unique and the judges are different. And if we lose, I may decline to appeal." Most CLT's understand that but, of course, when we lose, they tend to blame US, not the judge or weak case merits.


But I have found there are ways to "minimize" or outright avoid some of the stress:


1. Don't take cases with weak merits. This seems so obvious, but surprisingly, many solos (and, of course, the "mills") just sign EVERYONE with a pulse who walks through the door and roll the dice. IMHO it's not fair to these clients (who can claim they were misled) or to solos and their staffs who end up wasting precious time trying to "build up" a flimsy case, then dealing with their anger after the inevitable loss in court.

2. Carefully screen prospective clients to avoid obviously high maintenance, and/or downright dangerous types, esp. those with previous history of violence, felony prison, or mental hospitalization, regardless of case merits. (I know that's hard to do if you're a criminal defense atty, but given the easy access to weapons these days, is it really worth taking the chance--however remote--that they may turn dangerous, verbally or physically abusive after the case is lost? For me, the answer is no.)

We all intuitively know when someone in a room, sitting next to us on a train, plane, etc. makes us uncomfortable at first glance. When we encounter them, we have enough sense to get up and move. Well, the same proactive strategy and common sense should be applied to assessing prospective clients. Whether it's melodramatic personality, rudeness to staff, excessive demands/entitlement, weird body language, or just a vague creepy feeling. Listen to your (or your staff's) gut, first impression and just show the Drama Kings and Queens the door before they give you/your staff ulcers or create serious headaches--including threats, bar grievances etc.. As the saying goes, "Some people are just not worth the income they may generate."


3. Don't get sucked into an unproductive verbal "rabbit-hole" or into becoming a surrogate shrink or captive audience, forced to endure endless, toxic rants about the "unfairness" of "life"/judges/the legal "system"/family/ex-spouses/ex-bosses/prison wardens etc. Also, many clients think they can browbeat, bully, or guilt-trip lawyers into representation, or filing an appeal. Don't try to reason with these people. Just limit your time with them. Listen for 10 min., thank them for sharing, then excuse yourself to go to court, to lunch, to walk the dog, or to a dr. appt. and let them know you will get back to them after you review the case. Then later send a courteous but firm "Sorry, I can't handle your case (or proceed with an appeal). Here is the address, phone # for Legal Aid" and be done with them.


4. If you have a "bad day" when you lose a case or a client/judge chews you out, take a long lunch with the phone turned off, or leave the office early. Then go watch a funny movie (or video), treat yourself to a massage or a favorite meal.

5. Consider adoption or mediation law. From what I hear, they seem to be much less stressful practice areas and everyone--attys, parties, judges--seems reasonably happy in the end...:).

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thirdtierlaw (Sep 13, 2018 - 11:13 am)

I think this is great advice. But I slightly disagree with item 1. I take on terrible cases all the time. The difference, and what most of my clients appreciate is that I will flat out tell them that the case is extremely weak. I don't mince words are try spinning it. I make it abundantly clear, either with a criminal or family law client, that if hired, I'm being hired to mitigate the damages.

People with terrible cases deserve representation as well. Assuming they can pay. Haha. In fact, I think having an attorney in a terrible case is much more important than having an attorney when all the facts are on the client's side. But attorneys need to just be honest about the weakness of the case. I take pride in the fact that I've never had a client, after a hearing, say, "wait I didn't know that could even happen."

I'll add, I get more stressed out about cases that should be "sure-things" than cases which are clearly losers. When it's your case to lose, the stakes just feel higher. Whereas, just swinging for the fences or throwing a hail mary, is almost fun.

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catwoman333 (Sep 13, 2018 - 2:04 pm)

@thirdtierlaw, interesting points! I get what you say.

Perhaps I've been at it a few more years than you (and am thus more burned out...LOL) or perhaps my perspective is slightly different because I work solely on a contingent fee basis and get no $$ from them, not even for time spent preparing weak cases.

But I find it a TOTAL waste of time to accept obviously weak cases because the facts just aren't there or the law isn't on our side. Or perhaps I get more people in the door who like to argue, think they are legal "experts" after having watched a few episodes of "Judge Judy" and think they can "persuade" me to "see the light" by wearing me down with endless chatter. I find it's just easier on my (and staff's) nerves to quickly cut these folks loose rather than allow them to become a pointless drain on energy, mood, and the firm's resources.

Life is short and the older one get's, the more one realizes the less time we all have to waste....:)

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wutwutwut (Sep 13, 2018 - 2:14 pm)

"because I work solely on a contingent fee basis"

I'd say that's probably the biggest difference in your two perspectives, and completely explains it.

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cranky (Sep 13, 2018 - 10:51 am)

Excellent post. A lot of stress can be avoided by turning away crazy clients from the start. I've learned it's a bad sign if the person has to come in with a parent, cries or yells during the initial consultation, or immediately comes across as aggravating. Always put in your representation agreement that you cannot guarantee any particular outcome. Clients almost always exaggerate, lie, or selectively omit facts. Get paid and try not to give in to anyone's sob story; that's what running a business is about.

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catwoman333 (Sep 13, 2018 - 2:11 pm)

@cranky, spot on!! And you said it all in far fewer words than my post...:).

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greenhorn (Sep 14, 2018 - 12:45 pm)

Catwoman333, made an EXCELLENT post.

I can't stress the importance of not taking the wrong clients. You need to really screen your clients and with time you develop a 6th sense into who will become a problem and who won't. We've all made the mistake of taking a case when things are slow, only to regret doing so later. You're better off slow than with a toxic client.

Her other advice is spot on as well. Ultimately, you need to develop a thick skin.

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