Monday, March 15, 2010

What (Some) Clients Want In A Lawyer

My friend Lee Rosen asks why some crappy lawyers have happy clients?

Lee says he knows one personally:

She’s a terrible lawyer. She can’t read and understand a court opinion. She misreads statutes. She’s an embarrassment in court. Her pleadings are poorly drafted. Her correspondence is filled with errors. She says things in chambers that make her look like an idiot. Her objections are overruled. Her court appearances are dominated by illogical arguments.

Her clients, however, love her. They refer business to her like crazy. She spends nearly nothing on marketing and is making a freaking fortune. She can’t see a new client for weeks because she is solidly booked.

He wants to know how it is that she's so crappy, yet seemingly so successful?

I know lawyers like this. We all do. One lawyer I know has been sanctioned by the Bar several times. Judges don't like this lawyer. Lawyers don't like this lawyer. This lawyer's name is used to describe bad behavior.

He's got tons of clients. They love him.

Here's Lee correct analysis:

Here’s the deal. She does things that make it clear that she cares about her clients. She rants and raves in court, like a maniac, on behalf of her clients. She crosses over every line and gets personally involved with her clients. She laughs with her clients, she cries with her clients. She returns calls, she calls at night, she stays on the phone forever. She loves her clients and it shows. She knows it and her clients know it. She’d do anything to help them. They are her friends.

Her clients love her. They love her when she wins, they love her when she loses. They know she’s committed to their cause. They know she did her best, even when her best isn’t good enough.

Recently a client called to say he was hiring another lawyer. I asked why: "the other lawyer we met with (practicing less than half as long as me) told us about all his results including that he recently won a case involving a friend of ours."

Oh well. Hope he's got one of those rare winning streaks.

This is a fascinating issue. We all know that clients hire lawyers for the strangest reasons. Something, one thing the lawyer says or does can determine the client's happiness with the lawyer. In the criminal practice we all experience the difference in the client who barely shakes your hand when you win his case, and the client who hugs you after you lose his case and before he's shipped off to jail.

From a client's perspective, the definition of a "crappy" lawyer is completely different from that "within" the profession.

Lee asks the important question:

It all makes me wonder whether she’s really a crappy lawyer or whether I have ideas about what’s important that might be irrelevant. Who sets the standard for crappy? Lawyers or clients? Maybe my idea of crappy doesn’t really matter?


Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.



Brian Gurwitz said...

Interesting topic. I used to wonder the same thing, but realized I might be the "dumb client" when it comes to doctors. In other words, I'd probably really like a physician who had the same qualities as these attorneys (dedication, empathy, compassion for the patient, etc.) and run the risk of having an idiot for a doctor, since I don't work in that business. Maybe I shouldn't put bedside manner so high on my list of priorities. The doctor with a good one might only need to act that way for a short time before he accidentally kills his clients. At least that doctor would write a nice letter to my wife wishing her well after my demise.

Ben Kearney said...

Hmmm. I, of course, know a lot of these lawyers. I've also been on the flip side of this issue. I won a preliminary injunction hearing for a client but got fired because I wasn't "zealous" enough. The client failed to realize that I wasn't talking much because the opposing counsel (a very zealous but bad lawyer) was making my case for me. I'd prefer to have the clients that recognize good advocacy over the ones who want to call you late at night and want you to cry with them. But that's just me.

Jackie Carpenter said...

I think we pick our clients as much as they pick us. It is a mutual relationship. Certain personalities just mesh together better than others. I am in an office with a more seasoned criminal attorney than me, and he has had client's that relate better to him while I have had clients that chose to wait longer in court (I was in civil court) for me. Personality is important, but we need people we can get along with just as badly as they need a lawyer they trust.