I have written a number of articles on what clients do that irritate lawyers, and the pitfalls associated with representing the general public. To be fair, I decided to compose a list of things that clients tend to complain about their lawyers (some rightly so). Many lawyers I know commit many of the below offenses in their personal as well as their professional lives. This list is obviously not exhaustive, and by no means applies to every lawyer.
Top 10 Annoying Things that Lawyers Do (And Why They Do Them):
10. Brevity (or lack thereof).
A lawyer spends the better part of a decade learning and refining his craft. He or she spends at least seven (7) years in formal undergraduate and legal education learning how to be an expert wordsmith. Unfortunately, often writing assignments reward those who produce more content, and this can sometimes become a habit, especially for younger lawyers. In addition, the law is sometimes a complicated beast, and there are many factors to consider when writing or talking with clients. Some lawyers are very good at relating very complex and complicated ideas to clients in a layman vernacular, while others have greater challenges doing so. This is a difficult skill that is sometimes hard to master, and it may take a lawyer a decade or more to acquire and refine this skill.
9. Bedside Manner.
Lawyers have the unfortunate reputation of being callous, uncaring, and unsympathetic. Of course not all lawyers have this problem, but many, over time, lose the ability to understand (or remember) what it is like to walk in the client’s shoes. This is probably because the lawyer has dealt with the client’s particular legal situation many times, when likely it is the client’s first experience with the current situation, and maybe the legal system altogether. Just like the struggle many doctors face with maintaining a good bedside manner, lawyers should too. After all, clients (and their problems) are the lifeblood of the lawyer’s practice–and therefore–his or her livelihood.
8. Worst Case Scenario.
When you walk out of a lawyer’s office, you might feel as though the sky is falling and the world is about to end. Lawyers are known for being eternal pessimists, and may unnecessarily scare you in your first couple of meetings. There is a method to the lawyer’s madness, however. The lawyer is concerned about two things: first, a lawyer’s worst nightmare is a client with wildly unrealistic expectations. It is impossible for a lawyer to make a client happy if the client believes a miracle will happen. Second, the lawyer is attempting to manage client expectations because, often, reaching a compromise or settlement is in the client’s best interest. If a client has unrealistic expectations, there is little to no chance of compromising or settling the client’s legal dilemma. When writing contracts, a lawyer must think of every possible thing that could potentially go wrong, and a contingency in case it does.
7. Overly Cautious.
Lawyers, as a whole, are an extremely cautious bunch. This is because in a lawyer’s world, gains and losses are often zero-sum; in other words, when one person gains, the other loses. As well, the law is often unpredictable, and the lawyer cannot know with certainty what the outcome of your case might be, regardless of how straightforward and “easy” you think your case is going to be. To a lawyer there is no such thing as a “slam dunk”. No case is easy, no case is quick, and no case is a sure thing.
Lawyers, as a group, are generally tough to reach. One of the greatest challenges practicing law is keeping up with client contact. Lawyers spend an overwhelming amount of time returning phone calls, letters, emails, and even text messages from clients. Even so, lawyers are rarely caught up in getting back to their clients. In order to earn a living, a lawyer has to take on a large number of clients, each of whom demand constant attention. Quite often the best and most competent attorney to handle your case is the busiest and most difficult to reach. If you are persistent (but not too persistent), he or she will get back with you whenever he or she gets an opportunity to do so.
5. Cutting Conversations Short.
Lawyers are highly trained at listening for certain words in a conversation, and as mentioned in #6, they are constantly struggling with a time crunch. Most lawyers have asked hundreds of thousands of questions of thousands of people in a variety of settings, and can often predict what a client is about to or intends to say. Admittedly, this can be rude. Clients often want a sympathetic ear to hear and understand their problem, including a description of the emotional pain and suffering that this event has caused them. The lawyer, on the other hand, is primarily interested in the legally operative facts that are central to your claim or defense. The lawyer has in his or her head predetermined questions that he or she needs answered before the lawyer can determine whether to take your case or what needs to be done.
4. Turnaround Time.
When you ask a lawyer to perform a given task, you might think that it is as simple as just going over here, or calling over there, or having a paralegal type something for him or her to sign. This is not usually the case. Most of a lawyer’s work product is tailor made for your legal issue, and takes time to produce. Also (and many clients really don’t like hearing this) lawyers have other clients. It is only fair for the lawyer to tackle assignments on a first come, first served basis. Other times, the lawyer has to “triage” the various assignments by urgency. For example, getting a client out of jail will usually take precedence over responding to a routine motion before the due date.
3. Tendency to Over-complicate Things.
This one is interrelated with #7. In being cautious, the lawyer’s objective is to be exhaustive; that is, to think of every possible scenario (even some that are unlikely) in order to be prepared and account for any possible detriment or setback. Something that may seem simple to a client (and may actually be) is not simple in the mind of the lawyer. In a lawyer’s mind, there is no simple answer to almost any question. This is almost the equivalent to asking a mathematician what 2 + 2 equals.
2. Collegial Attitude.
This is one that I have found clients to hate the most. Clients are often aggrieved and emotionally distraught at the acts of the opposing party, while the lawyer seems to talk to the “enemy” like they are best friends. Some of this might be appearance, and some might be reality. Most lawyers will strive mightily for your cause to the detriment of the other party, and then, when the ties come off, eat and drink as friends. Lawyers, especially those in a small community, must work with one another time and time again on a number of cases. The lawyer cannot afford to destroy relationships over particular cases, and, believe it or not, this usually benefits the clients the lawyer represents, contrary to their belief.
1. No Promises.
Lawyers often seem spineless when it comes to committing to a result in a given case. So often clients come in for a first meeting and ask me, “So can you guarantee that ________ will happen?” No. I will never make such a guarantee. This is because first, most jurisdictions have some ethical rule that prohibits the lawyer from making such promises. Second, the legal system can be unpredictable and it would be foolish to make such a promise. Third, related to #8, the lawyer cannot afford for the client to develop unrealistic expectations that no lawyer could ever deliver. The lawyer’s goal is not only to get the best possible result for the client, but to counsel the client as to what that result likely will be. Occasionally, that is not the news the client was hoping to hear.