IT’S NOT EASY. IN RARE INSTANCES, IT’S NOT EVEN POSSIBLE.
I recently wrapped up a mediation in which we settled two Federal and two State Court cases as a part of the settlement. There were 15 attorneys involved, and it took us nearly five months to pull-together all of the moving parts.
What took so long? If you asked me, our greatest challenge during those months was client control. The attorneys involved had their hands full trying to keep some of the clients patient, engaged and behaved during those months. Sometimes they were successful. Sometimes they were not. But in the end, our success depended on how well they ultimately controlled their clients.
As I’m sure nearly all attorneys have experienced, it’s just plain difficult controlling some clients — the kind who typically require constant attention and diligence. Not even the most seasoned attorney can do anything about a client who refuses to listen to the advice they’re paying dearly for and, ultimately, behave.
Clients are like dogs. (Well, sort of…)
In most of the mediations I’ve handled, client control isn’t a problem. Some clients are like Golden Retrievers (which, by the way, the AKC ranks as the 4th smartest breed — behind Border Collies, Poodles and German Shepherds): They respect authority, follow instructions and are pleasant to be around. Other clients are like Labrador Retrievers: They’re strong-willed, test every limit they’re given, and often require a short leash. A few clients are like Pit Bulls raised by bad owners: They’re unpredictable, they have hair-trigger tempers, and — once they’re annoyed — are very difficult to control.
In the mediation I mentioned above, I encountered all three types of clients. As you may have surmised, it will go down as one of my more challenging mediation experiences.
What’s the solution?
Short of firing the client, sometimes there is no satisfactory solution. Nevertheless, as attorneys, it’s incumbent on us to identify and understand where each client fits on the behavioral spectrum. Successful lawyers develop the ability to adapt their management style and skills to each particular type of client. Less successful (and, sometimes, simply inexperienced) attorneys typically get bitten and/or mauled by difficult clients.
As a mediator, I’ve always found it very helpful for attorneys to give me a heads-up when they’re representing difficult clients. I always make an effort to adapt my approach when I know, in advance, whether I’m working with a client who’s compliant, testy or downright cantankerous.
In the end, no matter what of type client you’re serving, they all deserve the best possible representation from their attorney, and fairness from the legal process. Some clients make those ideals a lot harder to achieve. But that’s the job we signed-up for as attorneys. So my advice is, bite the proverbial bullet — and give that extra attention and effort when it’s required. As a mediator, you have my pledge that I’ll do the same.
Enjoy the journey.