General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division Solo, Summer 1996

Lawyers' Avoidance Syndrome

Have you ever invented a lawsuit, or a settlement, just toget a client off your back? Or fantasized about it? If so, youmay be suffering from Lawyers' Avoidance Syndrome (LAS), acondition known to afflict procrastinating lawyers everywhere.Former legal ethics prosecutor Walt Bachman chronicles theprogression of LAS in his book, Law v. Life: What Lawyers AreAfraid to Say About the Legal Profession (Four Directions Press,Rhineback, New York, 1995; 800/556-6200). Here is an excerpt:

It is hardly surprising that lawyers do not approach allcases with equal attention or energy. Procrastination is a normalreaction to the things we dislike. For one reason or another, alawyer tends to place certain files, again and again, at thebottom of the pile. This initially harmless form of delay cangrow into one of the worst of a lawyer's recurring nightmares...

Lawyers' Avoidance Syndrome--LAS--is a most resistant strainof affliction...[It] progresses in severity through four distinctstages of behavior

LAS Stage One: Phobic Delay

. The LAS pattern always beginswith the equivalent of putting the client's file in the back ofthe cabinet. The key to distinguishing LAS behavior from theprudent prioritizing of any busy lawyer's workload is the linkageof the delay with something specific the lawyer wishes to avoid,rather than with he overall crush of time pressures....

LAS Stage Two: White Lies

. Sooner or later, the delayinglawyer will be contacted by someone about the case, most commonlythe client, who will call to ask some version of "How's my casecoming along?" One of the telltale symptoms of LAS is theimmediate knotting of the lawyer's stomach that accompanies thiscall....The response is often a white lie citing something thelawyer needs to do but hasn't done...For many lawyers, reachingthis stage is sufficient to overcome the block that led toinaction.

LAS Stage Three: Black Lies

. The foundation for this stageis normally the failure to follow through on previous white liepromises. Two characteristics separate this stage from Stage Two.First, the lawyer typically starts to place false blame onothers...Second, by now there is likely to be writtendocumentation of the lawyer's avoidance conduct, such as clientletters innocently regurgitating earlier false assertions by thelawyer.

LAS Stage Four: Invented Lawsuits

. As bizarre as it mayseem, the crazy culmination of extreme LAS is the lawyer'screation of wholly fictitious lawsuits, stages of lawsuits, oreven settlements. It is as though the false world the lawyer hascreated in Stages One through Three has become reality...Whilethese cases from an infinitesimal fraction of the practicing bar,they depict the tragically self-destructive extremes of LAS,where in most cases there is no prospect of personal financialgain or underlying nefarious intent on the part of the lawyer.

Walt Bachman has been a litigating partner in both small andlarge law firms, a chief deputy district attorney, and the chiefprosecutor in state legal ethics cases.

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