General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionSolo Newsletter


Complaining Clients and Common Colds

By Jennifer J. Rose

Legal malpractice is like the common cold – rampant, incurable, and theoretically avoidable. And like the common cold, sooner or later it confronts just about every lawyer. Few of us elect to sit right next to a wheezing, sniffling, flu-carrier just for the pleasure of sharing rhinoviruses, but often there’s no choice. Just as human beings are the leading transmitters of the common cold, certain client types are potential malpractice plaintiffs. Learn to spot the early warning signs of problem clients:

1. The serial client. You’re not the client’s first lawyer or even the third, but you’re seduced in the belief that you’re somehow special, possessed of magic powers unknown by your predecessors. 2. Last minute Charlie. His summons arrived a month ago, but he’s waited until the last day to call a lawyer, knowing that lawyers really love rush jobs. After sifting through discovery materials amassed in giant trash bags (because this client knows how much lawyers enjoy a good mystery), prepare yourself for the suspense of wondering whether this client will show up for trial. 3. The irresponsible and noncompliant client. Appointments are often cancelled and seldom kept, court orders are suggestions, and directions are wishful thinking. It’s just as likely that this client won’t burden you with irrelevancies such as the whole story or your bank account with unnecessary deposits. 4. Blanche du Bois. Always dependent upon the kindness of strangers, this client will expect you to make all decisions, clinging to you with all the ardor of kudzu. Indecisive waffling is far easier on this fragile soul, trapped in desperate, desperate circumstances, who’ll toughen into a Steel Magnolia when it’s time to blame you. 5. The professional victim. Abusers as well as the abused fall into this category, whose lawyer soon joins the ranks of betrayer. 6. The bitter, hostile and greedy. No win will ever be sufficient, no Balm in Gilead, nor salvo will appease or succor the wounds of these scorched earthlings. 7. The disbeliever or negotiator. Evading the real issues, fudging on the issues and hedging on the truth, this client sidesteps reality. Simple indisputable facts such as "the sun rises in the east" become subject to debate as this client blurs and distorts anything to shape his own view of the world. 8. The Principled Crusader. Cause-oriented, maintaining "it’s the principle, not the money," this client harbors unreasonable expectations that no White Knight or hired gun can ever adequately fulfill. 9. The Expert Pollster. Lawyers are a vestigial organ, a mere formality, to these self-proclaimed experts who have legions of highly skilled, much-respected counsel consisting of the neighborhood yenta, Uncle Cedric, and the Internet aiding and abetting malpractice. 10. That hinkey feeling. You just know there’s something wrong, but you can’t identify it. Listen to your gut – and to your staff

Jennifer J. Rose is a lawyer-writer in Morelia, Michoacan, who tells herself "There’s some money that’s just not worth earning" whenever she refuses a problem client. She reads her e-mail at



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