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Difficult clients

28 April 2005

A difficult client can be the client from hell - frustrating, demanding, and upsetting. Such people treat you and your staff badly and will be unhappy with you no matter how hard you have worked. In short, they are unreasonable people who are most likely the type who will:

  • not pay you;
  • complain to the law society about you;
  • sue you for negligence.
In her paper Dealing with the difficult client, Carole Curtis outlines three basic steps in dealing with the difficult client. These are:
  • Whether or not to act for the difficult client - here questions such as "Who were your previous lawyers?" and "What are your expectations about the resolution of this problem?" might give one an indication.
  • 5 Tips on how to deal with the difficult client during the retainer and how to stay sane in the process. Here she emphasises the need to understand your role; to protect yourself with documentation and records of your dealings with the client; to be calm, patient and clear; to include your staff in the plan for the client; and to manage the client's expectations about inter alia service, time and costs.
  • Know when to fold - and end your relationship with the difficult client.
To aid the practitioner in identifying difficult clients, Carol Curtis identifies a number and expands upon their faults, which are many, these are the:
  • Angry/hostile,
  • Vengeful/with a mission,
  • Over-involved/obsessed,
  • Dependant,
  • Secretive/deceitful/dishonest,
  • Depressed,
  • Mentally ill,
  • Difficult client with the difficult case, and the
  • Client who is unwilling to accept/follow/believe the lawyers advice.
Full paper

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