Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Second Guessing

Sometimes, clients just don't get it. They issue an "instruction" to counsel which the attorney may believe is not in the client's best interest from a strategic, legal and/or ethical standpoint. Failing to follow the directive, based upon the attorney's considered professional judgement, elicits disdain and criticism from the client which may lead to the retention of new counsel. Conversely, implementing the instruction blindly because "that's what the client wants" could wreak havoc to the matter in numerous ways while still resulting in client dissatisfaction. What's an attorney to do?

I really don't think there's much of a conundrum here, although some may disagree. There's no doubt that listening to the client and attempting to implement their wishes is very important. However, when the client's desires conflict with the attorney's legal and/or ethical judgement, I believe that it is more important for the attorney to stand his/her ground and, if the client is insistent, to withdraw as counsel. When clients attempt to micromanage matters and insist that they are "right" even though the attorney is convinced otherwise, it becomes extremely difficult for counsel to function effectively and independently. What gives? Why do clients pay an attorney for advice and then ignore it? Is it because they don't like what they're hearing? Is it because they think they "know better" when it may be fairly obvious that they don't? Do patients tell their surgeons how to operate?

Losing a client because they perceive that you are not following their advice is painful, both emotionally and economically. Nonetheless, I think the professional consequences of caving in to second guessing by a client can be far more severe and permanent than a temporarily deflated ego and the loss of a few dollars.

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