Everybody has different personalities. And sometimes, that will dictate how a personal injury lawyer/client engages and “get along” so to speak. As we all know, some people are like oil and water, they just don’t mix. So what do you do if you get into a situation with your lawyer who you can’t seem to get along with?
Sometimes, as a lawyer, I don’t recognize in the beginning of the representation that I am not going to have a good relationship with this client. Perhaps I am naive or perhaps I just like to look for the good in people. Either way, I’ve had a couple of situations where the client and I do not get along. I’d suggest the following to both lawyers and clients for what to do in that scenario.
1. Sit down and discuss the problem.
Often, the problem is communication, or a lack thereof. I’ve been guilty of this just like other lawyers (and clients too). Sometimes, I get so busy that I forget to call the client to provide an update on the case. Other times, I’m in court for numerous days in a row and simply cannot return a call until next week and then I get backed up on email, letters, pleadings, discovery, etc. But there still exists a communication problem and, more accurately, an expectation problem.
If you and your lawyer can’t get on the same page, don’t call in screaming to the staff about it. Rather, schedule an appointment to sit down and meet face to face on the lawyer’s next appointment day. Discuss what the problem is and see if you can work it out. This is the adult way to handle this situation. Let’s all act our age.
2. If you can’t resolve the problem, agree to part ways.
If you can’t seem to put your finger on the problem, then it might be best to part ways. If it comes to that, my mantra is “it is not all about the money.” If the relationship is broken beyond repair, I’m not going to insist on keeping that relationship going in order to earn a fee. To me, the money is not worth it if the client will not be a raving fan at the end of the case. Instead, if I can’t get along with the client or if the client can’t get along with me, it is better for everyone to cut ties and move on.
3. Think long and hard about why the relationship didn’t work out.
Everyone needs to take a step back and ask, what did I do that caused the relationship to break down? Learning from mistakes is the only way to get better and avoid these situations in the future. Maybe you should be more thoughtful during the initial consultation? Maybe a Case Management System would help facilitate better communication? Maybe your (the client’s) expectations were unreasonably high? Maybe I (the lawyer) set those expectations unreasonably high during the initial consultation?
Whatever the reason is, don’t let history repeat itself. For lawyers, our reputation is on the line. For clients, your case is on the line. Do what it takes to get it right the next time.
4. Speak highly of each other after the transition.
Don’t speak negatively about your old lawyer. Nobody appreciates vitriol from a prospective client or a new client about the former lawyer. It is just gossip and, in my opinion, if you, as a person, will gossip about someone else, then you will gossip about me. I’m not interested in representing someone with a negative take on life and lawyers who view everyone else as incompetent, unreasonable, or stupid. The likelihood is that your former lawyer was neither of those things, but you just didn’t get along. Let’s just leave it at that.
If you find yourself in a position to part ways with your lawyer, you should always do so in writing. Request your file from your lawyer and make sure to pay any bills you might have outstanding on your account. Your lawyer cannot hold your file hostage until you pay your bill, rather the ethical rules require the lawyer to give over the file and help you facilitate the transfer of your case to a new lawyer. With that said, if your lawyer did the work, he or she should get paid. In the end, this will help you develop a good relationship with your next lawyer because if you and your lawyer follow rule # 4, then everyone will speak highly of each other. Once you get your file, then you can go talk to another lawyer to represent you going forward.
What about your experiences can you add to this conversation? Post in the comments and let me know what you think! If you need a personal injury lawyer, feel free to contact me.