I recently settled a large business fraud case for my client, the plaintiff. It was a challenging case for many reasons… Which got me thinking about case value and the advice of an attorney. Someone once told me that you don’t have one job as an attorney; you have two. One is to act as an advocate for your client; to do everything within your power to help your client recover the maximum possible compensation for his/her injuries. The other job of an attorney, however, is to be your client’s counselor. To provide sage counsel for your client regarding the strengths and pitfalls of their case, and to give him or her a stable and reasoned framework for their case, including a realistic assessment of the value of the case.
Problems arise when a client thinks or in worse circumstances, insists, that they know more than you do about legal procedure, how things should go, what the judge and the jury should say, and most importantly, the amount or extent of damages they should be entitled to. That includes client’s perspectives on the recovery of past and future damages, lost wages, and attorneys fees, all of which require specific documentation to support such recovery.
I tell clients that it doesn’t matter what happens in the real world. The only thing that matters is what I can prove in the courtroom. Admittedly, I stole that philosophy from Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men, where he says something to the effect of, “it doesn’t matter what I know or don’t know; it only matters what I can prove.” And even though it would seem that Mr. Cruise has lost his mind in recent years, he was absolutely correct at that time (or at least Aaron Sorkin, the writer was). At the time of trial, nothing truly matters except the evidence that the lawyer can get in front of the jury. Speculation doesn’t work, verbal promises (at least most of the time) don’t fly, and hearsay statements that one person said to another person generally don’t matter and even if they do, they are usually inadmissible.
There is a reason why lawyers are lawyers and non-lawyers are, well, non-lawyers. There are specific things that go on during litigation that require the participation of an attorney. Of course, I try to explain everything that goes on in litigation to my clients, but still, there is always the client that thinks he or she knows better than you. This brings me to my final point: client management.
There are generally two types of clients: good ones and bad ones. Let’s forget about the good ones, because we all know what a pleasure it is to have a good client; one who gives you the information you need, on time, in a nice organized fashion, and doesn’t give you anything you don’t need. Bad clients are a whole different type of animal, and there are two types of ‘bad’ clients that I’ve faced. There’s the client that doesn’t want to participate at all in their case. They have no skin in the game and think that it’s an automatic process to go from injury to compensation. The other type of client is the over-involved client, and that’s what I’ve been talking about above. Those are the clients that you have to sit down frequently and explain to them that there’s a reason why they hired you. That you’ve been through this rodeo a few times and that you’re doing everything to help them. Often times, this takes months and months of explaining but in the end, setting early boundaries for those clients is one of the most worthwhile endeavors that I’ve put in place at my firm.
In the end, you’re hiring an attorney who you trust because you think that they can get the job done for you. So in that spirit, help us where we need help, and at other times, if you do trust us, then let us manage the case appropriately. I don’t usually tell my plumber how to fix the drain, and if I did, he’d probably quit! The same is true for attorneys. If we are doing our job, we’re doing everything we can to help you out. Especially in contingency cases, where our compensation is tied to that of the client, our job is to maximize your as well as our compensation. In the end, if we can set appropriate boundaries, we can move aggressively toward resolution, and hopefully come out with a victory or large settlement like my firm was able to do yesterday.