Monday, April 25, 2011

The Nutmeg Lawyer's North American Field Guide to Clients

The following is a tongue in cheek list of different client types that we have gathered through stories heard in courthouse hallways, by office water coolers and on the back nine.  We invite you to submit your own suggestions to our growing list of client types:

The Pseudo Lawyer (fakeus wannabeus): Several of your clients may fall into this category. These are the clients that think they know more about the law than you do. Often, these individuals have jobs that grant them a certain amount of exposure to the law. Used car salesmen prepare contracts, repairmen work with insurance companies, mortgage brokers and real estate agents deal with some of the legalities in preparing closings, and notaries witness legal documents. Whatever the case, clients that fall into this category often feel like they have an inside track to the law. In their minds, the only difference between you and them is a piece of paper on the wall. Some can be difficult to deal with and may second guess your judgment. The Pseudo lawyer can also cause problems with your regular clients. Your client might know a pseudo lawyer who will feels the need to give their own "expert" advice to your client. Not only is this unethical, the advice is usually bad as they usually do not have "the full story" regarding your client's case. They might know a lot about dealing with insurance companies, but may not truly understand more nuanced aspects of tort law. 

The Pauper Prince (igotta nomoneya) is the client who will complain about your rates and will give you a sob story of how they simply cannot afford them. They will present themselves as a struggling poor man who barely keeps his family fed. They will press on you to compromise for a significantly lower rate. You usually won't spot the client's brand new Mercedes and Rolex until the retainer is signed.

The Angry Hulk (incredibulus hulkus) client can be very dangerous. Approach cautiously. They are usually angry at the world and have strange mood swings. They write letters to congressmen, the governor, even Oprah about perceived slights against them. They usually liken their legal perdicaments to terrorism, prejudice, government conspiracy, or some variation. They let their legal matters consume them like gamma rays. They love terms like libel and slander. When the object of their anger is not in reach, they can easily turn their anger on you. Whenever I have one of these clients leave my office, I always hear the haunting theme from the Incredible Hulk tv series playing in my head.

Family Members (kuzinus annoyus): As a result of your familial relations, the attorney-client relationship with a family member can be a unique one. Cousin Cleetus might feel that he does not need to make an appointment to see you and that you will do his case for a significant discount. That discount is usually free. Representing family members can make family cookouts, birthdays and weddings a nightmare. You will get calls at home on the weekend as well as the office. On the plus side, your family knows you best. They can also be the greatest source of referrals for future business. Do a good job and they will surely brag about their cousin the lawyer.
Napoleons (shortguyus complexus) Clients who suffer from this malady are very bossy. They will often remind you that they do not have time and that they are very important. Corporate executives aside, these can also include certain types of small business owners. They demand to see you at the drop of a hat and insist that they would have done their legal matter themselves, but they are too busy and too important. Often a braggart, the Napoleon types can be rude to your staff and suffer from an inferiority complex. 

The Loch Ness Client (figmentus imaginus): These are the clients that pay on time, value your advice and refer clients to you. They make appointments and speak highly of your counsel. They are pleasant to staff and do not incessantly call you every day. They are laid back and give you the opportunity to do your job. Sadly, they are the product of fairytales and bedtime stories.

The Serial Killer (dontkilla mea): These are the clients that are quiet and a little on the meek side. They usually come into your office with a friend (usually a pseudo lawyer). You might take note that when you see a serial killer on the news, the neighbors usually say things like "Mr. Dahmer seemed like a nice guy. Quiet. Kept to himself." I am not suggesting that a quiet client is necessarily a serial killer. I do think, however, that a few in the bunch might be holding in a lot of anger. They are nice in the beginning and agree with your advice. Then the pseudo lawyer or that gravely voice in their head might suggest something ridiculous to them. Suddenly, the great settlement offer you managed to negotiate is far too little because so and so said that he had a friend who had a similar case and the guy got 12 million dollars. (Never mind the fact that unlike your client's minor fender bender, the 12 million dollar man permanently lost his eyebrows, two arms, a foot and half a testicle.)

The Blood Sucker (wastus billablehourus): These are the clients that suck the life out of you. They usually have the smallest cases but will take up the most of your time. You will find yourself answering the same questions over and over again. It gets even worse if you made the mistake of charging a flat fee. The blood sucker will approach you at the most curious times. I have been approached by them while waiting in line at the grocery store, confession, even at funerals. They'll make an appointment for Wednesday and will come in on Tuesday. They will call you several times a day before a court date months away. Blood suckers usually think that they are your only client. They require hours of hand holding.  I recommend lots of garlic. If your breath stinks, they will shorten their face time with you.

The Shopper (searchusfer dacheapus): Shoppers should always raise red flags with you. These are the clients that have seen several lawyers before you. It might be in your best interest to speak to some of the previous attorneys before taking the case. Although the shopper may have an understandable reason why they left their former attorney, chances are this person might be a difficult problem client. They will undoubtedly take up more of your time than it is worth. Bold Shoppers are often blood suckers in disguise.

The "Ralphies" (impatientus clientus). In the movie "A Christmas Story", 10 year old Ralphie cannot wait for the arrival of Christmas so he can get "an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time." Ralphies are impatient clients. They want their legal matters settled immediately. They don't understand that Christmas isn't for another several months. They have to undergo the mandatory waiting period for their divorce, they have to be patient before they receive their settlement or they have to let the legal process play out in court. I usually tell Ralphie clients that if we rush their case, it will not bode well for them. They might shoot their eye out.

The Scotties (analysus everythingus) : No, not Scotsmen. Engineers. (Scotty was the engineer on Star Trek). You can pretty much lump any analytical thinkers into this group. My client base includes many engineers from a variety of fields. We even have a train engineer as a client. The majority of them are wonderful. There is a handful, however, that really drive me crazy. They are the clients who seem to think they are smarter than you. They do their own research on the internet and second guess your advice. They will question the smallest details of every aspect of their case. They ask for copies of everything and provide you with their own research. I had one client who brought me in copies of local city ordinances from the early 1900s and blueprints of his neighbor's house. Another one brought me manuals, torque calibrations and other statistics for a 1976 Dodge Dart. He also brought NASA records regarding the position of the sun on the day he ran a red light. The prosecutor offered him a nolle in exchange for a fifty dollar donation. He wanted to take it to trial for the principle of the thing. Just make sure you show them that your giving it all you got.

Trust Fund Kids (parisus hiltonus): We always hear about the me generation. These kids are usually arrested for some stupid crime ranging from underage drinking to lawn ornament theft. Police reports often indicate that they mouthed off to the cop. Usually they make some referrence to "I pay your salary", "my allowance is more than your salary" or my "car is worth more than you." They often come to the office in their parent's Mercedes or BMW. They often have moussed up hair with highlights or long bangs covering their eyes. I always have the urge to cut their Justin Beiber-like bangs with my paper cutter so they would stop incessantly flicking their hair back. While often annoying, they usually lose their bravado in the court room. They can be a great repeat clients and often have friends with similar special needs.

Guys named Stanley: Overall, I really don't have a problem with guys named Stanley. Some of my best clients are named this way. I know it makes no sense. For some reason, it's only the ones that smell like soup. Beef barley in particular. They always cause problems. Then again, this might be a personal one for me.

Editor's note:  Do you have your own favorite client type? Let us know. Email We will add them to the list.


ThatLawyerDude said...

Great stuff Adrian. Thanks for the laugh.

Irene Olszewski said...

I'm still laughing. Thanks for sharing the humor. Made my night.

Anonymous said...

I spent several hours reading through your posts. One is more hilarious than the next. Thanks for making my day. I needed it today.

David Leffler said...

Great post - sadly, I recognized many of the client types which you describe.
I went thru a similar analyses when I wrote about the different stages of slow paying clients.

Unknown said...

This is funny stuff. My problem, whenever I have had to use an attorney, is I expect people to work with diligence and to keep their word. I hired an attorney and was told it would take "two or three months." Six months later, I had not heard from my attorney ONE time, so I started calling once a week and kept getting blown off with either no return call or the obligatory "I am working on your case." The case took almost two years and when the attorneys got together it was settled out of court. My simple question is "why couldn't that have been done two years and several thousands of dollars ago?" That is the problem I have with attorneys. Most cases take way, way too long.

Anonymous said...

Loved this post. I thought I was the only one.

Rebecca Cohen said...

Adrian. I just discovered your blog. I love the way you present serious issues with a touch of humor. Keep up the great work

Anonymous said...

This was remarkably similar to the folks that comprise my caseload at the welfare office...take heart, Adrian, you could be putting up with these yo-yos AND working for the government! (Thanks for laughs, it was a nice break---and now, back to the LSAT prep course.)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the laughs. I don't do criminal law, but if a skateboard can be a deadly weapon,so can my computer, the monitor, or the printer.

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