Friday, October 23, 2009

If your client was your significant other…

As attorneys, we have relationships with clients. Some of these are good, some of them are bad, and then the rest vary in between. The parallels between the professional relationship and the personal relationship are telling. At least I think so:

The Basic Personal Injury Client: A College Sophomore dating a High School Freshman. There is little to no intellectual connection between the two. The High Schooler worships the ground that the college student walks on, but as the time goes by, the college student cares less and less. Until they only care one-third.

Immigration Client: Think ‘hot foreign exchange student’ with the sexy accent. Then you get to know them and their intimate details. As the relationship develops, and the nose dive begins, their flaws begin to annoy the hell out of you. They think that by having you, the attorney, that they don’t need anything else. As your relationship progresses, and the client fails to pay her bills or do what she is told you openly question if this person really deserves to stay in the country. You stay together for a little while longer, but, at the end of the day, this was a relationship based on lust mutual wants.

Divorce Client: Rebound relationship.

Catastrophic Personal Injury Client: This is your first true love. You fall deeply in love with this client and she is your end all, be all. This is like the relationship that starts one day and by day 15, you are de facto living together: seven figure contingency fees dance in your head as you work non-stop to prepare this case for settlement and/or trial. And just as quickly as it began, it ends. You are a changed person usually for the better after this client, wiser, wealthier and more focused on how to improve your future relationships. You will look back on her as the ‘one that got away’ but as the one that set your standards for the rest of your clients.

Residential Real Estate Client: Think online dating. Lots of communication about a shared vision, but none of this happens face to face. Then, finally, the first face to face meeting occurs. There are some sparks but nothing serious. The closing is a success, but there is no long term future here. You remain friends and maybe will get together again in five or ten years time. But the same fate will result.

Corporate Litigation Client: The dominating individual who ‘wears the pants in the relationship.’ Nothing you do will satisfy this client. You will be constantly seeking their approval, yet you will get nothing but intellectual and emotional abuse. Their business savvy will trump reason, common sense and your legal education. They are always right. In order to get them to see the light, you have lie through your teeth to focus the truth so that they believe that they came up with the ideas that you have carefully crafted. People will stay in these relationships because they are convenient and you occasionally get what you need.

Probate Client: Necrophilia disgusts me.

The Habitual Criminal Client: This is the guy that constantly cheats on their significant other but keeps getting taken back. The attorney knows that they have a bad streak in them, but they are going to change (and the attorney thinks that they will be the one to change them). All of your friends look at you and wonder, “Why do you think they will change?” but you see the good in them. And you will be there to bring it out in them. Or be there to remind the judge during the sentencing mitigation phase of all of the good in them.

Corporate Transactional Clients: This is The One. You both are educated and focused individuals. You love and cherish each other. You both have fervent beliefs in what is right and wrong. You both know your path in life and respect each other. You will occasionally drive each other nuts, but you both know that this is the real thing and it will be a successful, long-term partnership. Except, due to those damn ethic laws, you cannot consecrate the relationship. But that’s why you have a secretary and they have a tennis pro.

And when things turn south with your client, just read what I wrote yesterday. You’ll be fine.