Monday, November 02, 2009

Memo to client: Listen to me. No really, shut up and listen to me.

I do PI, I do employment law defense and various sorts of law in between. I have corporate defendants, stockholding plaintiffs and other clients on their way to intensive care. I have lots of clients each of them with a different background, level of education and success and none of them are lawyers, despite their best efforts to be just that. Besides each of their self-assured belief they are the reincarnated form of Johnny Cochrane, they equally believe they all deserve their day before a judge and jury.

The problem here is that this, by and large, is a wretched idea. You can use small words, pie charts and case law to ram home this subtle point. And it won’t make a bit of difference. They are Rosa Parks, or the dumb guy that got lung cancer from smoking. And damnit, they need 12 people too stupid to get out of jury duty to validate their existence. Clients are dead set on going to trial and their lawyer must protect them from themselves.

It’s easy to tell a client that the Defendant will win on Summary Judgment or at Trial and that they should take the settlement offer that is on the table. It’s harder to tell a client that they have a personality like a rusty woodchipper and that even though they have a great case, a jury will view them as a child murdering, seal clubbing, good-standing member of the KKK.

There are a few salient points that I find frequently reiterated to the stubbornest of clientele:

1. The Judge doesn’t think you are special. Your personal tale of woe will not impact her. In fact, it may inspire her to dismiss your case because it is crowding up her docket.

2. The judicial system, as much as you want to believe it, is not conspiring against you because of your politics, your religion, your injury or your race. The judicial system is conspiring against you because you are the winner in the “fails to listen to sound legal advice” contest.

3. When the lawyer says settle, settle. When the judge says settle, settle. You don’t want the jury to say you should have settled.

4. The Judge won’t care that you are spending tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers. You are a business and spending $400,000 to prevent a $50,000 verdict (or a $15,000 settlement) is just plain dumb. And the Judge is quite understanding of this point.

Clients are responsible for us incurring and paying the bar tab. What a vicious cycle.