Monday, March 14, 2011

It's not unethical if it's true

Clients are like Veruca Salt: they want their settlement and they want it now.

Unfortunately, for their attorneys who have to put up with their crap, this is not how it works. Clients just do not comprehend that lawyers have actual work to do for other actual clients. Nor do they understand that lawyers are notorious procrastinators that only do quality work under the threat of being fired, committing malpractice or a contempt citation.

Thus, we arrive at the problem: you tell the client the truth and you are in trouble. But...if you lie to the client, you are in more trouble. Thus, there needs to be a balance that meets ethical standards of the practice of law. Or at least meets the gray areas of those ethical standards.

In my four years vast experience, it seems the attorney needs to have a way to put the client at ease when they call demanding immediate action. In other words, a lawyer has to spin the truth in such a manner that makes the client happy (Come on, we’re lawyers after all!!!). For these occasions, I’ve got a few handy phrases salted away:

  • I am engaging in heated negotiations with opposing counsel: I am playing phone tag with the defense counsel.
  • We are working with a private investigator: I assigned a law clerk and told him to start Googling.
  • A paralegal has run off with the file and is presently working on it: I have no recollection of who you are or what your case is about.
  • We recently had extensive motion arguments in your case: I wrote a shitty complaint while I was hungover and looking at inappropriate photos on the internet. Unfortunately, the Defense counsel isn’t as dumb as I hoped and called me on my crap.
  • We successfully defended against the Motion to Dismiss: We lost the oral argument but were given leave to replead.
The hope is to leave the client thinking that progress is being made while you are hanging up your phone, scrambling to get to the work done.