A Well-Informed Mind

A well-informed mind is the best security against the contagion of folly and of vice. The vacant mind is ever on the watch for relief, and ready to plunge into error, to escape from the languor of idleness. – Ann Radcliffe

At a recent “new lawyer” seminar the speaker, in response to a question from the audience, spent quite some time dispensing tips and procedures for avoiding “bad” clients and provided a cautionary tales about how they handled their “worst” clients. While the tips were the usual dull platitudes,  I was struck by the automatic assumption that there are “good” and “bad” clients – seems a fairly silly base level assumption to make if one is in what is essentially a customer service business.

As I see it, clients come to a lawyer during times of stress. They come to us in a frame of mind that prevents them from operating as their highest, most rational self, and they come to us more through the actions of the imp of the perverse than through their own volition. So, is it any wonder that, at these times, they may require some hand-holding as they venture onto this new and unknown path. Or that, to a stranger, they may appear to be difficult or unpleasant. There is no good or bad here, there are just people who are reacting rather than consciously acting.

Implicit in our role as advocate, is the assumption that our clients lack the standing, skill, knowledge, ability, and perhaps even the emotional capacity to speak for themselves. It follows then, that as an advocate, it is part of our function to inform our clients, to clarify expectations, to educate and inform, to stave off that “plunge into error”. When we take on the mantle of advocate, the base level assumption becomes one that allows clients to be somewhat less than themselves; allows for less than stellar behavior.

There are no good or bad clients, there are client’s whose “shadow-self” (to borrow a phrase from Pauline Tesler) is one I am not prepared for, but that is my failing, not the client’s. My job is to learn and do better the next time. Hey, perhaps I did take something away from that CLE after all.

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