What They didn’t teach you at the Law School
Law School prepares you to think, write and research like a lawyer, but once you’re at the door of a law firm or a courtroom, there’s a whole new set of skills you need. The present series of articles aims to enrich a new lawyer with all these skills in order for him/her to excel.
Often new lawyers starting out in practice, or sometimes even seasoned lawyers, are tempted to take on matters in which the client seems to have the ability to pay well; but something else is wrong. Follow your instinct and don’t take such a case. The downside to representing such kinds of clients generally exceeds by quantum degrees whatever potential financial or professional reward may result.
There are certain types of clients who are better to be avoided. No one will blame or criticize you if you reject them.
When you are the fifth lawyer the client has sought to retain in the past three years, just get it straight in your head that he/she is a fickle-minded client. There has to be an explanation for the many failed lawyer-client relationships, but the chances are high that non-payment of fees, unethical demands, or unrealistic expectations lie behind that history. And what’s the guarantee that your experience will be any different from the others? However, you may contact all prior counsels to ascertain the reasons for the termination of the relationship.
When a claim is stale, even though the statute of limitation has not expired, the likelihood is that the case lacks merit, or, at the very least, the documentary evidence and witnesses will be much harder to locate. That is because most normal people don’t delay to assert a valid legal claim. Therefore, clients who delay seeking legal assistance should not be accepted unless solid evidence exists to support their cases and a reasonable explanation is provided as to why they waited so long.
Then there is this client who constantly complains about the conspiracy by many people who are all out to wrong him/her. They would tell you that the prior lawyer was in connivance with the adversary; that the judge was biased; or that various politicians were paid off to do nothing when their assistance was solicited to remedy the injustice that purportedly occurred. There is no way that any lawyer can adequately represent such clients, whatever potential merit their claim may have; because the first time something goes awry, the client will blame you and accuse you of being a participant in the plot to do him/her in.
There are some clients whose sole intention is to hire a “tough”, street-wise lawyer who will bully the other side into submission; someone who knows how to use the legal system to inflict pain and achieve total victory. If you take on this kind of client and do not convince him that a moderate, professional approach is more appropriate, then sooner or later you will have to choose between engaging in unethical conduct or withdrawal. Lawyers who engage in such tactics are unprofessional, and do great harm to their reputation at the Bar. Worse, such clients won’t even pay your bills.
Some clients want to dictate all legal strategy and every procedural move. They will insist that you file a complex motion within a couple of days, argue a particular legal theory, and cite a certain case. Some of such clients can provide valuable input with respect to various aspects of a proceeding, but no lawyer should be told by his client how to practice law. The case will end badly and, once again, regardless of merit, you will be blamed for any poor outcome.
So the abovementioned types of clients are best to be avoided. Invariably, you will regret your decision if you are unwise enough to take one of these people as your client. Representing the wrong client often leads to some or all of the following occurrences: non-payment of legal fees; malpractice claims; disciplinary complaints; and, perhaps of greatest importance, dissatisfaction with the practice of law. At the very first opportunity, decline employment unequivocally and in writing if you are approached by any of these people.
Even if you learn later that an engagement was a mistake, and that you now represent an impossible client, do not despair. Withdrawal is usually an option. Part VI of the Bar Council of India Rules lay down that, “An advocate shall refuse to represent any client who insists on using unfair or improper means. An advocate shall excise his own judgment in such matters. He shall not blindly follow the instructions of the client.”
Also it is provided under the Rules that, “An advocate should not ordinarily withdraw from serving a client once he has agreed to serve them. He can withdraw only if he has a sufficient cause and by giving reasonable and sufficient notice to the client. Upon withdrawal, he shall refund such part of the fee that has not accrued to the client.”
*Executive Editor, Lawyers Update; Director General, Universal Institute of Legal Studies