In this fourth post of a series inspired by Justice Carole Curtis’s Dealing with the Difficult Client, we discuss the dependant client. The dependent client can appear like the perfect client. The client looks to you for answers and easily accepts your recommendations. If a file goes smoothly, no problem. But if something goes awry the client will blame you for a critical decision.
As the lawyer you are not the decision-maker. Your role is to be an advisor and to help the client make decisions. Make it clear to the dependant client that important decisions are wholly in the client’s hands. Inform and empower the client. Document decisions with reporting letters and/or emails.
The dependent client can be encouraged to depend on a trusted advisor other than the lawyer. So long as the trusted advisor is not exercising undue influence (such as may be the case when a beneficiary to a will appears to make all the decisions), this trusted advisor can help keep the boundaries between lawyer and client.
The risk for malpractice claims arise here when the dependent client points the finger at the lawyer and claims the client was never able to make decision. Did the lawyer give the client time to think about critical decisions? Did the lawyer outline the possible outcomes, the risks associated with the outcomes, and the costs involved with each? Did the client clearly give the lawyer instructions to pursue a line of action? The answer to each question should be yes, and an effective way to protect yourself is to docket and document all of the interactions above.