In this sixth post of a series inspired by Justice Carole Curtis’s Dealing with the Difficult Client, we discuss the depressed client. The depressed client can come in various degrees, from being sad all the time to suicidal ideation. If the client’s life is in danger, remember that you are not the client’s therapist. Refer the client to help, such as a family physician, therapist, social services, or other community services.
When taking instructions from a depressed client, document clearly what you have communicated and what the instructions are. Confirm afterward – perhaps waiting several days if possible – that the instructions have not changed. If you have made recommendations that the client does not want to follow, which can happen if the depressed client is unwilling to take risks, however sensible, then make sure you have documented the exchange by email or letter.
A depressed client can also be slow to take action. In this case it may be worthwhile to schedule in-home visits or make phone calls at various times. The client may decline a phone call the first time, but take it at another, when the mood has lifted. In most cases, calm persistence can eventually lead to a successful lawyer-client relationship. At the same time, if you simply cannot get instructions in a timely manner, consider ending the retainer.