The Obsessed Client (Part 3 of 9)

This is the third post inspired from Justice Carole Curtis’s Dealing with the Difficult Client (written when she was a lawyer). The obsessed client is the one that emails you at 2 a.m. about an aspect of the case. The client can take up not just a lot of your time but also use up your firm’s resources – from emails to daily calls to the receptionist and law clerk, and whoever else is on the team. The client may do their own research, insist on keeping copies of everything, and forward you with news clippings and cases that the client deems relevant. The obsessed client can quickly become an angry client if the client feels ignored or not listened to.

If the client bombards you with largely irrelevant material and expects you to digest all of it, remind the client that you charge on an hourly basis and the time should be used wisely. Regular and frequent billing may help keep expectations realistic. For those on contingency, however, this wouldn’t work. Suggest to the client that you can only spend a certain amount of time (1 hour? 20 minutes?) reading the materials, and that it would help if the client identified the most important and relevant parts.

Obsessed clients like to feel involved in a case. Giving them homework can keep them occupied toward a productive goal. When doing so, be very clear on what the client’s tasks are and what your tasks are. Document the assignment by an email or letter.

Do not let an obsessed client bully you. If the matter is not truly urgent, and you do not have time to discuss, read, or meet the client on demand, that is okay. Have the client make an appointment with you like any other client. Practicing cell-phone law – the modern inclination to read an email on your cell-phone and answer it right away – can lead to malpractice claims, because your reply may be hurried and miss important points, or your reply may communicate negative emotions brought up in the heat of the moment which may exacerbate the situation.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)

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