Think Twice: The Vengeful Client (Part 2 of 9)

In this second of nine posts inspired by Justice Carole Curtis’s Dealing with the Difficult Client, we discuss the vengeful client. The vengeful client often has an agenda that is unlikely to be satisfied by legal means. This kind of client has a myopic focus of what goals should be met, and has few qualms about what must be done to meet those goals. Whether it’s an injustice or a personal vendetta, the vengeful client is highly motivated. For example, a family member fighting over an estate may be driven by agendas far beyond the pale – did he feel slighted and ignored in the family, and now wants to get back at his  brothers and sisters, no matter the consequences? The scorched earth policy that follows may result in a decimated estate and an unhappy client.

Think twice before accepting a retainer with a vengeful client. You may never be able to right the wrong, and your client may ask you to take steps that are unethical. Even if you reach a legal resolution, you are unlikely to get another referral, much less thanks. Such clients may also lie to you and opposing counsel. Ultimately your reputation is on the line, even if your client is less than trustworthy.

If you do choose to work with the vengeful client, take all instructions in writing, and give all recommendations in writing. While this is good advice for all clients, it is that much more important to do so with the vengeful client, as you can anticipate that whatever legal result you obtain, the client is likely to be unsatisfied.

Finally, bill often and regularly. The vengeful client may expect you to do work above and beyond the call for free – but your job is to be a professional and charge according to the retainer regardless of the degree of zeal involved.

Malpractice claims can arise when clients with a strong sense of purpose are able to persuade counsel to act unprofessionally. No matter how much you agree with a client’s position, no matter how much you like the client, no matter how much you empathize with the client’s predicament, you must stay within professional bounds.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)

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