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  • Writer's pictureBarry Seidel

It Took Me 40 Years to Realize (and accept)...

That clients are very often people who have "problems".

Now, you might say "What kind of idiot are you that it took you 40 years to figure that out?"

I always knew problems were the driving force bringing people to my office and perhaps into Court. If there weren't legal problems there wouldn't be much business.

What took me time to realize (and even longer to accept) is that the genesis of many problems are the personality problems of someone in the case (often the client but not always).

What kinds of "personality" problems generate legal problems? Let me count the ways....

- Narcissism - people who are self-absorbed and cannot empathize with those affected by the narcissists behavior, and

- Closely related (and very dangerous) are sociopaths. I've been involved with a few of these. Their personality disorder tends to get them involved in legal matters. In lay terms we can call them evil and manipulative. The first time I realized I was involved with someone like this I did some research. The best and only advice I found was "undo your involvement with such people". Thanks, I'll remember time.

- Immorality - Many people's moral compass consists of what they can get away with. Maybe I was naïve but I used to assume most people knew right from wrong. Now I assume they don't and hope to be surprised.

- Inability to communicate. Some people have no trouble telling me what the facts and issues are. But they are often not able to communicate in a meaningful way with the other parties. Often the adversary has the communication issue, but many times I have wondered whether a little more effort by my client might have enabled an early resolution. I used to ask whether my prospective client had tried to "have a cup of coffee" with the other side, but 1,187 times in a row the answer was "no" so I don't ask this any more.

- Stupidity and/or lack of sophistication. With intelligent clients we can explain the issues, and the inter-related possible paths things could follow, depending on....whatever. Sometimes though, you can lay this all out and the client asks "So, do you think we will win?"

- Pathological abhorrence of paying for anything (especially legal services). There is no fancy name for this, but maybe there should be.

In practice, we spend most of our time dealing with our clients and their cases. Their personalities and proclivities are part of our life. Interacting with greed, immorality, stupidity, cheapness, and personality flaws in general, can be draining. It can make you hate what you do. As lawyers with clients, maybe we are destined to repeat these unhappy experiences.....

UNLESS - we are willing to leave judgments behind and ACCEPT that if we accept these clients and their cases, we may as well accept them as they are. Maybe even appreciate them.

Accepting their matters, or rejecting them, is OUR CHOICE.

At a certain point I chose to reject certain cases and certain types of clients, or even cases where one of the adversaries was a certain way. I am entitled to make that choice. So are you.

Sometimes our greatest strengths (being compassionate and understanding and smart) can be our undoing. We end up trying to fix the people rather than solve the legal problem. We end up trying to help in ways that cannot work. It's a formula for failure in the particular case, but more important, it's a formula for our own unhappiness.

If you choose to not be involved, be clear and know you are protecting yourself.

If you choose to be involved, accept who you are involved with, and work with who they are, instead of getting angry that they are not who you would prefer them to be.


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