We asked General Practice Section members, "How have you
successfully dealt with a client whose behavior was particularly
Confronted the client directly about their behavior (49.5%)
Addressed only the behavior/s that had direct bearing on the matter
at hand (31.4%)
Ignored the behavior (10.5%)
Involved a third party (0%)
Percentage response as of 4/19/2012, based on 105
Here are some of your "Other" responses!
The problem with failing to address unacceptable behavior is
that it becomes more difficult to deal with each time in recurs. Since
it is easiest to do so when it first happens it is more likely to avoid
reaching a point where one has to tell the client to find another
lawyer. Tolerate bad behavior and most bad actors will ALWAYS try to
test you again. - Seth Rosner, Saratoga Springs NY
It depends on the situation...
I've done all four of the alternatives listed. It depends on
I've done all of the above. It depends on what the behavior is.
There's no one-size-fits-all response. - Eileen Buholtz, Rochester
....depending on the facts each item might be
Decline or withdraw representation
You cannot tolerate unacceptable behavior from a client. If the
behavior does not change - fire the client. You will always be best
served by ending unpleasant engagements.
I usually ignore their [remarks] and have my partner deal with
them in all future contact or we advise them to get another lawyer if
they do not apologize....
I send them to someone else. I decline to represent
I have withdrawn from the representation when the behavior made
it very difficult to represent the client properly.
Our firm has a policy of discharging clients that are abusive to
our professionals or support staff and do not respond to direct attempts
to remediate the behavior.
Refused to take the case....
I advised the client that the relationship was not working and
that they could be better served by other counsel
If the client is extremely difficult or abusive to our staff
and won't change his/her behavior, we suggest that he/she might be
happier with another counsel.
Having good client control is essential. An attorney has
obligations to the Court, and to the client. If the client cannot work
effectively with the lawyer, chances of a positive result are lessened
dramatically. - W. Bradney Griffin, Lake Placid, NY
There may be numerous behaviors which are testing your
relationship with the client (i.e. their constant lateness, rudeness to
staff [particularly on the phone], unrealistic concept of an "emergency"
or turn around time on a legal issue}. There is no way that all of these
behaviors can be addressed at one time without losing the client. Pick
and choose the timing, content and delivery of your comments on the
behaviors as they occur. Few of us are in a position of letting a good
paying client go. But if there is no improvement over time, even after
your input on the behavior, you may have no alternative. - Florence
M. Fass, Esq. (matrimonial practitioner)
If client behavior causes or will cause a problem with what we
are doing I will say what the bahavior is and what the problem is &
ask him or her to change.... - Robert T Farrell, Warrensburg,
Most client behavior issues relate to abrasiveness, control or
the inability of the client to understand the situation being presented
to them. On mundane matters that do not necessarily need a clients
consent I avoid bringing up those issues instead of engaging the client
and if possible resolve the issues in other ways with others in the
matter . If not possible a Letter to client setting forth the issue our
position and his actions & requiring him to sign absolving us from
liability for following his instruction usually brings the matter under
control. - Marvin Skedelsky, Whitestone NY
I ignore the behavior unless I am forced to deal with it
Calmed the client right down. - Schenectady, NY
Dealing with difficult clients is an artform. If you have a large
Family Law practice, you will encounter a great deal of mental health
issues as well as those 'under-the-radar' mental health disorders....
There will be many times where business clients, particularly in times
of litigation, will make decisions without consulting you then ask for
the magic wand to be waved to erase the damage. These are particularly
difficult, as you are dealing with people who are typically financially
savvy but not legally so.
[C]larify to the client the true legitimate objective to their
case & how the behavior may negatively impact my effectiveness on
their behalf- appeal to self interest- NOTE- this problem is much more
pervasive than 20 to 30 years ago- entitlement is a real issue/ lack of
work ethic, road rage, wanting it all & avoid having to do anything
especially in the present are all symptoms of this destructive pattern-
more and more we are dealing with old "children".... consider dumping
this client as [they] are a future complaint and there often is no
satisfying [them] - Theodore Stenuf, Minoa, NY
I have confronted clients who have abused or been inconsiderate
to my staff. - Cornelius J. O'Connor, Jr, Albany, NY
Dealt with their behavior as it effected both our communications
and the legal matter at hand specifically, with implications toward how
such behavior truly effected all of the clients relationships, without
otherwise telling the client how to behave.
Please note that the opinions expressed above are those of individual
memebers of the General Practice Section, and not necessarily of the
Section as a whole.
NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION, ONE ELK STREET, ALBANY, NY 12207 PH: (518) 463-3200 FX: (518) 487-5517