“It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.”
― attributed to Mark Twain

There’s a little known fact that legitimate attorneys turn down more potential cases than the public knows. Lawyers figure that it is better to encourage as many phone or in person consultations for many potential new cases as possible, because it’s always the best way to evaluate a potential client.
Experienced lawyers know that a bad client turns out to be the best evidence for the other side and can deceive an attorney, scuttling their own case. A bad client, explained in the examples below, can be their own worse enemy. This can result in the attorney doing tons of free legal work. This makes the spouses of lawyers unhappy…sometime very unhappy.  Lots of work, time away from family and nothing to show for it. Not what we call a successful formula.

So how do experienced attorneys avoid clients who could force to spend time into money sucking, pointless rabbit holes which the prospective client thinks will result in him/her/them buying a house “when the case settles”?  Good question. Below are edited real life instances where Ed refused to be retained by the client or terminated his attorney/client relationship.  There are millions of such real life anecdotes and every lawyer has a long list of their own.

Say you are a prospective client. What to do, say and act and especially what not to do, say or act, may determine the outcome of a big dispute involving….well involving almost anything.  Remember as you are interviewing your prospective attorney the lawyer is interviewing you too. Here are some of the “no no’s”, red blinking lights and firecrackers that go off in a lawyer’s mind when a prospective new client does or says them.

1. Lying  
Client comes into Ed’s office with a reputation.  He/she recites the basis for a large copyright claim against a specific large entertainment company which Ed has dealt with very often over the years.
Client claims to already have a lawyer, “But the lawyer has done nothing for over a year.”
Ed :”Do you have any emails, letters etc sent to you by your lawyer?”
Client: “There are none.”
Ed: “Did your attorney ever talk or write to  Joe Blow, Esq. who is the head of litigation at the company.”
Client: “Never.”
Ed: “Can I call Joe Blow and see if he has ever heard of you”?
Client: “Sure…want his number?”
Ed: “I know it by heart.”

Ed calls and speaks to Joe Blow, Esq. AND client’s former attorney with client sitting in front of him. 25 emails have gone back and forth between the lawyers and the client has been copied on every single one of them.  Entertainment company insists that client is quite simply a sophisticated liar. His current attorney agrees.

They fax me (not email) the letters that have been ping ponging back and forth.  Ed shows them to the client.
Ed: “Ever see these?” 
Client: “Nope.” 
Ed: “You are copied on every one and it references your discussions with BOTH lawyers so this is what I am going to do…..”
Client eagerly asks: “What can you do for me?”
Ed had him escorted out of the building as he would not leave on his own accord. The PS is that another attorney took the case, spent years on it on a contingency basis and wasted his/her time, effort and resources.

“Everybody lies. When you find out what they lie about you know what they care about” – Dr. Gregory House.

Most trials rely on the credibility of witnesses. Judges instruct juries that if they believe a witness lied about even one thing at trial they may believe he/she lied about all of the testimony given.  Easy way to lose a case.

2. Not listening  
Ed is handling a commercial case for a client when another legal issue arises.
Ed gives strict instructions to client: “I don’t know anything about this pension issue. I do know a lawyer who DOES KNOW EVERYTHING about this stuff.”
The lawyer has been doing ONLY pension cases for 39 years. Call him and do whatever he says.”

Two days later the client sends an email to Ed.
Client: “I spoke with my mother’s lawyer’s paralegal. He worked on a pension case when he was in law school. He told me what to do and that’s what I did.” 
Ed: “Did you call my guy?”
Client: “No, didn’t have to….the paralegal gave me the answers and I did what he said.”
(Did we mention that the client earns very high six figures annually?)  The paralegal’s advice could cost the client hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last 10 years and by now we’re guessing the paralegal is an assistant manager at a Jiffy Lube (or something similar).
Ed: “Get a new lawyer for our pending case.” 
Client asks: “Why?”
Ed: “Because you don’t listen or or even question my advice you just do what you want when it comes to legal issues of very significant consequences. When things go south you will blame me.  Why pay me when you won’t listen to me….might as well go to a casino with that money.”

3. Know it alls
They have read various online photo websites, blogs, talked to other photographers or models and know the law better than Ed does. They can’t be convinced that they are dead wrong. Ed has three nails and a hammer in his desk. He gives them to the client and says:
“Get your own cross I can’t fit one in here. The door says “Attorney” not “Enabler”. 
It is far more difficult to convince someone that they are wrong than it is to tell them something which feeds into their belief system.

4. How will this end a/k/a “How much money will I be getting?” 
Any attorney who predicts the outcome of any case on especially the first meeting is a con. Any attorney with that kind of talent ought go to Churchill Downs and just bet on one horse and then can retire for life.  The vagaries of litigation are messy, life is messy and courts are messier than life.  Experts can’t predict who will play in and win next year’s Super Bowl and they only have 32 teams to deal with.  By the way….people are messy as well, with the concept of logic being totally alien to them.

5. Time sucker  
A prospective client who believes that he/she is entitled to 24/7 access to the lawyer in a non-emergency case. This is coupled with the fact that the attorney – if he/she is even half decent – does have other clients.  The Time Sucker client believe that by virtue of signing a retainer letter they have now become the new number one most important client that the lawyer has. Count on dozens of meaningless phone calls coming from the client because the client doesn’t read the emails sent by Ed. Usually a time waster with little else to do ie – no ongoing business or kids to raise.

6. Too Cute by half 
This is a client who believes he/she can control the lawyer because they use the law firm often. Client has recovered over one million dollars from Ed’s firm over the years. The client’s other lawyers – and there are several – bill for services and don’t “make money” in the sense of handing the client checks like Ed’s firm does. The other firms defend the client when client is being sued and bill the client by the hour. While Ed’s cases brings money into the client’s pocket.

A case of Too Cute’s, with months of settlement discussions, comes down to Ed’s side having to reduce the demand by just $7,000 and a high six figure settlement is won.
Unsolicited, Ed calls client: “Look I’ll cut my fee by $3,500 and you lower your demand by $3,500 and we get all this money next week!”  
Client: “No way. You cut your fee by 7k. I won’t move an inch.”
Settlement made by Ed eating $7,000 of his fee.
Ed advises client never to call him again…ever, for anything.
Client says: “We are you biggest client!” 
Ed: “Not by a long stretch and if you were this call would be the same.” 
Another of their lawyers asked Ed to change his mind. Nope. Bye, bye.

Attorneys don’t like clients who are what are known in the legal (and Jewish communities) as a Chazzer (pronounced like you have a large phlegm ball in your throat, while using a very harsh and raspy “h” sound. CHHHHAAAA’-zah!). A Chazzer is a someone that is greedy and will double-cross a friend or associate for their own personal advantage or they enjoy outsmarting someone beneficial to them. This was a client that had received free legal services for problems their employees had and Ed’s people offered free assistance. Payback for being too nice or “No good deed goes unpunished”?  Either works.

7. I have no time for this
Folks like these indicate that the law firm is expected to do everything because the client has no time to participate in his/her own case.  Well besides being an ineffective, impractical or impossibility for a law firm to represent such a client, if the client is not interested enough in their own case to produce records, files when (not, if) needed, the attorney is doomed to failure. No lawyer can substitute guesswork for the contents of conversations, events that occurred or information solely within the knowledge of the client.

Ed had a client refuse to turn over his tax returns to  when ordered to do so by a judge. Ed nor any other knowledgeable attorney is going to risk being fined and sanctioned personally by a judge because the client is directing his middle finger to the judge.


Our next column will deal with  what makes a potential client a great client and one that an attorney wants to work for.