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Best Practices – Dealing with Difficult Clients
Post on March 16th, 2022

The question of how to deal with a difficult client is something we address frequently with our insured lawyers. The best advice we can give is to trust your instincts and avoid getting involved with these clients in the first place. However, a difficult client is not always easy to spot before undertaking the representation. Here are some best practices to keep in mind to avoid difficult clients, prevent good clients from becoming difficult clients, and deal with those clients who are already difficult.

  1. Listen

The difficulty in lawyer-client relationships often comes from a disconnect between what the client expects from the lawyer and what the lawyer can do for the client. To avoid this, give the client a chance to express him/herself and listen carefully. Getting the client’s objectives down in writing in the client’s own words is also an effective way to uncover any unreasonable expectations. Address those expectations before undertaking the representation.

  1. Thoroughly Evaluate for Conflicts

A troubled lawyer-client relationship can quickly go from bad to worse if the client believes that the lawyer’s duty of loyalty is compromised by a conflict of interest.  Gather information from the client before undertaking the representation and perform a thorough conflict check. Continue to evaluate for conflicts that may arise throughout the representation and address any conflicts promptly.

  1. Communicate and Document

With every client, but particularly with difficult clients, good communication is key to a successful relationship. At every stage of the representation make sure that the client understands what is happening and thoroughly document those communications. Good communication includes a clear written fee agreement, monthly status updates, and a dated file closing letter. This will not only help keep the representation on track but is also helpful if the client later makes an allegation of legal malpractice or files a grievance.

  1. Terminate the Representation

Ohio Professional Conduct Rule 1.16(b)(5) permits a lawyer to withdraw from representation of a client if the representation has been rendered unreasonably difficult by the client. Do not continue to represent a client who has made the representation unreasonably difficult. Do not continue to represent a client who has accused you of malpractice or unethical conduct. Do not continue to represent a client who refuses to pay you. Rarely are these problems rectified by continuing the representation.

For more detailed advice on dealing with difficult clients, see our May 2021 OBLIC Alert: Best Practices- Dealing with Difficult Clients.  If you are dealing with any difficult client issues, please give us a call. We are here to help.

Gretchen Mote, Esq
Director of Loss Prevention
Ohio Bar Liability Insurance Co.
Direct:  614-572-0620
Email: [email protected]
Monica Waller, Esq.
Senior Loss Prevention Counsel
Ohio Bar Liability Insurance Co.
Direct:  614-859-2978
Email: [email protected]