Want to avoid a State Bar complaint? Think back to preschool, and remember what we teach our two and three year olds. Treat others how you would like to be treated.
It seems so simple. If you called someone and they didn’t call you back, you’d be annoyed. If you paid someone to do something and days and days passed without hearing whether it was done, you’d be aggravated. If someone promised you a refund but it didn’t come, you’d probably hit the roof.
These are the biggest complaints clients have about their attorneys, and they’re the ones that most often lead to State Bar complaints. The psychology behind attorney behavior is not the subject of this post, though I do sometimes think I should have gotten a PhD in psychology to go along with my JD so I might be able to understand my own clients’ behavior a bit better.
By the time I get to know a client, his own client has already lost his patience and filed a complaint, letting the horse out of the gate and firmly establishing that the relationship is beyond repair. But what if, before it got to this point, the lawyer could stop for a moment, set his pride aside, and see himself through his client’s eyes? If most lawyers in disintegrating client relationships were honest about this, they would probably see that their own behavior was only making the situation worse. Our clients really ask first and foremost to be treated with respect. Sure, they also want to win their litigation matters and have positive outcomes in their transactions, but even more than that they look to be respected by the people they hire to work on their team. If we could all put this at the front of our minds in our client interactions, fewer Bar complaints would be needed.
So if it happens that a client has begun to lose patience with you, stop. Put aside your defensiveness that is so often our first reaction. Put yourself in your client’s shoes. Really truly put yourself there, without the excuses that you’re likely to make for yourself. Now call your client. Make it right. There is no need for the Bar to be involved when you can do it yourself.