Every so often one of the solicitors here at Stowe Family Law LLP will walk into my office with an exasperated expression, seeking my input on how to advise a client who simply won’t listen . The client wants to do it their way but the solicitor know their way is wrong. And not just wrong – dangerously, scarily, wrong. Sometimes nothing will dissuade a client who is convinced they know best.
“What can you do about it?” I’m asked, because the solicitor has tried and tried (and tried) and just can’t get through. Rather than let the client run riot, or terminate the retainer, I am now the last resort.
“Tell me the problem” I will ask, and then I will carefully think through the issues.
Age has its advantages. I remember years ago losing several clients to solicitors in other firms, who had age on their side. When it came down to it, those clients preferred age and maturity. Today, things have changed and I am the solicitor with that particular advantage. So while we all occasionally lament the changes we see in our faces as the years roll by, we also gain hugely in the experience and maturity stakes while those changes are taking place. As a solicitor you know that many clients with major cases will trust you over younger competitors.
Such clients will listen to me because I can often set things out in a more confident, more assured, and straightforward way than younger lawyers, who may know the legal answers but do not have my candour. I can describe scenarios to the client that have taken place over many years in a way less experienced lawyers often cannot. I can point out more pitfalls and predict more potential outcomes. I can better describe the risks. And so I can generally stop clients going down a particular path that could be disastrous.
The client might want to settle on unfavourable terms. They might be considering going to the press. They might be about to write a letter to their estranged spouse that will cause untold damage. The client might be holding out for something completely unattainable.
I will usually ask to see the client free of charge to discuss the problems and issues and the outcome is generally positive. If the client listens to what I have to say, they will be reassured, have a new understanding of what is happening and why, and now be prepared to go forward as advised. They will now have realised that they have to play the game, act positively and obtain the court’s approval, not its approbation. The solicitor can then resume moving the case in the right direction and all will hopefully well.
But some clients, or even potential clients, simply won’t budge. They have an agenda and won’t shift from this, for love nor money. We might suggest obtainable legal goals to such clients but they just aren’t interested.
And if we find ourselves in that situation, we usually part company from the client. I will wish the them well, but I know the system much too well to expect anything other than the legal outcome I have predicted. It is not big headed to believe that – it’s just my experience, my understanding of the law and the ways in which the system works. I know what will attract sympathy and what will not.
I’m never happy when this happens. I do genuinely worry for the clients and feel sorry for them as they march off towards the inevitable.
But sometimes clients who hear what you are telling them but don’t listen to a word you say are their own worst enemy.