Friday, October 9, 2015
Can my lawyer "fire" me?
Posted by Lynne Butler
I suppose it seems logical to most people that because the executor hires the lawyer, the executor can fire the lawyer, as would be the case with anyone hired to provide a service who didn't meet your expectations. But did you know that the reverse is true as well - that the lawyer can fire his or her client?
This is not something that lawyers do often. After all, we want and need clients. Without clients, we don't work, and we don't get paid. It's in our own interest to keep clients happy. So why would a lawyer fire a paying client?
The tipping point at which a lawyer decides to fire a client usually happens when the relationship between the lawyer and the client has deteriorated badly. There has to be a rapport between lawyer and client. There has to be trust on both sides that each can be relied upon to be truthful, to carry out promises, and to work together toward a common goal. If that relationship is damaged, it becomes impossible to work together.
A lawyer may well decide to fire a client who simply does not follow his or her advice. This doesn't mean that you have to do everything the lawyer tells you to do. But if the lawyer advises you not to do something because it would jeopardize your case, and you do it anyway, don't be surprised if the lawyer is frustrated with you. If you consistently and repeatedly ignore the lawyer's advice, you should expect that lawyer to back away and terminate the relationship. From the lawyer's point of view, there is no way to please the client, and the lawyer ends up looking incompetent because the client keeps making poor decisions.
I've done this myself a few times. Not many, of course, but I have in the past had to let clients go because they simply wouldn't follow my advice. Despite my exercising my best judgment based on knowledge and experience, they would choose to act according to what their friend Betty's neighbour's boyfriend's hairdresser said. I knew that when the time came, they'd be upset about my bill because they would feel they didn't hear the advice they wanted. They'd be upset again when I had to change strategy in mid-stream to accommodate whatever mistake they had just made, causing yet more billing to be necessary. There's just no good outcome to some lawyer-client relationships, and so I have chosen to terminate a couple of them.
In terms of estate work, some executors are ideal clients, and others less so. Some executors are secretive and coy, if not downright deceitful, when they talk to the lawyer about the estate. This is usually something the executor does to cover up mistakes such as borrowing from the estate or spending some of the estate money improperly. Most of the time, an experienced estate lawyer can tell which details are "off". And you know what? Clients don't like it when you expose their secrets and demand an explanation. This too, may cause the lawyer to fire the client. Nobody wants a client who fudges the truth.
And as with anyone who provides a service, if our bills don't get paid, we'll eventually stop providing services to the client.
What I hope to point out in this post is that clients have a responsibility to be good clients, just as we lawyers have a responsibility to be good lawyers.