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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Clients go public after Ontario estate lawyer charges them for complaint against him, so I'm taking fewer demanding clients

I've been a lawyer for a long time. A very long time. Most days I absolutely love the job and my clients. I see my role as a guide for those who have to navigate their way through the legal system. I'm neither the boss who tells the client what to do, nor the servant who does everything she is told to do. We work together.

Something I've come to understand over the years is that clients don't always see things the same way I do. This may the first time they've been involved in an estate, but it's not my first time. They have lost a loved one, but I haven't. The family that is fighting isn't my family. Though I may have a great deal of compassion for a client who comes into my office for help, they are emotional and unsure about the legal system and my role.

When I advise a client about what to do, my advice is an amalgam of my knowledge, my experience, their goals, and their circumstances. I try my best to toss in a big, healthy dose of reality to keep the client grounded. Most of the time, the working relationship is great and at the end of the legal proceedings we all part as friends.

Every couple of years, however, I run up against a client who simply does not listen, or takes advice from too many people and ends up confused, or who honestly thinks that I should do everything he or she wants, no matter how ridiculous or pointless or spiteful. These are the clients who are so wrapped up emotionally in the estate that they cannot think rationally. My heart goes out to them, but let's face it, they are difficult clients for me and my staff. No matter how great a job I do for them, they are not going to be happy. They get not only my legal advice, but many extra hours of my time and a shoulder to lean on. You better believe that the constant propping up of distraught people can be tough on me too.

So when I read a story on CBC about a family who made a complaint to the Ontario Bar Association about their estate lawyer, I had mixed feelings. To me, the fact that they called the media to "go public" meant that they were actively searching for a way to hurt the lawyer. They won't get anything out of going public other than bitter satisfaction that they've damaged someone's reputation and business. Creating backlash seems to be an extremely popular activity these days. The prevailing attitude seems to be that if you're unhappy, try to make sure everyone else is too.Click here to read the story.

The article talks about a woman who didn't like how her lawyer handled her father's estate. Her complaint to the Law Society found that the lawyer didn't do anything wrong. That part isn't really unusual, since as I said, many clients don't really understand the legal system and are not sure whether it was used to their full advantage. It was after that finding that it all went off the rails. The lawyer sent the family a bill for responding to the complaint. They were offended and went to the media.

The media inflated the story to make it as sensational as possible. Their headline was "Lawyer charges grieving family thousands for time spent responding to complaint against him". It wasn't just a client involved, never mind a vindictive person; it was a "grieving family". The "thousands" referenced was in reality $2,300.

In this lawyer's shoes, I wouldn't have charged for responding to the complaint because all that did was ramp up emotions that were already out of control. But I can see his point. He would have just sat through the complaint process where people pointed fingers and made accusations even though he had handled the estate properly. I'd be ticked off too, as would anyone in any job who was wrongly accused. All estate lawyers get pretty tired of those few clients who exist in an eternal emotional frenzy and simply cannot be calmed down no matter what you do.

I'm getting smarter about choosing my clients. After putting in this many years, I feel that I'm entitled to pick my clients just as clients pick their lawyers. I am winding down my willingness to invest my time and effort in clients whose emotions and attitudes render them completely unable to think straight. I just don't see the point in dealing with the truly impossible clients anymore, even though they are the ones who possibly need me the most. I can handle difficult clients but I'll no longer work with the completely irrational ones. Otherwise, I'll be the next lawyer whose clients complain that I'm not doing the job. I recently had a client who emailed me 9 times in one day - and got replies - then complained (to me, not to the Law Society) that I was not in close enough touch with her.

At the end of the work day, I want to go home to my family just like everyone else does. Life is too short to spend defending myself from bitterness. If the end result of "going public" is that fewer lawyers will handle your case, so be it.

*The attached photo is one I took of a corner of the St. John's courthouse.

8 comments:

  1. Lynne,
    I concerns me when 'good' lawyers who have done their job for the client, have tried everything to make it work and the client then goes out to hurt them. My concern with this matter is 1) We know very little about this Estate case, the lawyer ie. experience. 2) IMO the lawyer should never have responded the way he did. As far as his billing he could have checked with the Law Society or other to see if that was legal. The Law Society,they do not always get it right. They play games. I know that from experience.

    As you are aware I am involved in an Estate matter that has yet to be resolved and settled. Lawyers have misbehaved and have done everything to get me to do and accept what is in their best interest. At this stage I cannot say anymore as my case is ongoing. I can assure you that any complaint from me would not be 'frivilous'. I have conducted myself accordingly. TBC.

    There are many 'good lawyers' out there but not all lawyers are 'good'. Not all lawyers can attach these words, 'integrity' 'ethic's' 'morals' alongside their credentials?
    You can go online and see a list of delinquent lawyers. I am sure that there are a number of people out there who have legitimate complaints against their lawyer but have done nothing. Going up against a lawyer would be like taking your average person from off the street and putting that person in the ring with a 'heavyweight' fighter.

    Clients. Most people will agree with your assessment of some client's. Many do not listen. All they want is their pound of flesh. They want to hurt someone. The client/customer is not always right but a 'skilled' lawyer knows how to work with them. If not, then it goes to the next level.

    Lynne, I can't thank you enough for your Blog and what you do. I have learned a great from the story's and cases presented and your responses. If only more lawyers were like you. I would like to see a major newspaper run a column ie. Estate Matters. You would be an ideal choice. IMHO.

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    1. I always appreciate your comments because I know you've been through a lot with your own situation.

      Yes, you can see a list of delinquent lawyers. If all professions did as we do and publish the names of those who went off the rails, you'd find just as many (or more) names under doctors, mechanics, computer techies, you name it. There are bad apples in every bunch. My experience has been that most lawyers try really hard to do a good job for their clients.

      As for that column in a major newspaper, that works for me.

      Lynne

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  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  3. Hmmm...as a lay person executor I would be entitled to pay for legal expenses out of the estate if there was a challenge to the way I handled the estate...why should a professional be any different ?

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    1. That's an excellent point. As you can see from the media's eagerness to run a sensationalist story, it's easy to ramp up negative stories about lawyers. I personally would have written off the $2,300 just to get rid of the hyper-emotional people.

      Lynne

      Delete
  4. Hi Lynne, the best piece of advice someone once gave me was, to never assume anything. After reading your blog, mainly...

    So when I read a story on CBC about a family who made a complaint to the Ontario Bar Association about their estate lawyer, I had mixed feelings. To me, the fact that they called the media to "go public" meant that they were actively searching for a way to hurt the lawyer. They won't get anything out of going public other than bitter satisfaction that they've damaged someone's reputation and business. Creating backlash seems to be an extremely popular activity these days. The prevailing attitude seems to be that if you're unhappy, try to make sure everyone else is too.

    I know you’re expressing your opinion, but until you’ve heard both sides of the story, not just reading the CBC “go public” side. In my opinion, you are “assuming”.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, it's an assumption, but one that is based on 32 years of involvement with estates and clients. I've seen people before who try to browbeat their lawyers into doing things their way by threatening bad publicity, and I don't have any respect for them.

      Lynne

      Delete
  5. As for that column in a major newspaper, that works for me.[LB]
    Lynne
    -------
    Lynne
    You made my day with that one. I hope to expand on this at one point.

    We expect a great deal from lawyers as we are talking about 'the law', getting to the truth of the matter. Lawyers pass the Bar, they swear an oath. They have to observe rules of the Law Society. They are Officers of The Court. Some of them even become Judges. We then pay them hundred of dollars an hour to help us resolve and settle our issues.

    What can we expect from lawyers.
    https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/expectations-for-lawyer-attorney-29876.html

    webeye

    ReplyDelete

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