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Why Do Some Crappy Lawyers Have Happy Clients?

DreierI know one personally. She’s a terrible lawyer. She can’t read and understand a court opinion. She misreads statutes. She’s an embarrassment in court. Her pleadings are poorly drafted. Her correspondence is filled with errors. She says things in chambers that make her look like an idiot. Her objections are overruled. Her court appearances are dominated by illogical arguments.

She’s a really crappy lawyer.

Her clients, however, love her. They refer business to her like crazy. She spends nearly nothing  on marketing and is making a freaking fortune. She can’t see a new client for weeks because she is solidly booked.

How is it that she is such a bad lawyer yet is so successful?

Here’s the deal. She does things that make it clear that she cares about her clients. She rants and raves in court, like a maniac, on behalf of her clients. She crosses over every line and gets personally involved with her clients. She laughs with her clients, she cries with her clients. She returns calls, she calls at night, she stays on the phone forever. She loves her clients and it shows. She knows it and her clients know it. She’d do anything to help them. They are her friends.

Her clients love her. They love her when she wins, they love her when she loses. They know she’s committed to their cause. They know she did her best, even when her best isn’t good enough.

It all makes me wonder whether she’s really a crappy lawyer or whether I have ideas about what’s important that might be irrelevant. Who sets the standard for crappy? Lawyers or clients? Maybe my idea of crappy doesn’t really matter?

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  • http://www.baumdockter.com Emmanuel Dockter

    Interesting post Lee. It raises the question of how much of a lawyer’s job is getting the client a favorable outcome from the legal system and how much is keeping the client happy. When a client wants to explain to the Judge all the reasons the marriage failed, and you know from experience that such an approach is immaterial and could potentially even hurt their case, what do you do? How much of your role is as an objective advisor and how much is as a subjective advocate or personal legal tool?

    • Lee Rosen

      Great questions. I’d love to know the answers.

      For lots of us I think it comes down to whether we want to be respected by our peers or our clients. Most lawyers, I think, worry more about peers. We explain that we’ll have to deal with them forever and clients come and go.

      In an ideal world we’d do the job well enough to gain the respect of both. I know you’re doing the work day in and day out and you know it’s tough to meet that standard.


  • http://www.GrahamLawCollaborative.com Kimberly Graham

    Excellent post. I’ve seen exactly what you’re talking about. The balance between subjective advisor and zealous advocate is always a challenging one.

    • Lee Rosen


      Thanks for your kind words. I appreciate your input.


  • http://www.myshingle.com Carolyn Elefant

    I think that you can be both, especially when your clients love you. Most of my clients like me because I provide excellent service. I take the time to explain legal points at length and respond to emails and try where ever possible to take my clients’ views into account. Because I do all of that, when it’s time to toe the line – for example, to reject a requested way of doing things because it’s unethical or will unnecessarily aggravate opposing counsel – they listen to me. Just as I tell my daughters (who love me), I am supposed to be a parent, not a friend. So too with clients – we are advocates and counsel, not their friends. I’ve blogged before about what happens when you get too close to clients to the point of being an irresponsible advocate: http://www.myshingle.com/2006/04/articles/client-relations/clients-as-pals-almost-as-bad-as-the-client-from-hell/

    • Lee Rosen


      I love your post. Thanks for linking to it and for advancing the conversation.


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