Legal Practice

Who are You to Judge? Managing Feelings Around Clients

You’re not going to like your clients. Well, you’ll like some of them but more than likely you’ll have a few that you just don’t like. It could be because of their personality or because of their decisions, or because they zap your energy, or they’re downright rude…clients are humans and we normally don’t always love every human we engage with.

But when you’re representing them, you’re duty to your client requires you figuring out how to overcome feelings of dislike. Now to be clear, there’s no duty to like your client. But when you dislike someone or find yourself judging their behavior/character, it impacts your work and that is what you have to be cautious of and work to fix.

How could this impact your work?

First, your clients know when they’re being judged. They’re not dumb–when they know you have disdain towards them it can create feelings of alienation or lack of trust. When clients don’t trust you, you may as well call it day. Trust over everything when you’re representing someone.

Second, when you don’t like someone, it clouds your own judgement. It doesn’t let you see the case clearly and frankly there’s a possibility you won’t be as zealous as you need to be.

Third, not everyone can control themselves when they don’t like someone. Are you rolling your eyes when they talk? Dismissing their questions/concerns? Failing to return calls in a timely manner because you don’t want to deal with them? All of that behavior adds to the narrative that lawyers are jackasses. And perhaps that is the least of the concerns here, but if you see that your dislike is manifesting in how you represent your client, recognize that you are failing them. That is harsh to say but true.

So, if you recognize this is happening, or from the jump you know you don’t like this person, how do you avoid your feelings from seeping into your work?

It’s important to be in tune with your feelings. I know that sounds super crunchy but if you have a certain type of client recognize characteristics that know will trigger judgy feelings. When you realize that you feel a certain way towards an individual do a gut-check and advocate for the client to yourself. Yes, maybe they’re doing things you would never do, things you abhor even, but how can you put them in the best light possible? What is the reason they behave the way they do? Literally look at all the mitigating factors. Giving clients grace for their behavior (even if they don’t deserve it) will help you counter some of your feelings. Finally, if you recognize a serious barrier that you can’t seem to overcome then you should consider withdrawing. That seems like a major thing to do, but there is no half-assing client representation. Again, I do not mean that if you don’t like your client you should withdraw–what I mean is that if you find that your feelings of dislike are impacting how your represent them, then you can’t stay on the case.

Has this happened to me? Yes! I’ve had clients I didn’t care for, or did things that I didn’t approve of, or even caused annoyance because their decisions further complicated their cases. The thing that helped me stop being a judgy B was recognizing that my clients need not be perfect. Perfect clients are easy to advocate for–especially if you work in poverty law, like I did. Of course you can advocate zealously for the single mom trying to survive. But it’s the ones that are messy that made me a better attorney. They are the ones that required deeper advocacy so that the adjudicators could see past the mess and side with them instead. I would remind myself often that clients need not be perfect to get the best representation from me.

And ultimately what I recognized was that for difficult clients or ones that I just did not mesh with, often they had few people who had ever advocated for them. What a difference to be one of the few that went to bat for them. Making this difference changed how I viewed my relationship with them, which helped me push those feelings aside and give the 100% they deserved.

How have you overcome not liking clients?