Bullying Lawyers, Toxic Law Firms? Don’t Blame the Lawyers, Blame the Clients

Bullying Lawyers, Toxic Law Firms? Don't Blame the Lawyers, Blame the Clients

schreiender businessmann mit telefonThe poor reputation some law firms have to work for – well, many law firms if you like – is more due to their clients than the lawyers, according to a business psychiatrist.

Mark Goulston says there is increasing “toxicity” in law firms and the problem is the clients who set the tone.  Instead of taking it out on a client or kicking the dog, the lawyer who gets beaten up by a client will start yelling at or bullying staff.  Not good.

“I’ve even seen some turn to drugs, alcohol and a variety of unhealthy habits to redirect their frustration.”
The Careerist reports: So how should you handle the nasty client? When a client is abusive, Goulston says you should look at him in the left eye (“which is attached to their right emotional brain”), pause, then say one of the following:

– “Say that again?”

– “Do you really believe what you just said?”

– “Huh?” (as in, “Excuse me”)

– “What was that all about?”

– “Excuse me, I apologize, but my mind wandered over the past few minutes, can you please repeat what you just said?”

Goulston also advises that you should discuss with your volatile client beforehand the best way to convey bad news: “Going forward, in the event I have to tell you about a bump and obstacle or setback, what is the best way to tell you?”

Interesting ideas, but will they work? I agree with Goulston that you should appear calm (remember, you’re the lawyer—the rational one), but would saying something like “Huh?” or “Do you believe what you just said?” cause an unreasonable client to stop, reflect, and behave reasonably? Let’s just say I’m doubtful. If anything, those remarks might inflame the guy further.

Wouldn’t it be better to just tell the guy his remarks were unfair and unwarranted? And while you’re at it, why not tell the schmuck that he hurt your feelings? Isn’t being straightforward without sounding sarcastic and patronizing a wiser approach?

But perhaps the most prudent course of all is just to suck it up—and do what others have always done: Take it out on a poor underling, your family, or your dog.

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