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Lawyers as the Bearers of Bad News

by Carolyn Elefant on December 17, 2006 · 6 comments

in Client Relations, Dealing With Clients

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The recent shootings at a Chicago law firm by Joe Jackson, a disgruntled and crazed client have spawned a search for reasons behind the tragedy.  This article, Lawyers balance inventors’ hope (12/17/06) explores one rationale: that Jackson, like other inventors who seek patents, hold an unrealistic hope of success.  According to one  patent attorney quoted in the article, “probably less than one in 100″ will ever make money on an invention.  As the article describes:

Attorneys tread a fine line between being upfront with clients and killing their dreams.  “If everyone took a negative attitude, if they said, ‘It’s too hard, or it will take too long,’ then where would our society be?” said Paul Juettner, another patent attorney. “Then Thomas Edison wouldn’t have done the things he did — or the Wright brothers.”

In patent law, as in other fields, attorneys must act as the bearers of bad news, the ones who put a damper on expectations.   It’s probably one of the worst parts of being an attorney, but if we don’t occasionally tell our clients “no,” or at least ask them to consider a variety of different options, who will?

  • Lawrence B. Ebert

    The delivery of bad news is one thing.
    There may be other issues here:
    http://ipbiz.blogspot.com/2006/12/jackson-contacted-pittsburgh-invention.html

  • http://soloinchicago.blogspot.com Peter Olson

    Is there a more critical activity for lawyers than proper management of client expectations?

  • elguapo

    It’s important to manage expectations, but some clients are just whacko.
    So it’s also important to screen out the crazies. Which is kinda hit or miss, but one red flag to watch out for is if the potential client seems to think that he or she knows the law.
    In the initial conference, if the client uses legal words or phrases, look out.
    Also, if the client seems overly confident that he or she is in the right, be careful.
    Last, if the client has already done significant legal work alone (or with another attorney) be careful.

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  • http://www.goldsteinandclegglaw.com/blog Michael Goldstein

    The most difficult aspect of my practice is to explain to a client why a settlement offer is reasonable and their case is not worth as much as they think.

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