Rude Clients May Sabotage Their Own Representation

 In Clients

In a recent Sunday edition of the New York Times, Professor Christine Porath summarized the findings of several studies on the impact of rudeness—both by bosses and other employees. In a poll of managers and employees across 17 different industries, people stated that they responded to incivility in a striking manner:

  • 48% intentionally decreased their work effort.
  • 47% intentionally decreased the time spent at work.
  • 38% intentionally decreased the quality of their work.
  • 80% lost work time worrying about the incident.
  • 63% lost work time avoiding the offender.
  • 66% said that their performance declined.
  • 78% said that their commitment to the organization declined.
  • 12% said that they left their job because of the uncivil treatment.
  • 25% admitted to taking their frustration out on customers.

Everyone experiences varying degrees of incivility out in the world, and the legal profession is obviously no different from any other profession. Stories of uncooperative or outright hostile opposing counsel are always fodder for gossip at lawyer gatherings, but what if the uncooperative, hostile person the attorney is dealing with is his own client?

The RPC 1.4 requires that attorneys communicate “promptly” with clients, and to “promptly comply with reasonable requests for information.” It seems obvious, but when a client is rude to a staff member or to his own attorney, that person’s requests for information can begin to seem less and less reasonable. Based on the poll responses above, it seems that a majority of people will actively avoid an uncivil person.

As the NYT points out, some people are unaware that their behavior is considered to be rude. It may be enough to request that the client act in a civil manner. If that does not work, an attorney should step up to the plate and minimize the contact between his staff and the client, particularly if the client’s actions stray into discriminatory or harassing behavior.

The final option is the “nuclear” one. If the client’s own behavior impacts the attorney’s ability to diligently and competently represent him or her, it may be necessary for the client to withdraw from the case.  RPC 1.16(b)(6) allows an attorney to withdraw if  “the representation…has been rendered unreasonably difficult by the client.”

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