Managing the Toxic Client - The Tale of Rotten Ralph
We have all had that one terrible, toxic, client.. It is that one particular client you dread talking to. The one that when you speak to him (or her or they), you feel your energy drain out of you. Your mind feels clogged after speaking with him. You start wondering why you thought becoming a divorce lawyer would EVER be a good idea . . .
Let me tell you about Rotten Ralph.
Rotten Ralph is a particular client. He also happens to be the one that doesn’t take your advice, he takes unreasonable positions, he complains about each and every one of your invoices, he takes up an inordinate amount of your staff’s time, and is, on top of it, rude. He is rude to you and, even worse, rude to your support staff. He also happens to believe he knows more about the law and the legal process than you do.
We have all had our share of Rotten Ralphs.
Rotten Ralph is DIFFICULT to love.
In my practice, one particular Rotten Ralph comes to mind. I have tried to work with Rotten Ralph over the last number of months. Rotten Ralph’s ex-spouse is, in a word, REASONABLE. The lawyer on the other side is, in a word, REASONABLE. Their most recent offer to Rotten Ralph is, in a word, REASONABLE.
Yet, Rotten Ralph will not back down from his position. Which is, essentially, NOT reasonable.
Even thinking about Rotten Ralph drains my energy.
I woke up on a beautiful Saturday morning to the sound of the birds singing in my garden . . . and then . . thoughts of Rotten Ralph entered my brain.
The Real Cost of Keeping Rotten Ralph as a Client:
I am sure that as you read this you are thinking of the Rotten Ralphs in your practice.
Although Rotten Ralph does eventually pay his invoices, and yet, when I see that I am to meet with him on my calendar, I feel an instant drain of energy.
Bluntly, I just don’t like him.
Your Rotten Ralph is also likely a source of stress, and an energy drain, not only for you, but for your support staff.
Maybe you are also like me in that you always want to see your client’s matters through to the end resolution. The thing is that up until very recently, I have always done everything possible to see my client’s files through to the end resolution. I believed that if I was hired for a job, that I should finish it. This meant that I should finish the case. I would get that client to the finish line, that is with a final agreement or court order. I would do whatever it takes for my clients to make that happen, including the Rotten Ralphs of this world.
Rotten Ralphs, Even if they Pay, Are Not Clients Worth Keeping:
You know that terrible feeling when your stomach is upset because of a stomach bug or a flu? How you feel so nauseous and gross and then when you finally THROW UP (vomit, PURGE, expel . . . you get the idea) the sickness from your body you feel SO MUCH BETTER?!
I am inviting you to PURGE the Rotten Ralphs of your law practice and do it sooner rather than later. Act fast.
I take heed from a lawyer in my City who I respect a lot. He has a different approach to the Rotten Ralphs of his practice. He first attempts to work with Rotten Ralph and reframe their relationship in a way that is more respectful. If that doesn’t work, he fires his Rotten Ralph. NO apologies. He simply writes a letter to Rotten Ralph telling him that he is no longer prepared to act.
Well, duh! I thought. It seems so obvious now doesn’t it?!
Who says I have to continue to represent Rotten Ralph at all costs?! Sure he is paying his bills (albeit begrudgingly) and yet, the COST of him is greater than he is worth.
It is Rotten Ralph who is making the poor decisions about his case. Not you. He is creating his own mess and you are not required to be part of it.
Some lawyers fight to hold on to their clients. Especially when those clients pay their bills. But the problem is, hanging onto the Rotten Ralph’s of this world is not good for you, it is not good for your business, it is not good for your team, and it is not good for your health.
Do you think for a SECOND Rotten Ralph will leave you and your team a positive review?!
Keeping the Rotten Ralph’s of this world are not good for your finances either.
If you get rid of Rotten Ralph, that will open up the space in your practice for other, more pleasant, more grateful clients, ones that are easier to work with, ones that inspire you, ones that leave you feeling good about the work you do.
Lifting the Burden:
When I finally PURGED my most recent Rotten Ralph, I felt immediate relief.
The emotional, physical, and mental drain caused by the Rotten Ralphs of this world will keep you from enjoying your job, impact the work you do for other clients, and eat up time and energy you could devote to getting better, more grateful, and much more pleasant clients.
To make room for better, more lucrative clients, you have to be willing to let go of the ones that hold you back and drain your energy.
What to do:
Here is how to deal with the Rotten Ralphs in 4-short steps:
Remember Timing is Everything:
Of course it goes without saying you can’t dump a client on the eve before a hearing or in the middle of a trial . . . (I am thinking of a Rotten Ralph I have had recently and the fact that I could not walk because I was knee deep in lengthy litigation).
If you have a question or concern about the ethics of purging your own Rotten Ralph, discuss it with your Bar Association, a mentor, or another colleague.
And one more thing to remember . . . just because someone is your Rotten Ralph, he may not be a Rotten Ralph to a colleague of yours. Now, I am not suggesting you dump Rotten Ralph on your trusted colleagues, I am saying simply that he may not have the same relationship with another lawyer.
My challenge to you this week is . . . give yourself the gift of purging the Rotten Ralph in your legal practice . . .
In This Episode: