Attorneys in California swear an oath when they become members of the California Bar Association; that oath includes a promise to faithfully discharge the duties of the profession to the best of the attorney’s knowledge and ability. One of the most sacrosanct cornerstones of the legal profession is an attorney’s duty of loyalty to the client – in other words, promotion and protection of the client’s best interests, even when those interests conflict with those of the attorney.
But what happens when the client is the client’s own worst enemy? I encounter this problem from time to time in particularly contentious divorces, or especially bitter custody disputes. I often hear a client who is highly emotionally damaged or enraged ask me to undertake a course of action that, ultimately, is not likely to lead to a positive outcome for a client but will be pricey. That means money in my bank account, but not such a good outcome for my client.
While I am more than happy to accept payment from a client, I am reticent to accept fees from one who is instructing me to take a course of action akin to chasing a wild goose, herding feral cats, or running a fool’s errand. On more than one occasion have I told a client, “I hear what you’re saying and I get that you’re hurt/angry/ticked off, but I’m not sure what you’re asking me to do is the best use of your money.” Sometimes, there is a less emotionally charged action that will yield better results, which is a better use of a client’s money towards attorneys’ fees.
I have yet to talk a client down off the emotional ledge and still be told to chase that goose, herd those cats, or run that fool’s errand. While having a good lawyer to help you argue your case is all good and well, the really critical thing is knowing you have an attorney on your side who is going to look out for you on every issue, even when it means protecting you from yourself.
By Katrin M. Cusack, Law Offices of Katrin M. Cusack