All of us have problems from time to time with clients who won’t listen to our legal advice. Of course, we believe the collaborative process is client driven, but our clients still need to pay attention to legal advice so they won’t make a serious mistake during negotiations and give away a significant right or asset. What is the best way to handle the client who won’t listen to your advice? Do you give up and allow them to make their own mistakes and learn the hard way? Or are there techniques you can use to control a client?
The first step in re-establishing client control is to understand why your client is not listening to you. There are two general reasons clients don’t follow attorney’s advice: one is intellectual and the other emotional.
Does the Client Understand?
If a client is not following your advice for intellectual reasons you need to ask yourself if it’s because they don’t understand what or why you are recommending a particular plan for them or because they feel their own plan is a better way to reach their goals and interests. If they don’t understand your plan you need to spend time explaining what you want them to do and why they should follow your advice so they will understand and accept your advice. On the other hand, if the client believes their plan will more likely meet their goals and interests, then you need to spend time with your client understanding their plan in detail, comparing the two plans, outlining the strengths and weaknesses of each, and allowing your client to make the final decision about what they want to do. After all, it’s their divorce and they have a right to control the method of divorcing so long as it’s not unethical or illegal.
Is the Client Angry or Anxious?
If your client is not following your advice for emotional reasons, you need to determine whether it’s because they are angry or anxious. If your client is angry it’s likely they are being passive aggressive against you or their spouse. The remedy for anger is to discover what or who is frustrating them and help them remove the barrier and gain insight into the self-destructive nature of passive-aggressive behavior. If they are anxious it’s likely they are frightened of their spouse and you need to support your client and help them feel comfortable during joint sessions. Sometimes this means using more time-outs, having the neutral mental health professional carefully control the emotional level in the meetings and rarely, hold the joint collaborative meetings in separate rooms with the professionals moving between rooms to negotiate a settlement, much like a mediation.
Understanding is Key
In conclusion, to get your client to listen to your legal advice, you need to understand why he is being difficult, spend time listening to them, establishing rapport, discussing the problem openly, pointing out the consequences of their current behavior and what it’s likely to cost in the long run. If all these techniques fail, you need to decide whether you can continue to represent your client effectively or should you withdraw and have them engage another collaborative attorney whom they trust.