Has your client told you, “You’re the greatest!” and later, “You’re the worst!”?
By Paul Fisher1
When Bern first came into Ted’s office he described a family business in acute distress. Both parents had passed not long ago leaving the operation and ownership to Bern, his brother and two sisters. The disagreements were so bad that a very successful business was about to fall apart. Bills were not getting paid, valuable clients were threatening to leave and key employees were taking sides. Worse, all of Bern’s siblings blamed him. Bern was charming, almost charismatic and very convincing. By the end of the first meeting Ted described a preliminary game plan and Bern exclaimed, “You’re brilliant!” Ted immediately reached out to the siblings’ attorneys. They explained how Bern had become impossible to work with by trying to control every aspect of the business and had single handedly brought the business to a crisis. When Ted next met with Bern and reported what he was told, Bern exploded and blurted out “You’re the worst.” That was the start of the abuse Bern inflicted at every opportunity. When Ted decided he could no longer withstand Bern’s intense, severe and angry mood swings, he told Bern he was free to take the case to another attorney, Bern became charming and manipulative.
Borderline personalities represent a small percentage of the population but are often found in highly emotional conflict litigation. In a new relationship they fantasize about how wonderful it will be and how great their attorney is. They control by manipulation and inflict abuse as a defense mechanism. They may change their story from one meeting to the next. They are aptly described by, “I hate you, don’t leave me.” They can be sexually alluring and may abuse alcohol or drugs.
Even if you agree with this client’s opinion about your brilliance, keep the client’s expectations reality based. Do not reinforce extreme expectations. Don’t criticize, instead work with the client’s perceptions by pointing out your concern as to how the judge might view your client’s claims in light of the other party’s position. Though this will create doubt and a strong emotional response, calmly and professionally stand your ground. Do not be drawn into their extreme emotion with your own emotional response. The client will perceive that her grounding mechanism is lost and you may lose control of the relationship. Do not ignore or be abrupt. Misunderstandings and poor treatment may lead to feelings of abandonment and revenge through bar grievance or a malpractice claim.
1Copyright by Paul Fisher 2016