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How to Manage Yourself So You Can Manage High Conflict Personality Clients

By Paul Fisher1

The relationship between an attorney and a high conflict personality client (“HCP”; i.e., borderline, histrionic, narcissistic or sociopathic) can easily become dysfunctional. These clients are intensely challenging, especially when they claim to be the victim and blame others for their actions, when they have a sense of entitlement, are difficult to negotiate with or berate their attorneys. Other HCP clients may be overly dramatic or be exhibitionists or may exaggerate or create detailed, non-existent facts. Some may attempt to control, manipulate or dominate their attorney. The worst may wish revenge. For details on identifying and managing high conflict personality clients click.

These clients evoke strong feelings. Listen to your mind and body reacting. Your immediate response may be fight or flight. Before doing either, consider practicing mindfulness, the non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. Mindfulness allows us to understand ourselves and others and to eliminate emotional distractions that interfere with good judgment. This may sound soft or touchy-feely, but this powerful tool has been taught to and embraced by judges and lawyers around the country.2

What we do as attorneys depends on what we are experiencing emotionally and physically. Be deliberately aware of your feelings as well as what is occurring in your environment, moment to moment. This gives you the opportunity to notice the emotional and physical reactions that influence you as you interact with your HCP client. These reactions distract us from paying attention to our responsibilities as counselors and advocates.

Staying aware of your emotional and physical reactions to an HCP client allows you to acknowledge your negative experience of this client and can help you figure out why you are reacting so strongly. This process empowers you to come back to the moment and consider what is good for your professional relationship with the HCP client (other than a slap in the face). It may be necessary to detach, calm your mind and body, mentally diffuse your reactions and then return to the moment. Take several slow, deep breaths. This will help you reply calmly and professionally. With practice, this mechanism can occur in seconds. When an HCP client gets louder, your response should be quieter. When the client gets more upset, you become calmer, not just outwardly but inwardly as well. You will be much more effective, and the HCP client will eventually become more manageable.

  1. Copyright 2017 by Paul Fisher
  2. One of the original and best resources is Leonard L. Riskin, Mindfulness: Foundational Training for Dispute Resolution, 54 J. Legal Ed. No. 1 (2004). For a brief synopsis, see Harvard Health Help Guide, Benefits of Mindfulness.
    Annual Saltman Lecture: Further Beyond Reason: Emotions, the Core Concerns, and Mindfulness in Negotiation, 10 Nev. L.J. 289 2009-2010. University of Florida Levin College of Law Research Paper No. 2010-05. Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 16-24