Is Your Client in Armani Actually a Vampire?
By Paul Fisher1
On Bern’s first visit to Hill’s law office, he was very charming, almost seductive and presented a winning case against his ex-business partner. According to Bern, his partner in a very successful business locked him out of his office and threw him off the premises. Bern had no choice but to open his own business to survive. Then his old partner sued Bern for unfair competition. He was truly victimized. Bern painted a picture of huge economic losses, enough so that Hill agreed to take the case on a partial contingency, reducing her fee on the defense case to a fraction of normal hoping to more than make it back on Bern’s cross-complaint for big damages. After a lengthy pleading stage and well into discovery, Hill learned that Bern likely had taken the partnership’s customer list and begun soliciting customers for his own similar business almost a year before he was locked out, paid himself “bonuses” and used company funds to pay vast personal expenses, none of which was authorized by the partnership. In addition the ex-partner had cooperated with the police to bring charges against Bern arising from the fist fight he allegedly started when escorted from the premises. When Hill’s concerns rocketed, she conducted her own investigation and learned Bern had a history of assault charges, prior marriages and fired attorneys. Much worse, Bern was litigious and sued more than one of his attorneys.
Hill did not realize until it was too late that Bern was a vampire in an Armani suit, a sociopath. These charming people are skilled at fooling attorneys, judges and most mediators. There is pathological lying, conning and exploitative relationships with friends, business and marriage partners and even (gasp!) their attorneys. They may at once be charming and even alluring and then very aggressive, impulsive and play the victim and never acknowledging responsibility for their actions. The true sociopath, sometimes referred to as antisocial, is remorseless.
Gathering accurate information from this client may be difficult. They may omit critical information and may try to deceive their attorney. Claims must be independently verified. The most useful approach with an sociopath is to remain skeptical. Accept that some people have no conscience when causing damage or injury. Flattery may only be counterfeit charm and nearly always involves intent to manipulate. Corroborate this client’s claims. Set limits and boundaries. Explain the consequences of future misconduct. Do not be surprised when your warnings are ignored. Be prepared to enforce consequences. Require a substantial retainer that is replenished monthly. If this client falls behind you will have lost control.
Maintain your own mental health by getting lots of exercise, confer with colleagues (without breaching confidences) and practice mindful meditation. With these powerful tools you won’t need anything stronger.
If you would prefer to avoid these extremely challenging clients, see “Be Careful Whom you Choose to Represent – New Client Screening Process.”
On the other hand, if you can skillfully manage the sociopath client your reputation will be immeasurably enhanced.
1Copyright by Paul Fisher 2016