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7 Scary Law Office Scenarios

by Jay Reeves |

For lawyers, every day is Halloween.

We fear missing a deadline. We dread looking at our to-do list. We shudder to imagine what unspeakable horror might come crawling through the door.

Relax. All is well.

Psychologists tell us that most of us share certain fears – falling, public speaking, twerking. In fact, they are an essential part of our survival mechanism.

The way to move past our mental monsters is to acknowledge and embrace them. When we drag them out into the sunlight they tend to dissolve like Dracula into dust. But when we banish them to the basement, they begin to groan and clank and keep us up at night.

7 Client Scenarios That Are Sure to Raise Goose Bumps

Here are some scary scenarios that tend to recur in law offices – especially around Halloween:

  • The Creeping Contagion of the Chronic Complainer. To say this employee has a bad attitude is an understatement. Personality traits include back-stabbing, gossiping and finger-pointing. These bad vibes can spread like shock waves from a nuclear blast. Better find an antidote – or perform an amputation – before your entire staff is fatally infected.
  • The Case That Refused to Die. After months of bitter negotiations, you are finally able to reach a settlement. The judge signs the consent order and you leave the courtroom savoring the sweet air of freedom. But no. Just when the awful memories have begun to fade, you receive a notice to return to court. Your client is in contempt. Opposing counsel wants to set aside the settlement. Your vision blurs as you realize you are back at square one.
  • Night of the Living Client. Your new client seems nice enough. The case has merit. You open the case file, bank a sizable retainer fee and drive home basking in the satisfaction of a good day’s work. Then the phone rings. The client has a few more questions. Followed by an urgent request. Before the week is out your voice mail is overflowing and your inbox has exploded. This client’s neediness knows no bounds.
  • State Bar Certified Mail Mania. No news is good news, at least when it comes to the State Bar. You enjoy receiving the Bar Journal, and the annual dues notice is innocuous. But one morning you get a certified letter from Raleigh. It was sent by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel. Your hands tremble as you realize you are the unlucky recipient of an ethics grievance.
  • Deadline Delirium. You wake up in the dead of night in a cold sweat. Your heart is pounding. What was the statute of limitations in that important case? Could it have lapsed yesterday? Or even last week? Up until now, your memory has served as your calendaring system. But soon you might be calendaring an appointment with your malpractice defense lawyer.
  • Trust Account Terror. You receive a bank notice. A check written on your client trust account has been returned for insufficient funds. You gape in disbelief. Maybe you should have paid a bit more attention to those boring rules on quarterly reconciliations and such. Just then there is a knock at the door. The State Bar auditor has dropped by for a little visit.
  • The Client Who Knew Too Much. He comes to the intake conference with a laptop computer and a thick file of pro se Internet research. He says he has already done all the leg work. He says his case is a slam dunk. All you need to do is call the insurance company and request a couple million dollars. For some unexplainable reason you accept the case. Beware. Your independent judgment is in danger of being snatched.

Never Fear – Relief is Here

You can avoid these and other nasty tricks by treating yourself to a bit of common sense and risk management:

  • Screen prospective clients with care.
  • Create a positive attitude of teamwork in the office.
  • Carefully go over important points with new clients up front, to head off a barrage of questions down the road.
  • Disengage (if possible) from awful cases.
  • Stay on top of your trust account.
  • Implement an effective calendar and tickler system.
  • Respond in a timely manner to State Bar grievances.
  • Contact your Lawyers Mutual claims department at the first hint of trouble.

Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is law licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He will read from his award-winning short story “Nylon and Steel” at Lawyers Mutual’s November 14 “Put Into Practice” CLE in Greensboro. Contact jay@lawyersmutualnc.com or call 919-619-2441.