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Practice What You Preach

by Marc Gustafson |

Every lawyer I know has struggled at some point to follow the same good advice that he would give to his client. I know I have found myself feeling guilty over struggling to heed the same counsel I so often give my clients.

There is very little disappointment in this world that can match what you see in a client's face when explaining to him or her that while the case has merit, the facts weigh heavily in their favor, and any conscious jury would certainly agree, the cost of litigation, the associated stress, and the possibility (no matter how small) of an adverse outcome make asserting his or her claims inadvisable.

Justice Principle We have probably the greatest judicial system in the world, but it does not come without a price. And sometimes that price is too high or at least disproportionate to any benefit that could be achieved.

So why then did I nearly ruin a wonderful vacation worrying about a few hundred dollars a client refused to pay after achieving what I thought was a more than successful result? Just like any dispute, ours involved a flurry of emails and faxes, accusations of impropriety, barren threats, and talk of lawsuits. I even went so far as to send the requisite Revised Rules of Professional Conduct notice alerting my client to the North Carolina State Bar's program of fee dispute resolution.

All this for a few hundred dollars - dollars that you would have thought were my last on this Earth. Were not the same distraction from my regular duties, the associated stress , the costs of litigation, the possibility of an adverse result, and maybe even the risk of a bar complaint enough to dissuade me from even considering legal action? After much gnashing of teeth and swallowing of pride, better sense (eventually) prevailed.

But why was this so difficult? Is this not the same advice I so often give my own clients with such a cold demeanor that I have to remind them that I don't necessarily agree with my advice, but that it is the prudent course? Am I the doctor that prescribes insipid medicine or painful shots but refuses to take the same? The preacher who rails against sin on Sunday and commits the same on every other day of the week? The parent who recognizes his owns weaknesses in his children?

In this instance, by representing myself I would prove that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool as a client. Regardless, the sentiment holds true, the best advice may be that which we have already given but not bothered to hear. Maybe now I can tell my bookkeeper that I am taking the advice of a brilliant lawyer and to finally close the file as we won't be collecting that fee after all.

 Marc E. Gustafson practices with Essex Richards in Charlotte. Marc's practice focuses on general litigation, professional liability claims, corporate and commercial disputes related to contracts, trade secrets, and employment matters. Contact Marc at mgustafson@essexrichards.com.

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