12.2 The Difficult Client
The difficult client is prone to make more demands of you and your staff. The relationship has a greater chance of leading to unpaid bills, reports to the Law Society, or allegations of negligence. Dealing with a difficult client highlights the importance of employing best practices with all clients, such as managing their expectations about communications, and documenting instructions and advice. While this module stresses the importance of taking certain steps with difficult clients, bad practices do not cease to be bad simply because a client is good-natured. Sound practices should be applied to all files and for all clients.
The term “difficult client” is not meant to be derogatory or flippant. Simply put, certain personalities make it challenging to achieve satisfactory outcomes on a file and/or to maintain a professional lawyer-client relationship. Depending on your own personality, skills, and the nature of your practice, one of the most important things you can do is identify the types of clients with whom you have difficulty working. This will in turn assist you in making conscious decisions as to whether to accept or continue with a retainer once the difficulty has been identified.
Some clients may become difficult after the retainer has begun, which may require you to withdraw as counsel. Rule 3.7 of the Code of Conduct establishes considerations and steps to be taken with respect to withdrawal. Also, be sure you follow any rules or practices of the relevant court or tribunal if ceasing to act on a proceeding. Note that the Code of Conduct Rule 3.7(4) sets out specific requirements for withdrawing from a criminal proceeding.