12.3 Warning Signs of a Difficult Client
There are a number of indicators that you may be dealing with an individual who is, or may become, a difficult client (see the article entitled: “The Difficult Client - Practice Tips”). A few examples include:
- a client who has gone through a number of lawyers and has not been satisfied with any of them;
- a client who demands that his or her work take priority over all your other clients' work; and
- a client who makes unrealistic demands of you, your staff, or both.
A difficult client may also be a fraud artist. If a client is making demands that push you out of your comfort or competence zone, you need to assert control over the relationship. Remain cognizant of your professional obligations as articulated in the Legal Profession Act, the Rules of the Law Society, and the Code of Conduct. Think about what the client is asking you to do and assess whether the client's conduct (coupled with the request) may be an indicator of fraud.
Do not underestimate the ingenuity of fraud artists. You may be targeted simply because you operate outside the safety net of a large firm environment. Note particularly Commentaries 3 and 2 of Rule 3.2-13 of the Code of Conduct:
If a lawyer has suspicions or doubts about whether he or she might be assisting a client or others in dishonesty, fraud, crime or illegal conduct, the lawyer should make reasonable inquiries to obtain information about the client or others and, in the case of the client, about the subject matter and objectives of the retainer. These should include verifying who are the legal or beneficial owners of property and business entities, verifying who has the control of business entities, and clarifying the nature and purpose of a complex or unusual transaction where the purpose is not clear. The lawyer should make a record of the results of these inquiries.
A lawyer should be alert to and avoid unwittingly becoming involved with a client or others engaged in criminal activities such as mortgage fraud or money laundering. Vigilance is required because the means for these, and other criminal activities, may be transactions for which lawyers commonly provide services such as: establishing, purchasing or selling business entities; arranging financing for the purchase or sale or operation of business entities; arranging financing for the purchase or sale of business assets; and purchasing and selling real estate.
For example, a lawyer should make inquiries of a client who:
- seeks the use of the lawyer's trust account without requiring any legal services from the lawyer in connection with the trust matters (which is prohibited by the Rules of the Law Society Rule 119.17); or
- promises unrealistic returns on their investment to third parties who have placed money in trust with the lawyer or have been invited to do so.
You must be vigilant to avoid being the vehicle for fraud. You should develop an understanding of the types of frauds that are being perpetrated on the legal community and public at large.