It’s wrong for in-house counsel to disparage their clients

Sometimes during speeches I show a slide that makes a point about behavior of partners at law firms that irritate in-house lawyers. One of the leading irritants is “being patronizing” (See my post of Oct. 30, 2006.)

Yet, I often detect the same critical and superior attitude among lawyers in law departments. In-house counsel patronize their clients. Those foolish, obtuse or obstinate clients are always getting into trouble; they don’t know as much as we do; it’s an effort to get those dense clients to understand what we are telling them about legal risks and paths; we can’t trust clients to act responsibly.

When the theme is “do more with less,” one pressure valve is to empower clients (See my post of Dec. 2007 about Sapient letting clients complete contracts.). Unless you think your clients are capable and well-intentioned, you won’t let them take on tasks that you have been doing. Hard as it may be to accept the fact, remember, even lawyers sometimes make mistakes or decide poorly.

Far better to treat clients, until clearly proven otherwise, as respected colleagues.

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