If you manage outside counsel and act like a jerk, how likely is it that your law firm will decide not to represent you?

An article in the ABA J., March 2012 at 26, focuses on bad behavior – jerks – in law firms, and cites Haynes and Boone as a firm that touts its long-standing no-jerks policy. Moreover, “The policy extends to clients as well, and Haynes and Boone has had to disengage in a few cases.”

Really? If a client doesn’t pay invoices, that justifies a firm if it stops working for the client. If a client engages in unethical behavior, stop the representation. If a deep disagreement arises over how to proceed, disengagement may be the only choice. But how many partners in law firms, having scrabbled and struggled to land a client, will pull the plug because whoever hired them is a “jerk”?

The quote is one of those lines that make people feel good to say, but not back up with specifics. “Our consulting firm doesn’t work with lousy clients.” “We only design buildings for clients that get it.” “Our law firm only handles interesting cases.” Maybe the bloviator can recall once when they turned down work for a client or bounced a client, but they recall that highly exceptional situation precisely because it is was rare. A bit like the reflexive quotes from law departments along the lines of “We fire firms that don’t serve us well,” the fact of the matter is it happens once in a blue moon, and firms firing clients because someone is aggressive, boorish, demanding, or jerkish probably happens when the moon is made of green cheese.

Not that the improbability of your law firm walking away gives you license to behave badly, but my point is that this comment has a feel-good quotability that is rarely carried out in real life. Clients and the thin skull doctrine of torts go together: you take your clients as they are.

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