Law Ruler April 2024
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A Life in the Law

An Antidote to Ungrateful Clients: Rediscovering the Satisfaction and Joy of Helping Others

By Susan Cohodes

I decided to retire from full-time law practice in large part because I was tired of dealing with ungrateful clients. I worried I would miss the grateful ones, though, along with the ego boost and satisfaction that came with helping people who appreciated the help. 

And I did miss them, until I met a six-year-old I’ll call Henry.

Twice a week, I read with Henry, a first grader at an elementary school in Seattle, through a program called Reading Partners. 

Henry is a teeny-tiny first-grader who has an amazing vocabulary and really cool Spider-Man rain boots. He also tells a great story, especially about his neighbors, four siblings, and pets. I learned from Henry that his dog is both a good dog and a bad dog, which I found hard to believe until he explained it to me, and now I totally get it.

Henry can spell like a champion but so far hasn’t quite been able to put together the idea of reading. So, we’re working on that together.

Working with Henry is by far the most satisfying thing I’ve done in years.

Grateful and Ungrateful Clients

I’ve helped thousands of clients over the years, and many of them were grateful. Maybe even most of them were. But as the years rolled by, I couldn’t help but focus on the ungrateful ones. Probably because I was a little hurt that they didn’t recognize what a good job I had done for them, and I thought it was a little rude of them not to give me even a half-hearted “thanks.” 

It got to the point where I didn’t want to do that anymore. I couldn’t do it anymore. At least not full-time.

Now, thanks to Henry (and because since I retired, I’m only handling a few cases for really nice clients), I am once again able to feel the sense of satisfaction and even joy I experienced years ago when I first started helping clients.

I have learned from Henry that it really isn’t the “thank you” that matters. 

He rarely says thanks — unless high-fives count. Then, he says thanks all the time. But I know he appreciates my being there because we have fun, and he has success after success when we work together. So, Henry doesn’t have to say a word, and I feel the gratitude. More importantly, I know I am helping him and making a difference.

I wish I had met someone like Henry years ago.

The practice of law isn’t easy; it can wear you down like it did me. The work itself is pressure-filled, challenging and, at times, tedious. While I’ve always tried to do some pro bono work, I never got a great deal of satisfaction from it because it was just more of the same.

Once my children went off to college, the non-law volunteer opportunities I had relied on were gone. To my shame, I didn’t look any further until after retiring from full-time practice. I wish I had done it sooner, and I now encourage the younger lawyers I meet to do the same.

The Low-Pressure Pleasure of Volunteering Outside the Law

I tell them to find something unrelated to the law, whether volunteering at a food bank or senior center or reading to someone like Henry.

It is important to feel appreciated. If your clients don’t give you that feeling, a six-year-old reading partner or food bank manager probably will. 

Even if they don’t say a word.

Thanks to Henry, I have rediscovered the joy of helping others. My remaining clients may benefit. I most certainly have.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

Did you know that National Read Across America Day is celebrated on March 2nd, the birthday of Dr. Seuss? The purpose is to encourage children to celebrate reading — and read wherever they are.

‘Read’ photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Image ©

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Susan Cohodes Susan Cohodes

Susan Cohodes is a trial attorney who practiced for more than 35 years, first in Chicago and for the last 31 years in Seattle. Susan has spent her entire career fighting for injured clients. In 2024, Susan became Of Counsel to her firm and is now pursuing her passions of knitting, writing — and following her beloved Green Bay Packers around the country.

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