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Mastering Client Care

Managing the Aggressive Client: Your Roof, Your Rules

By | Feb.04.14 | Client Relations, Client Service, Daily Dispatch, Law Practice Management

Client-Care

My last post on managing aggressive clients discussed the importance of your “first response.” Now we forge bravely ahead to using your physical environment to your advantage. Aggressive clients need to know that while they are under your roof, they must follow your rules. So, once you’ve identified (and decided to keep) an aggressive client, take care to set the stage for their arrival.

Under My Roof Rule 1: Claim Your Rightful Throne

Enforcement Methodology: During client meetings, seat yourself behind a large and imposing desk with a chair that boosts you up into a throne-like position. For the aggressive client’s seat, select the lowest chair possible. Position this low chair far enough away from the desk that the aggressive client cannot lean forward on the desk, or touch any of your scholarly stuff. During the meeting, occasionally stand, perhaps to grab a document or book, and remain standing while making important points, thus forcing the aggressive client to look up at you. Avoid cozy conference rooms, no matter how cool-looking, or any other such spaces designed for chummy equality.

Under My Roof Rule 2: Never Be the Escort

Enforcement Methodology: You earn zero points for squiring the aggressive client around the office. You aren’t the tour guide in this relationship. Have others escort the client in and out of the office, to the restroom, or over to ogle your trophy for “Least Likely to Cry Post-Deposition.” The aggressive client must see you as the leader of the proverbial pack, and leaders do not escort clients to take a tinkle. Prep a co-conspirator beforehand if this is a departure from your normal, more casual office procedures.

Under My Roof Rule 3: Banish All Signs of Visual Weakness

Enforcement Methodology: The aggressive client is always on the watch for weakness. See that dumpy dog-eared stack of documents, cute coffee mug collection and crumpled back issues of Lion-Hearted Litigator? That’s visual weakness. When the aggressive client comes to visit, your workspace should look as organized and efficient as the deck of the Starship Enterprise. Stash the family photos, hide the Kaepernick bobblehead and clean up the legal clutter. Your office decor must communicate one thing to the aggressive client: serious business.

By using your physical environment to your advantage, you are setting the scene for what you expect while the client is on your legal turf. As an added bonus, the environment stuff is easy to do and requires zero confrontation.

Next post, I’ll describe how to set boundaries the aggressive client will respect.

Ryan Sullivan has been a trial lawyer for almost 14 years, practicing exclusively indigent criminal defense. A speaker, writer and trainer, Ryan believes a sense of humor and the ability to frame events positively, combined with solid professional skills, leads directly to career and business success. Her experience working with and training others in challenging careers has given her the skills to manage the toughest customers, speak and present persuasively, and shine under stressful circumstances. Ryan and her husband have three children, three dogs and a home suspended in a perpetual state of DIY remodeling.

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4 Responses to “Managing the Aggressive Client: Your Roof, Your Rules”

  1. Don McClure
    4 February 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    Rule 4 – Avoid working with aggressive clients – and if you do – dump them. Not worth the hassle.
    Also, never get rid of family photos or other items that show your personality. If the client sees those items as signs of weakness, at least they will speak up and you will know to dump them at the very beginning.
    Always be yourself.

  2. Chris Hargreaves
    4 February 2014 at 4:35 pm #

    Ryan you make an interesting case here for the “fire with fire” approach to handling an “aggressive” client.

    I think Don has a good proposition – just dump them. If your meetings with your own clients require you to suit up in body armour, then they’re not worth your time.

    On a strategic point though (if dumping the client is not an option), why would you meet aggression with more aggression? All it does is raise the temperature of the room, create an artificial dominance competition between you and your client that you are going to constantly strive to win.

    In essence – playing these games is letting your client dictate the rules of your own personality – their aggression becomes the lawyer’s focus point. You’re trying to suggest that we should become a bigger, stronger, smarter, more powerful version of them and make sure they know it.

    I have found that being myself, being respectful to the client but confident if a rebuke is required from time to time is all that’s needed. It’s shouldn’t be about creating a competition with your own client – it’s about creating a strong relationship with them.

    Best,
    Chris

  3. Ryan Sullivan
    5 February 2014 at 9:39 am #

    Just because you plan your space and think about office procedures for a client meeting doesn’t mean you are suiting up in body armor or planning to engage in power struggles. These physical space tips don’t involve altering your personality or being aggressive, I think you’re assuming such…

    Some attorneys, such as myself, don’t have the option of “dumping” clients. I whole heartedly-agree that being yourself and always being respectful is essential to any attorney-client relationship. However, having known attorneys who have suffered through months of abuse from clients, it can help to strategize ways that don’t involve aggression but may give you an edge. Thanks – Ryan


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