When you need to tell your client they are wrong- tips on handling this awkward situation.
It is a question that all attorneys face at some point in their career. You know your client is wrong. Your conclusion that your client is wrong is based on sound legal reasoning and logic. However, how do you make your client understand that the client’s way of thinking is flawed, and your plan gives the client the best chance of a successful outcome in the matter? Moreover, how do you tell the client that he or she is mistaken, but not upset them so much that you lose the client’s business?
Are You Sure the Client is Wrong?
First, before you tell a client that he or she is wrong about a matter, you need to make sure that the client is actually mistaken. In some cases, a client may not give you all the facts or information, so that it appears the client is wrong when it may not be the case. Before concluding that your client is indeed wrong, make sure you request all possible documents and information you made need. Also, make sure you are disagreeing with your client’s facts, and not his or her opinion. You may not agree with your client’s opinion, but that does not necessarily make your client wrong in his or her beliefs about the matter.
You Know the Client is Wrong.
If you are sure that your client is wrong about a fact or a legal matter, you need to take a deep breath and prepare to break the news to your client without sugarcoating the matter. It can be very difficult to deliver bad news, especially if you believe your client may become angry. However, when a client is unrealistic, there may be no way around telling the client bluntly they are wrong.
Sugarcoating and talking “around” the subject can often make a client more anxious and tense. It can also lead to confusion. Instead, focus on the facts and the law. Avoid personal accusations when explaining why the client is wrong. Give the client the facts and explain the legal theories or laws that support your conclusion. Also, explain how your experience in handling these types of matters gives you additional insight into how these matters typically resolve.
In some cases, you may need to play devil’s advocate. You might need to explain the potential outcomes based on the client’s stance in comparison to the potential outcomes based on your years of experience and training. You might want to suggest alternative ways to achieve the desired outcome or offer ways of compromise that would be acceptable to the client.
Follow Up with Written Communication.
It can be difficult for a client to hear that what he or she believes is not in their best interest or is completely wrong. News like that should preferably be discussed in person. Depending on your relationship with the client and the discussion, you may want another lawyer or staff member present to take notes. While written correspondence can be useful as a follow-up to confirm what was discussed during the meeting, telling a client he or she is wrong in a letter can make matters worse. The client cannot ask questions and simply “simmers” until he or she can schedule a meeting to discuss the matter face-to-face. A written communication is used best to confirm your analysis, and to confirm that you have spoken to the client about your recommendation.
The Client Will Not Accept Your Advice.
You cannot effectively represent a client who refuses to listen to your legal advice. Depending on the severity of the matter, you may need to terminate the attorney-client relationship if a client cannot acknowledge the error in their logic, or cannot accept your legal advice about a subject. He or she may want or expect an impossible outcome, so the best course of action may be to terminate the relationship.
Contact a Florida Business Law Attorney for Help
Parkland business law attorney Matthew Fornaro assists clients in all matters related to business law. He serves all of Broward County, including clients in Coral Springs and Parkland. To request a consultation, call 954-324-3651 or contact us online.