An often sung holiday song informs us that Santa has an ability to distinguish the naughty from the nice. However, even Santa is not omniscient. Not only does he make a list; he checks his list twice. Lawyers need to check their lists even more.
Lawyers cannot see into their clients’ souls. When lawyers act on unexamined judgments about the naughty or nice characteristics of those upon whom they bestow their legal talents, such mistakes often have consequences for both that lawyer’s practice and his or her spirit.
It is possible to get closer to Santa’s impeccable track record. Here are just a few rules for determining who is naughty and who is nice. These do not create impeccable judgment, and are not always possible to follow, but they will hone your instincts. Santa’s intuition can be learned.
When a potential client complains about a prior law firm, make inquiries. How many prior firms were there? What exactly was the problem? Does the universe seem unfair to this person? You might be a better fit, but you are not a knight in shining armor. The client might be the problem.
When a current client expresses gratitude, take it in. Notice the appreciation and let the client know you appreciate the work and the relationship. In Santa’s terms, niceness can be grown and cultivated. If you connect your clients with other people and services they need, referrals often surface. Minimally, you will encourage the client to be nice to lawyers.
When a current client is ungrateful, listen to the complaint. You may have made a mistake. You may not have explained your thoughts or actions with care. Or you may be being blamed for something you did not cause and cannot help. You should at least correct what you can and be nice.
You may want to keep or acquire “naughty” clients, but remember adults seldom change, and Santa brings presents to children.