The Client Who is Vengeful

Vengeful clients often speak in terms of blame and portray themselves as the victims of their situation. They may have a very black-and-white view of the world and make all-or-nothing blanket statements that reflect their polarized thinking. Vengeful clients are more than just passionate about their case. They expect everyone (especially their lawyer) to be as emotionally involved as they are and will look for affirmation that you are ‘on their side’ and that they are ‘right’ and the other party is ‘wrong’. If you fail to achieve the vengeful client’s desired expectations, they may blame you and/or refuse to pay you. 

If you find yourself working with a vengeful client, be sure to remain neutral. The Code of Professional Conduct emphasizes the importance of not getting caught up in a client’s mission in Section 3.2-4. As a lawyer, you are professionally obligated to discourage meritless legal proceedings.

Encouraging Compromise or Settlement

3.2-4 A lawyer must advise and encourage a client to compromise or settle a dispute whenever it is possible to do so on a reasonable basis and must discourage the client from commencing or continuing useless legal proceedings.

Lawyers also have a professional obligation to be honest and candid with the client concerning the merits of the client’s case: see Section 3.2-2 of the Code. Clear, candid communications in this regard may be key to avoiding ongoing unrealistic expectations on the part of a client.

Should the client persist in giving improper or inappropriate instructions, Rule 3.7 of the Code of Conduct addresses considerations and appropriate steps to take when withdrawing from the lawyer-client relationship. 

If you are working with a vengeful client, set and enforce boundaries and clearly define your role as their lawyer. Be clear about the difference between their legal issue and any moral or ethical issues they are championing. It is also important that you bill your client regularly so that if your client is unhappy with any final results, you will have already been paid. Finally, you should take all instructions and make all recommendations to your client in writing so there can be no issue as to what you said to your client or what your client instructed you to do.