Friday, 6 July 2012

The Client runs this Jungle

Credit: Google Images

Maybe Lawyers are largely grumpy, because their pleasures are brief. With expertise at little else, they live at the mercy of their clients. Ironically, in his bid to impress and sustain the client, the Lawyer gets so busy learning the Law and misses a vital fact: Successful businessmen learn little of the business, and more of the customer.  

A friend of mine complains that his client uses him as an errand boy “I book his flights and schedule his meetings, surely not what I went to Law School for…!” he fumed.  I had to interrupt him- “No, you are wrong, THAT IS what you went to Law school for; only that your tutors failed to teach you so. Read and learn your client, serve his purpose and his quirks.  Earn his loyalty and earn your fees.” Of course, the logic is too simple; and the lawyer is suspicious of anything that is not complex. They would rather stay on their high-horse, where no one will take them for a ride. And on the high horse many lawyers still sit, while the rest of the world has evolved cars. 

Surprisingly though, my friend paid me heed, and I went on to show him the various species of clients and how best to respond to their demands:

1.       THE TIGER
This Client is tough, aggressive and demanding.  He is curt and impatient, yells and cuts the phone on both you and your staff. He is a man of power and knows it too well. He owns big businesses and is a stakeholder of the Big System.  He has a horde of loyalists and expects you to swell their numbers. He is a masterful hunter, never fails to bring in spoils. He only needs you to hide the spoils and blood from the public’s prying eyes.  He does not want you to grovel, just be effective and don’t ask questions. He hates excuses and cannot stand failure. He believes nothing else is as important as his work. When you draw up your Retainer, do not attempt to ensnare him with a stringent clause. He pays no heed to contracts, he relies on his claws. He is derisive of your pretensions, and bored with your intellect. You merely play a practical role; just another necessary piece of his empire’s jigsaw.  He pays generously, but don’t take him for a fool. Chances are he has your meetings taped and keeps a dossier on you.  
Typical Signs: Brooding and silent during meetings (His assistants do the talking); Doesn’t take notes, but stares straight at you; Often cuts into your sentences without apologizing; Comes late for meetings and asks ‘can we start now?’; Chews you to shreds if you are late yourself; Always chauffer driven; Never discusses his family.

2.       THE HORSE
 This is the Client on a race against time. A no no for the lazy lawyer.  He is always on the move, last-minute flight tickets and late night marathon meetings. His impossible deadlines will keep you gasping for breath. His speed doesn’t make him any less thorough. He skims through a 200-page document five minutes before a meeting and is able to comment on every little detail.  He reviews your letters spotting typos and inelegant constructs, you want to scream at him for being so damned smart. He doesn’t outwardly undermine you, but you often leave his presence feeling small.  He is extremely impatient and keeps to time fanatically. He calls you up by 3.00 am to discuss emerging opportunities for cyber-insurance, apologizes for keeping you awake, but talks till 6.00am, ending with a reminder that a meeting is scheduled for 8.  He pays fees promptly, noting when Retainers are due for renewal, but insists you send in a detailed invoice showing the structure of your billing system.
Typical Signs: Keeps rolls of writing pads and never stops scribbling;  nods vigorously when points are being made at meetings; Calls his wife a hundred times a day (shows they don’t see much of each other); Offers you coffee instead of soft drinks.

3.       THE DOG
This is the social animal.  He rarely meets you at offices, he prefers hotels and bars. His favourite sign-out phrase is “Lets meet up for a few beers sometime”. When you eventually take him up on that, you find that he easily gets tipsy and talks freely about his personal life. In sympathy, you feel obliged to reveal a few private things as well. What you don’t notice is that his ears immediately flare wide, taking in every detail, analyzing your psyche and measuring it for weaknesses.  He flatters you regularly, praising your work.  You wonder why he never loses his cool, and you work harder to keep him smiling. He doesn’t need to remind you of deadlines; unconsciously, you feel compelled to meet them.  This earns you more praise, and you wag your tail accordingly. He takes you into confidence on his business challenges. You feel genuinely needed, until you start noticing that he delays your payments, and this usually coincides with earlier negative business forecasts he had made at your last beer hangout (it is now a regular weekend affair). Just when you are about to blow up, he surprises you with a bonus pay. You learn to be more patient, and willingly oblige when he calls you from abroad- to assist in booking a ticket or paying his casual staff. He is such an enthusiastic friend, you figure he will be equally enthusiastic as a foe, and you don’t want to rock the boat, yet.
Typical Signs: Booming laughter; taps your shoulders when making a point; buys you gifts whenever he travels; never comes for meetings alone (Some pal always tags along).

4.       THE HARE
While the Horse is speedy but stable; this Client is always on the fast lane.  He is in endless trouble with the Law, and when he is not, it is one friend or associate instead.  You are friends with the police largely because of him. He doesn’t bring you briefs; he brings deals, and patiently listens as you enumerate legal requirements for his transactions before asking whether there is a way around them.  He is full of street cred and rarely converses in English. He prefers pidgin. He only hires lawyers because he believes they share his disdain for the straight and narrow.  So, whenever you talk of ‘legal implications’ his face turns ugly. He reminds you that lawyers make the laws and should be able to break them easily: unless you are a dulling lawyer. He often disappears for months on end and his numbers are switched off. Then he suddenly appears looking even more dapper and offers no explanations for his absence. He adamantly refuses to get into a Retainer agreement and only pays you on a case-by-case basis.  
Typical Signs:  I haven’t figured out any yet.

5.       THE SHEEP
Docile and quietly cooperative, chances are you met him during a long flight, started a conversation and awed him with extensive knowledge of your Practice specialty. He calls you ‘sir’ and takes your word as law.  His emails are polite and he never complains when you delay his jobs. He dutifully pays your fees and likes to flaunt you to his friends and family. You churn out template-replicas for him and save your best for the Tiger and the Horse, but he is effusive in his thanks for your insightful opinions.  He is very easy to impress; and there lies the problem! Someday soon, he will be in another flight, and run into a more eloquent lawyer. He will be unable to stare at you during the next meeting (which you will take as typical timidity); until he sends an email with those dreadful words: ‘we are unable to continue retaining your services…’ and he won’t take your calls again, having crossed over to where grasses are greener.
Typical signs: Calls you ‘sir’

I rest.


  1. Hahahahaha...again, an insightful analysis on client-character. I can't fault any of the types. A typical sign for a hare though, is that his business enterprises are what I would term 'in the moment' businesses like owning and managing a club or a car mart.

  2. I totally agree, hare-brained projects, typically