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					How to handle a client complaint, or lawsuit

You come into the office and           that are not considered            Go to meetings with your
the letter is sitting prominently      regulatory – these tend to         lawyer and do what he/she
on your desk. It is addressed          close for want of jurisdiction     says. Trust your lawyer. Give
to you and marked ―personal            (e.g.fees, negligence, etc.).      your counsel full control of
and       confidential.‖       You     So, when you are dealing           your case. Do not play lawyer
experience a range of                  with a complaint or lawsuit,       for yourself. Review the file
emotions even before you               you may experience a               fully. Organize the file as
pick it up — fear, anger,              churning stomach, loss of self     your counsel directs. Turn
defensiveness, guilt. Your             confidence,       perhaps     an   over the whole file, but make
stomach is doing flips. You            increase in use of alcohol or      copies of relevant documents
open it and read the                   other substances to numb           for your personal review.
allegations against you. You           your emotions and a mental         Read all documents carefully
feel        personally         and     obsession with the case as it      Review all letters and court
unjustifiably attacked. Your           always      sitting    on    the   documents carefully before
hands may shake as you look            periphery          of       your   your counsel sends them out
for the file to reassure               consciousness. For anybody         or files them for factual
yourself that this is all              who will listen, you may talk      accuracy. Leave the legal
ridiculous. You cancel all your        about it ad nauseum. But you       strategy to your counsel. Help
appointments so you can                need to deal with the              your counsel help you.
deal     with      this.    Finally,   problem, so what do you do?        Listen, listen, listen. Do not
exhausted, you put the letter          Here are some tips:                become the client from hell.
down and question what to              Do something quickly               Do not call or phone every
do next. Odds are that, at             Do not put it aside and try to     day. Wait for your counsel to
some point during your                 forget about it. You won’t,        contact you to give you
career, you will have a letter         and it won’t magically go          updates. Understand the
of complaint from a client or a        away. Call your insurer            process This is a marathon,
negligence         claim.      Dan     immediately! Do not call the       not a sprint. You know that
Pinnington         at     Lawyers’     client Venting your anger or       proceedings go slowly. As
Professional             Indemnity     frustration to the client who      hard as it is, try to have
Company (LAWPRO) reports               has complained or sued you         patience. This will help you
that four out every five               will only make things worse,       understand what your clients
lawyers they insure will have          especially if there might be a     go through. Set priorities.
at least one claim during the          simple     solution     to   the   Get rid of the things that will
course of their career. Dan            problem. Do not continue to        distract you in your life right
Abrahams, senior counsel,              act. Transfer the client’s files   now like unreasonable clients
professional regulation from           over to another lawyer             who will aggravate you when
the Law Society of Upper               immediately.        Get    legal   you need to keep calm and
Canada (LSUC) reports that,            counsel. Remember the old          concentrate.         Use     the
on average, a little over 10           adage that a lawyer who            exercise of what matters
percent of lawyers in practice         represents him/herself has a       most and prioritize your life. It
will be the subject of one or          fool for a client. Your insurer    could be family, friends,
more regulatory complaints in          will get you competent             spirituality. Please don’t let it
a given year. These figures            counsel who will give you an       be work.         Manage your
cover all complaints that fall         independent         perspective.   stress. Take care of yourself.
within LSUC’s regulatory               This will be someone you can       Eat three meals a day. Sleep
jurisdiction and include both          trust who has expertise in this    eight hours a night. Exercise
the most and the least                 area. Do what your counsel         at least three times a week.
serious of complaints. In              advises.      Get     all    the   Cut down or cut out coffee,
addition, each year, LSUC              documents together. Make           caffeine and tobacco. Talk to
receives approximately 2,000           notes. Listen to the advice        a trusted friend. Meditate. Get
complaints                             given to you.                      a physical check up. Access
Go to to the           anger or sarcasm. Keep your
practicePRO section and the          cool. Get help. Call your
Online      Coaching        Clinic   provincial lawyer assistance
section. There is a small            program. Ask to speak to a
charge, but there are over           peer support lawyer who will
150 modules to help with             assist you in this time of
stress relief, practice tips and     trouble by lending a non-
communication skills. Invest         judgmental and sympathetic
some time in yourself.               ear. Not all provinces have
Be realistic. You will probably      peer support lawyers so call a
lapse into distorted thinking        trusted friend who can act as
such as looking at the worst         a sounding board if that is the
possible scenario. Ask your          case. Ask the provincial
counsel to assess the upside         lawyer assistance program
and downside of your case.           what services are available to
Stay in control.       Write a       you and use them. Go to
journal of your thoughts and Being sued or
emotions. Get the anger out          having a complaint against
and do not aim your feelings         you is a truly upsetting and
at your family or friends. If        traumatic experience. The
you can’t let it go, devote a        process can wear you down.
set amount of time every day         The emotional roller coaster
to thinking about this and only      is huge. Get help. Do not be
that amount of time, and then        stoic and take this on yourself
get     back      to     real-life   to solve. I say again - call for
responsibilities. Scream into        help. It is the smartest thing
a pillow. Hit a thousand golf        you can do.
balls. Pray. Take long walks.        John Starzynski is the
Meditate.       Accept       your    volunteer executive director
feelings. Get professional           of the Ontario Lawyers’
help from a therapist or             Assistance Program and a
counsellor. Prepare. Review          director     of    the    Legal
the file carefully. Do what          Profession          Assistance
your counsel tells you to do.        Conference, the national
Spend the time you need to           umbrella organization for
get ready. Don’t be the              lawyers.        This      article
lawyer. Be the client. Think         appeared in The Lawyers’
like a defendant. Do not take        Weekly, March 27, 2009
the system for granted
because you are a lawyer.
Review where you sit, how
you dress and how you
conduct yourself. Use the
―best friend‖ method Imagine
that it is your best friend
being grilled when it is in fact
you      being      questioned.
Approach the experience as if
you were speaking for that
friend.     Speak         clearly,
confidently       and        with
precision. Do not exaggerate.
Answer the question put to
you only. Do not volunteer
information. Do not speak
about or to the claimant with

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