Clients are free to make bad decisions, even though we counsel them to do otherwise. But the lingering aftermath and bad taste that it leaves as a result of their choice to ignore good advice, often goes down hard for them or others affected by those bad decisions.
When I was in the second grade in Catholic school, every morning I went to school along with all my class mates, we were lined up, two by two and directed to the church for morning Mass. Communion was offered at each mass and to decline that offer, you would be held in very low esteem by your class mates. It was an indication that you had committed a mortal sin and were unable to take communion until you went to confession; at least, this is how I viewed it as a child. This is a Catholic thing, and if you are not Catholic it may not seem to make sense. But trust me, in the eyes of a child, that is how the world works.
Therefore, every morning I attended Mass, I took communion. However, there was a price to be paid as you had to abstain from eating or drinking after midnight in order to present yourself for that sacrament. Since we couldn’t eat breakfast before going to school, there was a solution. You ate breakfast after Mass in the classroom. Breakfast consisted of a container of chocolate or white milk and a cinnamon roll. Now, we are not talking about a cold wimpy cinnamon roll. No, those rolls were freshly prepared by angels who delivered them still warm and exuding an odor that was like the “BO” of those angels. Of this, I am convinced. That solution was heavenly. The fragrance was one that, to this day, I can smell as I write this.
But, the smell was all that I was to get. Not that I sat watching everyone else eat as I starved – no, as my brothers and sisters (all 12 of us) were given special dispensation by the Monsignor to go home after Mass and eat breakfast at home since we lived right next door. My dad cut a deal with the Parrish that we would provide fresh vegetables from our garden and in return, we didn’t have to pay the “book bill”. We also got to go home for breakfast and not pay the exorbatant amount of 15 cents which was the cost of admission to get those rolls and milk. My mom and dad both worked and we didn’t have a lot, so it made financial sense to do it this way.
Each morning at the conclusion of breakfast in the classroom, the nun would take orders for the next day’s breakfast. After coming into the classroom after having a bowl of Post Toasties Cereal and getting a whiff of those rolls, I couldn’t help myself – I raised my hand and ordered breakfast for Monday morning. That order was duly noted and visions of cinnamon rolls danced in my head.
Over that weekend, in anticipation of the bill that was going to come due (15 cents), I kept thinking how I was going to approach the problem that I didn’t have any money. I would have to ask dad for those funds. I knew he would ask me WHY did you do that?? And I didn’t have a good excuse, except I wanted just once to eat breakfast like all the other “rich” kids. . . .
The weekend ended way too soon for me, as early Monday morning I still had not confronted dad with my stupid decision. With no time to loose, I finally confessed my digression to dad and he was very gentle with me after asking the question, WHY? I told him the truth and he immediately went into action looking for the 15 cents that I needed to pay for breakfast. After searching his pockets and asking mom if she had any change, they finally revealed that between them, they could only find three cents. I was mortified. I began trying to figure out how I could appear sick so that I didn’t have to go to school that morning when dad said, “Gary, to over to grandma’s house (about three blocks away) and ask to borrow a dollar as fast as you can so you don’t miss Mass”. I did as directed. I raced back to the house, then to school sweating profusely with the dollar in my pocket. I received communion. Instead of walking home after Mass, I joined all my classmates and assembled with them in the classroom as the rolls and milk was brought to the front of the room. Several of the students asked me why I wasn’t going home for breakfast like I always did? I lied, telling them that my dad thought I should join the others that morning and not have to walk all the way home.
When it came time to choose my cinnamon roll and chocolate milk, I turned to walk to my desk with a sick feeling in my gut. I knew that I had ruined the experience. Even worse, I had put dad and mom in the position of having to reveal just how tight money was to them. They handled it with dignity and never got mad. If they had, I might have felt better. Of all the stupid and bad things I did as a child, I can’t recall anything that made me feel any worse than that self-serving act. But the little moments like these are where important character lessons are taught.
We all deal with clients who want the cinnamon rolls, yet they don’t have the “currency” to buy them or make wise decisions. Some are clients who come to us telling us that they want to go to trial to make their point. They are clients who tell us that they want to omit some or all of their kids from their Wills to make a point. They are clients who are guilty of the crime with ample evidence of their involvement who stare us in the face and say, “I didn’t do it!” These are often clients who dicker over our fee and disregard good legal advice and choose to go down a path that is destined to create discord in the family or end up with them doing time in excess of that offered by a prosecutor. What you have to remember is that they end up doing the time or experiencing the consequences of their bad decisions – and they are free to do so. As a new attorney just going into practice, this is perhaps one of the hardest pills to swallow. Not everyone is going to be logical or interact with good interpersonal skills. Your role is to counsel them and get them to go down the best path possible. And frankly, try not to encourage them to seek your services in the future – or to send you referrals. They say “the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree” and chances are that if they are inclined to be unreasonable, some of their close associates might exemplify similar characteristics as well.
The best clients you have are the best resources for new business, especially the kind of clients that you want to serve most. Think about the best clients you have. They are the ones with whom you need to cultivate strong and long-term relationships. Be selective and avoid those who demand the cinnamon rolls without considering the consequences of doing so.