Meet the New Oregon Attorney Assistance Program

Well, not exactly. But meet the new OAAP website! Find events that meet your needs or speak to your interests, explore OAAP services, or learn more about the OAAP attorney counselors.

The OAAP can help with:

  • Well-being and stress
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Problem substance use
  • Compulsive and challenging behaviors
  • Career and lifestyle
  • Relationships
  • Challenging times
  • Planning for retirement

OAAP services are confidential and attorney counselors are on-call for urgent matters.

Help for yourself. Help for someone you care about.

If you are concerned about your well-being, or the well-being of another, the OAAP can help with short-term individual counseling, referral to other resources when appropriate, support groups, workshops, CLEs, and educational programs.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis

 

 

MCLE Changes Coming

At its June/July 2018 board meetings the OSB Board of Governors voted to recommend a requirement for MCLE on mental health and substance use issues. The overall number of MCLE credits required in each reporting period will not change, as the proposed rule includes a reduction in general/practical skills requirements.

Why require education on substance abuse?

The pressure and stress inherent in the legal profession begins in law school and never fades away:

  • Lawyers are almost twice as likely to struggle with alcohol abuse when compared to the general population
  • In a 2016 study more than 1 in 5 lawyers reported that they felt that their use of alcohol or other drugs was problematic at some point in their lives
  • In the same study nearly 3 of 4 reported that their problematic use started after they joined law school.

Source: Indra Cidambi, M.D., “Drug and Alcohol Abuse in the Legal Profession: Why Lawyers Are at Increased Risk for Addiction,” Psychology Today (June 2017).

This may not be you, but it may be someone you know. A friend from law school, your partner, or a colleague. As the Psychology Today article points out, members of the legal profession are at increased risk and “need to be proactive in reaching out and leaning on their support system before they feel overwhelmed and trapped.” Getting educated on the topic is a start.

Mental health issues affect us all

Not only are lawyers more likely to struggle with alcohol abuse, we also suffer from disproportionately higher rates of mental health issues.

  • Many law students show signs of depression, anxiety, hostility and paranoia within 6 months of entering law school.
  • After the first year of law school, 40% of law students suffer from depression, which persists through law school and their careers.
  • Practicing lawyers find that they have to compromise their ethical principles or moral values, which creates a conflict in them.
  • They may also have to take and defend positions that are contrary to their belief system.
  • In the 2016 study referenced above, 6 of 10 participants reported anxiety, 1 of 2 reported depression, and nearly 1 in 8 reported ADHD. 1 in 9 reported suicidal thoughts at some point during their career.

Source: Indra Cidambi, M.D., “Drug and Alcohol Abuse in the Legal Profession: Why Lawyers Are at Increased Risk for Addiction,” Psychology Today (June 2017).

Getting help now

The Oregon Attorney Assistance Program provides assistance with and referral for problem alcohol, drug, and/or other substance use; stress management; time management; career transition; compulsive disorders (including problem gambling); relationships; depression; anxiety; and other issues that affect the ability of a lawyer or judge to function effectively. Services extend to Oregon law students and are free and confidential. If you or someone you know is affected by any of these issues, call (503-226-1057 or 800-321-OAAP) or contact the OAAP today.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis

 

How to Treat Bad Clients

When you saw this post title, how did you react? Was your first thought: “Kick ’em to the curb” or “I wonder where this is going?” If it was the former, don’t feel bad – it’s my knee-jerk reaction too.

When we hear the words “bad client,” we instinctively cringe. It conjures up past experiences we would rather not relive. Frankly, nothing could be more unpleasant. So what should we do?

Remedies for bad clients

Want to weed out or eliminate bad clients? Nothing beats:

  1. Screening at intake;
  2. Controlling expectations; and
  3. Knowing when to say no.

Trouble is, most of us know these lessons.  So …

What if a bad client squeezes by?

If there is an irremediable breakdown in the lawyer-client relationship and withdrawal is viable, do it. At this stage, it isn’t going to get better. Yet, some lawyers refuse to do so.

Why would anyone hold on to a client who belittled and berated them? Denied that telephone conversations or email exchanges occurred? Refused to produce materials requested in discovery? Insisted the lawyer use unethical or illegal tactics? (All actual events that have happened to lawyers I know.)

Money is generally the explanation. The lawyer can’t afford to forego the fee (or jeopardize her job). There are other reasons too, like fear and intimidation.

I hope you never experience any of this. If you do, I hope you are strong enough to get out. If you want to talk it over with someone, consider calling one of the confidential attorney counselors at the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program (OAAP).

Is there another approach?

I was motivated to revisit this topic by blogger Celia Elwell. In a recent post, she took on lawyers and legal staff who retaliate against ill-tempered clients by putting the client’s work at the bottom of the stack. Since I’ve witnessed this too, I wanted to share this point made by Ms. Elwell:

Most people, as a rule, do not call an attorney’s office because they are having a good day. Before they became our clients, they realized they had a problem, tried to deal with it, were unsuccessful, stressed, and lost sleep. In short, we are not seeing them at their best.

Take good notes when your clients vent, rant, or repeat themselves. Because they are upset, they may be mistaken or confused. Let the client know that you are listening to them. Interrupt only when you need them to repeat something to make sure you get it right. Document the clients’ concerns, and tell your attorney they called and why.

While her remarks are directed toward staff, they are good reminders for us all.

If you didn’t spot it, notice I suggested above that withdrawal made sense if (a) it was viable and (b) there was an irremediable breakdown in the lawyer-client relationship.

What if you aren’t there yet? This is when Ms. Elwell’s advice comes in handy.

Do not under any circumstances intentionally retaliate by putting the client’s work at the bottom of the stack. At the least, it is unprofessional. It will also likely result in a bar complaint and/or legal malpractice claim. Instead, take the high ground:

  • Try to diagnose what went wrong. Is the client mad at you or someone else? Is the client mistaken or confused? Is this about money? How stressed is the client? Consider scheduling an in-person meeting to air out client concerns.
  • Go out of your way to be courteous and considerate. Instruct staff to do the same.
  • Do high quality work in a timely manner.

It’s easy to be resentful and decide that we’re going to give what we get. But if you go out of your way to appease the upset client, you remove all rational grounds for disputes, complaints, and claims. It’s better to remain professional, even if the “bad” client never appreciates it.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis

Postscript

For more tips on improving client relationships, check out this CLE:
7 Steps to Building Better Client Relationships.

 

How to Say No to Clients

 

Did you answer “yes” to one or more of these questions?  You are in good company!

As we discussed in 7 Steps to Building Better Client Relationships, lawyers often feel pressured to practice “door law.”  The source of the pressure may be economic:  I don’t really have a choice because I need the money.  Or it can be emotional: Family, friends, or former clients are depending on me.

Either way, saying no can be incredibly difficult, so here is some sage advice that first appeared in In Sight.  These tips apply no matter who is doing the asking: clients, friends, family, or neighbors.

Five steps to saying “no”

  • Be respectful.  Listen to the asker and don’t interrupt. Respect the request, then respect your right to decline the request.
  • Keep it simple.  You have the right to say “no.”  Elaborate justifications aren’t necessary [and may lead to backsliding, since many of us say “yes” to avoid feeling guilty].
  • Assign responsibility elsewhere:  “That sounds very nice; unfortunately, my
    calendar is booked solid.” Now it’s your calendar’s fault. Stand firm. Avoid engaging in discussion or negotiation.
  • Refer to others who might fill the opening well.
  • Say yes when there is a good reason to do so, it will benefit you, or the cause is one you believe in.  [Life is too short to take on a case or client you find repugnant.]

I encourage you to read the full article here.

Still need persuading? Time for tough love

You are not the only lawyer who can help your clients.
If money is an issue, there are other lawyers who participate in the OSB modest means program, offer sliding fee services, or take pro bono referrals.  If you continually give your time away to nonpaying clients, your practice will decline and you may need to close your doors.  If you close your practice, you aren’t available to help anyone.

If the case can’t be won, are you doing a service or a disservice by taking it?
Once a lawyer commits to a case, many clients assume the case CAN BE WON, no matter how you qualify your representation.  Not all clients have a legal remedy, for a variety of reasons. This can be a bitter pill to swallow, but the truth is better than false hope.  You can always suggest [and should suggest] a second opinion.

A good case and a paying client don’t necessarily mean the case is right for you.
Don’t let someone push you out of your comfort zone. Law is complex. Staying on top of your desired practice areas is hard enough. Straying into unfamiliar areas is stressful, time consuming, expensive (because of the learning curve), and more likely to result in a claim or bar complaint.

You are a lawyer, not a doctor.
Keeping clients who won’t follow your advice, don’t cooperate, and look to place blame anywhere but with themselves, is a pure misery.  This is not a situation you can cure, except by firing the client.

All Rights Reserved 2018 – Beverly Michaelis