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Baboon

in the Right

Baboon in the Right.

Those older than 30 recognize the title of this missive as the most common misquoted musical lyric of our youth. The real lyric- Bad Moon on the Rise- has been on my mind the last few weeks.

Like many folks, I watched in horror as United Airlines dragged a passenger off a flight that they oversold. I don’t know when an airline ticket turned into a raffle ticket to get to your destination, but someone at United forgot to read the fine print. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the event is that there is actually a divide among Americans as to who was in the right. It seemed pretty clear to me, but just as clear to those seeing the other side. Given that United has already settled the case it would seem that they didn’t feel so good about their position.

Little free advice to citizens in a modern age:  if you get caught on video doing something that would make a stranger gasp, probably better to apologize than double down on how right you were. And if the video is on the interwebs, an apology being perceived as an admission of guilt is the least of your worries.

United Airlines isn’t the only company telling people to get out. I have fired clients and told them to leave my office twice in my three decades of practice. Not coincidentally, twice in the last two weeks- same folks. Both meetings started with an unscheduled drop in by the client, both ended with loud voices and a finger to the door. The short time between these two events stopped me for a bit to ponder on the whys and hows of what happened.

I represent injury victims and by necessity, I fight for my clients against much larger defendants- insurance companies and other corporate entities. Trial lawyers love the gladiator metaphor, but gladiator is only one part of what we do. We try to counsel, comfort and alleviate stress for our clients, way more often than we fight.

Maybe a true gladiator would welcome a fight, even with a client. For me, a less than amicable split goes against my grain. Young hammerhead me would have plunged through the storm, never thinking of anything but winning. Middle aged lawyer man, tends to be a bit introspective.

Is it me? It is always easy to blame the other person. If they are wrong, I must be right. If they are crazy, even better, that makes me sane. Or at least relatively more so.

Unfortunately, the answer is never that simple. If my client is crazy, why didn’t I see that when I agreed to represent them? Worse yet, if they weren’t crazy then, did I make them crazy, or fail to keep them from losing the last of their marbles?

I called local law enforcement to help one of my now ex-clients off the premises. I didn’t want to press charges though, and I found myself making excuses for both of my clients after I fired them.

“They are scared. They are ignorant as to how things work. They didn’t trust me.” There is likely some truth in each of these, but at the end of the story, I feel like the one who failed. Why couldn’t I pull things together for the client, and help them understand?

Maybe it is just a numbers game. A certain percentage of folks will never be satisfied with a lawyer. Or an airline, for that matter. If you have enough clients, you are bound to wind up with a couple of problems. Still, getting two in a month wore me out.

I shared my story with other lawyers. In part to commiserate, and in part to get advice. Other trial lawyers had similar stories. Perhaps non-trial lawyers do as well, but ending a contract for a contract lawyer seems different. Anyway, I don’t know too many non-trial lawyers.

A defense lawyer friend told me she too was firing clients. She is a bit older that I am, and said she just doesn’t want to spend her time with clients that she doesn’t like. It is one thing to disagree about a bill, it is another to be disagreeable. Given that her clients bring repeat business, firing one means firing many in the future. I asked if that wasn’t expensive, but she said life is too short to work hard and hate the folks for whom you do it.

She is right, as usual. Most of my clients are both pleasant and grateful for the work we do on their behalf. I like them, and am honored that they chose me to be on their side. Maybe it was just a bad moon, or maybe I was a baboon. Life is too short to get hung up on who is in the right, I reckon. But too short to deal with unpleasant clients.

©2017 under analysis llc. under analysis is a nationally syndicated column. Spencer Farris is the founding partner of The S.E. Farris Law Firm in St Louis, Missouri. He wants a monkey, not a baboon. Comments or criticisms about this column may be sent c/o this newspaper or directly to Under Analysis via email at farris@farrislaw.net.

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