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Handling a Client With a JD from Google School of Law

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on April 16, 2015 3:58 AM

It's supremely frustrating when potential clients (or worse, current clients) think they know more about the law than you do. Usually it's because a friend of a friend (not a lawyer) gave them legal advice, and hey, why aren't you doing this thing for me?

You don't want to condescend, obviously. But you do want to make clear that your client isn't going to gain your years of knowledge and experience through a quick Internet search. How do you convince your client that you can't get a degree from the Google School of Law?

Patience

Yes, Young Padowan, you must have patience. It all started with WebMD and their ilk: clients looking things up online suddenly think they know more than the professionals. How hard could it be to learn the law? You just have to know how to read!

Calmly explain to the client that the law has more nuance than the materials you can easily find online suggest. Sure, you can research general topics, but when it comes to state-specific issues relevant to your current litigation, it's best to leave things up to the professionals.

That's a Lot of Money

Inevitably, it all comes back to fees: "Why are you so expensive?" The implication, of course, is that the client could look all this stuff up rather than pay $100 an hour. Your answer is that the client isn't just paying for your ability to do legal research; she's also paying for your legal knowledge, and your expertise. How many divorces has your client handled? Personal injury cases? Does the client know what a good settlement offer looks like? Exactly.

Point out that, while free information is great, it can't create a litigation strategy, which is what you bring to the table with your years of experience. And, yes, strategic knowledge does cost money, but it's probably less than losing the case.

Know When to Fold 'Em

For potential clients who continue to exercise their self-earned law degree, the answer is easy: Don't hire them. They're a class of clients that you just don't want to have to deal with in the first place. They'll second-guess everything you do, making your job a pain.

What if you discover, only after signing that retainer, that the client is a Nosie Nelly? If having the calm, patient conversation won't work, you may just have to decline representation. Like getting a divorce, it's a tough decision to make, but ultimately, it might be the best one. And, like divorce, you'll have to cite the lawyer version of "irreconcilable differences" as the reason you're splitting up.

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