Danger Ahead: 7 Child Custody Clients to Avoid

For each attorney, there are many cases that he or she ought to turn down. One reason to decline a case is a client that is likely to be nothing but trouble for you.170446161

Here are some indicators in initial client interviews that ought to raise concern for family attorneys:

1. Client who had previous competent counsel. It can certainly happen that a client gets mismatched with his or her first attorney and needs to substitute other counsel. But when a prospective client wants to retain his or her third attorney in the case, that attorney should exercise great caution. Most judges will probably suspect the client of “attorney-shopping” and of rejecting advice from professionals who have a much fuller insider’s view of the case than the court. That prejudice grows with each successive substitution, as does the likelihood that the client won’t be able to process constructive advice the new attorney needs to give.

2. Client who invests counsel with superhuman powers. When a prospective client describes an attorney as the best attorney around, and the only one who can effectively represent the client, the attorney needs to have the client detail his or her expectations and put them into realistic perspective. Drafting the retainer agreement is a good way in which to list the client’s goals; address inflated or unreasonable hopes before the agreement is signed.

3. Client who tries to control the interview. Be wary of a client who interrupts frequently, brandishes a written agenda whenever you try to introduce a new discussion topic, or says “I don’t need to know about that.” Representing such a client gives you all the responsibility with very little control of the client or case.

4. Client who disregards your ethical duties. When a prospective client is dismissive of professional ethics and rules of practice, such as the prohibition in many local rules against a parent’s attorney interviewing the child, you’ve got a clear choice to make—representing that person is not worth risking damage to your reputation.

5. Client demonizes the other parent or that parent’s attorney. Beware of the prospective client who portrays the other parent, or that parent’s attorney, as malevolent without mitigation. Such a person is generally unable to offer you constructive assistance and behaves in a way that is counterproductive to resolution of the case. Often, the client who can find no redeeming qualities in an ex-mate is the one will eventually turn on his or her own attorney, make the case very difficult to manage, and either threaten to file or actually file a malpractice action.

6. Client expresses desire to take revenge on the other parent. When your client’s main motive is to shame the other parent or to show the world what a bad person that parent has been, it becomes virtually impossible to keep the child custody litigation on a constructive course. If the client seems uninterested in or unconvinced by advice that such a negative campaign will have a terrible impact on children, that is generally a client to avoid.

7. Client to whom you have trouble saying “No.” Many clients present themselves as irresistibly sympathetic. Although it’s hard to disappoint these people, it’s often essential to do just that. Promising everything, or hesitating to give honest negative assessments, isn’t doing a service to the client. Sometimes this problem is remedied by giving a cautious prediction of results, perhaps in a written retainer agreement. But sometimes the problem is more deep seated, devolving from a process known as transference in which one’s feelings about one person are unconsciously experienced as though they originate from another.

Of course there are many child custody cases you should take and CEB has you completely covered as you handle them with its California Child Custody Litigation and Practice.

Related CEB blog posts:

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8 Responses

    • I don’t think being the second attorney means a bad client. It might mean “bad fit” with the previous attorney. My first attorney treated me and my worries cavalierly. He didn’t inspire my confidence, rather I was afraid he wasn’t going to represent my interests. So I asked to be reassigned (this was a college legal service). My new attorney was younger, too, but she was a single mother. She absolutely ‘got it’, and I felt that she would represented my concerns. The court granted everything I asked for, commenting that he had no choice b/c my attorney had done such a thorough job of supporting my position. So I give second chances. Sometimes I force a second chance: I recommend the client find another attorney b/c I am not a good fit.

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