Back to the exemplary difficult plaintiff, as she and her case were described in the New York Times on August 19, 2012.
Even if this plaintiff had managed to retain a lawyer, I predict she would have driven him crazy. And maybe driven him to drop her as a client.
I just recalled an illustrative incident from many years ago. I had a friend, a sort of friend, who was an unhappy, difficult woman. Yeah, her childhood had been rotten blah blah but knowing that didn’t make her more tolerable as a friend. She complained about everything. Everything that happened to her was “a nightmare.” Even what should have been pleasant holidays turned into “nightmares.”
A lot of those “nightmares” occurred because of her interactions with men, and I don’t mean boyfriend-men. I mean any man. A friend’s husband who, in her reporting, behaved horribly to her. A clerk at a deli, or a shoe store. Any man she encountered was likely to produce a “nightmare” situation. She was a walking rage-against-men machine.
One night she called me, awfully upset. She had been to her (male) psychiatrist and he had said horrible things to her. Horrible. I got her to be specific. As it turned out, she had said horrible things to him, and he had rebuked her forcefully.
Mentally, I gave him a standing ovation. Verbally, I fairly gently pointed out to my friend that she had been really nasty to this guy. Accusatory, personally offensive, and — her specialty — provocative, and I don’t mean sexually.
Then, predictably, she became furious with me. How could I say these things to her, when I knew what she was going through? Why wasn’t I taking her side? And this was her psychiatrist, she yelled. He’s supposed to listen and understand.
He’s also a human being, I said. And he should not be treated the way you treated him. You provoked him and he reacted. “It’s his job to take this,” she said. “No,” I said, “it isn’t.”
Same rule applies to lawyers. You can’t treat lawyers badly. It isn’t a lawyer’s job to “take this.” It isn’t a lawyer’s job to be your endlessly understanding shrink, to listen forever as you rant and repeat yourself.
Your lawyer is not your vent, not your padded room, not your anger management trainer (or whatever they’re called). And if you’re unpleasant to your lawyer, he is far more likely to fire you as his client than is your shrink.
Lawsuits can be emotionally draining, yes. A good part of what’s draining, I believe, is that the whole process seems lurching, unreasonable, time-wasting, unfair to you, incomprehensible. (Indeed, I started Sidebar to make the process easier to grasp and tolerate.)
I was not surprised to read in this Times article — about the plaintiff who represented herself really badly and won anyway — that the plaintiff had filed her complaint in 2008. (I filed my complaint against the Skush-O’Briens in September 2007 and we’re not yet finished with depositions.) To a neophyte like the songwriter, these four years must have seemed like hell. Which wouldn’t have improved her mood or behavior.
But you just can’t take out your rages on your lawyer. Your lawyer is not your friend, your sister nor your shrink. A lawyer is your highly specialized partner in this venture called a lawsuit. You must treat her — and, of course, the judge — with courtesy and respect. Because they know things you don’t.
You cannot work this lawsuit yourself and you must not abuse the person who can.
P.S. But if you do get crabby with your lawyer, apologize. Immediately.