Option No. 2: Remember Dr. Samuel Johnson's advice: It is always better to remind than to lecture. I wrote him a letter and sent it as a PDF, explaining that I understood that his comments were borne of frustration with a slow, costly and emotionally draining legal process. I noted that we had developed a good relationship and emphasized that I knew he would never do anything to cause me to withdraw as his lawyer. I sent the message, and he understood it. We went to mediation before his deposition. All was resolved.
Life is not always black and white. He made a mistake. He deserved a chance to correct it. And I needed to ensure that I did what was necessary not to foster a lie. Etiquette sometimes requires an intricate cha-cha with a client, not a hard-charging disco hustle.
No. 4: How to leave a client better off: Clients present counsel with a wonderful opportunity, each and every day, to affect their lives in a positive way. Seize these opportunities. I was defending a physician who faced allegations of sexual harassment. His wife and daughter got caught up in the wake of his indiscretion. His lament: How could I have let this happen?
My response: It is a given that all people fall short of ethical standards. They forge their character by how they respond to what they've done. Reframing an issue is the lawyer's art. And here's the karmic bonus room: Those we help can go on to help others.
No. 5: How to graduate from BFFs to real friends: I read somewhere that a lawyer's clients should be his/her friends: vacation together, know one another's family members and help each other's careers. I have my doubts. Yes, the best lawyers are friends with clients -- but in a transcendent way.
Look at Hamlet, a guy with a lot of troubles, and Horatio, his counselor. A passage in Act 3, Scene 2 shows Hamlet explaining to Horatio why he is Hamlet's friend and adviser. Horatio gives Hamlet the straight dope, not what Hamlet wants to hear: "No, let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp."
Horatio learns from all his experiences, good and bad: "[F]or thou hast been/As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing" and gives "equal thanks" to all experiences because it makes Horatio wiser.
Horatio feels strong emotion for Hamlet and will defend him but will never let that passion override his judgment: "[A]nd blest are those/Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled,/That they are not a pipe for fortune's finger."
Hamlet then tells Horatio why he values his friendship: "Give me that man/That is not passion's slave, and I will wear him/In my heart's core, ay, in my heart of heart." Translation: friendship based on values, not on frequent-flier miles, pricey holiday gifts or promises to be BFFs.
Etiquette establishes respect, and respect creates healthy and functional relationships with clients. Without etiquette to guide attorneys, we just flounder, lurching from here to there, making it up as we go along. Etiquette: It never goes out of style.
Michael P. Maslanka is the managing partner of the Dallas office of Constangy, Brooks & Smith. He is board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. His podcasts and "Work Matters" blog can be found at www.texaslawyer.com. His email address is email@example.com.