There are endless scholarly articles on the attorney/client relationship. These articles cover ethical duties owed to the client, the nature and limits of attorney/client privilege, duties to disclose and withhold information to and from the public, courts, and opposing counsel, and so on

There are no rules governing the interpersonal dimension of the attorney client relationship. A lawyer who leaves every client, no matter whether the case was “won,” or “lost,” feeling shamed, dirty, confused, or even angry can continue practicing law as long as he or she wishes, so long as none of the ethical rules are broken.

There are no rules to governing the interpersonal dimensions of the attorney client relationship

I suppose the thinking was to let the market control behavior. Presumably, lawyers with bad “bedside manner” would suffer poor word of mouth, negative online reviews, etc., and would either come into line with consumer expectations or go out of business.

I have seen far too many of this type to conclude that the free market is reigning them in. A certain portion of manipulative, abusive, power seeking types are attracted to a career in law. Consumer expectation of attorney behavior, largely driven by media portrayals of lawyers AS manipulative, abusive, and power seeking, is rather low, with some consumers actually seeking these traits when hiring a lawyer.

In his blog entry, “5 Tips for Identifying Fake Leaders,” (which can be read here) Rex Gatto noted 5 common characteristics of what he called a “Fake Leader:”

  • There are no facts or truth, Fake Leaders tell people what they want to hear;
  • Fake Leaders tend to be impulsive, and this impulsivity usually lacks reason;
  • Fake Leaders do not create stability, rather they thrive on chaos;
  • Fake leaders love to exaggerate their own personal successes, and;
  • Fake leaders use their success in unrelated situations to convince you to expect the same in your situation.

The Fake Leader is manipulative, abusive and power seeking. He or she will usually be self-aggrandizing. The Fake Leader will cause everyone around him or her to end up feeling shamed, dirty, confused, or even angry, even if the underlying mission is successful. Great Leaders are outwardly focused and therefore care about the people being led. Fake Leaders are self-focused and only care about themselves.

Lawyers, in a certain sense, are the leaders of the clients that hire them, leading those clients through the thicket of laws, regulations, hearings, depositions, and even trials. Businesses face competition, but lawyers and their clients face adversaries, usually the winner-take-all type of adversaries. If there is any situation where you really don’t need a Fake Leader it is when you have a legal matter.

If there is any situation where you don’t need a Fake Leader it is when you have a legal matter.

How to identify fake leadership in lawyers:

  1. They never bring any harsh realities of the case to your attention. The fake leader loves to tell you what you want to hear. The fake leader won’t mention, or allow you to consider, the possibility that anything in the case will require effort, or go any way but yours. In many cases this is because the fake leader has a low self-esteem and enjoys presenting his or her self as someone much more powerful and omnipotent than they actually are. The fake leader will turn on you when these harsh realities inevitably come up as you now know that they are fallible and are no longer useful as someone to show off their fake omnipotence to.
  2. Lack of investigation of your case. The fake leader is impulsive and may be eager to sign you as a client, or even to start legal proceedings, without fully investigating your case. Why do an investigation when it might reveal harsh realities and ruin the artificial ego boost described above?
  3. Instability. You may notice the fake leader changing positions, plans, even volume and tone of voice over and over, and/or at odd times. He or she may be emotional and unprofessional in dealing with colleagues and staff. I have personally known lawyers who have bragged about having been in physical altercations with other lawyers. The fake leader loves chaos, creating and using it as a cloak to hide his or her own incompetence. Chaos commonly creates an enormous amount of extra emotional and actual work for those being led, depleting the strength and emotional reserves of those being led until they ultimately fail, at which point the fake leader blames the subordinate (or client) for the failure, literally adding insult to injury.
  4. Exaggerated Personal Success. Lawyers, just like everyone else, have both successes and losses, even great successes and great losses. The Fake Leader will only talk about his or her great successes – in the Fake Leader’s mind, the “plain old” successes are not big enough to create the omnipotent image he or she wants to create, and the losses and great losses are unmentionable as they are impossibly inconsistent with the fake omnipotent image the Fake Leader needs to create. Great successes do happen but they are rare. More likely than not your case will result in a “plain old” win, or loss, and then you will know the Fake Leader’s secret – he’s just a “plain old” lawyer. The Fake Leader, when faced with being exposed, will take steps to transfer “fault,” even for a win, onto you, to avoid being exposed.
  5. Applying Successes from Unrelated Situations. You may find that the Fake Leader will tell you about unrelated or vaguely related successes. Let’s face it, the fact that Lawyer X was solicitor for your local school district has no bearing on his ability to handle a divorce case. Similarly, although they can be a foundation for comfort, shared political, religious, or moral beliefs are not legal qualifications. If you want to support your political party, house of worship, etc. donate or volunteer directly. Too many Fake Leaders hide behind these “reverse ad hominems” which are just as fallacious as direct ad hominem attacks, and nothing more than an inability to demonstrate, or complete lack of, competence and leadership ability.

What’s so bad about Fake Leaders in the legal profession?

At the beginning of a case, every client wants to “win.” Numerous studies have been conducted by the various bar associations concluding that, when all is said and done and the case is over, clients who “lost” with a lawyer that delivered true leadership (by means of truthfulness, careful investigation, stability, humility, etc.) reported higher levels of satisfaction with their attorney, the legal system, and the outcome in their case than clients who “won” with a Lawyer who was a Fake Leader. Interestingly, the “losing” clients felt like their “loss” was legitimate and reasonable, while the “winning” clients simultaneously suspected that their “win” was somehow ill-gotten, and not large enough.

Of course everyone wants to “win” their case, and no lawyer takes a case to “lose” it. This is particularly so in the arena of personal injury cases, where the lawyers will make no money and in fact will lose money if they “lose” the case. If a “loss” with a lawyer who exercises true leadership is a better result for clients than a “win” with one who does not, it stands to reason that a win with a lawyer who exercises true leadership is the most desirable result and a loss with a lawyer who exercises Fake Leadership is a worst case result.

These post representation studies of client satisfaction reflect that a lawyer who respects his or her clients and their rights by being truthful, stable, steady, careful, and humble has, in so doing, created a safe, predictable, reasonable, and ultimately supportive environment for the client. This supportive environment creates emotional and intellectual “breathing space” in which both lawyer and client can plan for and work toward excellent outcomes, ultimately increasing the likelihood of achieving those excellent outcomes. So watch out for fake leadership, not just in Lawyers.

Joe Murphy
J. Murphy Firm
Pittsburgh, Pa.
November, 2017