I was expressing to a friend’s wife over the weekend that I really like working with the elderly because, among other things, they genuinely appreciate me.  Well, most of them.  Sometimes they scream at me just because I went to law school and know more about the law than they do. 

But one thing that I have learned is that I really need to be thanked by my clients.  This might seem silly, but I make about as much as a waiter, and I spend at least an hour with each my clients, on average.  My job takes an incredible amount of patience, patience I don’t have in any other aspect of my life.  And I have that patience with my clients because I know they need my help.  I know that they are one of the most vulnerable populations, and that they don’t experience a lot of kindness in their lives in our city.  But at the end of the day, I also know that they leave my office feeling better; feeling like everything will be alright, or at the very least, they will be treated fairly and they got their story told. 

I spent an hour and a half with a woman explaining to her that her dentist office, in fact, did not overcharge her, and did in fact do her a favor.  I added up the numbers for her, pointed out her bill, explained everything.  Even though, at the end of the day, she owed $100 more than she thought she did, she thanked me profusely.  And after she thanked me, I didn’t even mind that I’d devoted an hour and a half of my time to helping her.  So it helps keep me doing my job, knowing that I’m appreciated. 

People that call my office and yell at me, people who feel that they are entitled to my services, they do not endear themselves to me.  They are my least favorites, in fact, and if I have to pick between clients, I’m gonna pick the one that thanks me at the end of the day.  I’m not sure if this is the right thing to do.  One of my professors told me that I should in fact, not expect a thank you from clients, or let the lack thereof affect my work (which I do agree with).  Her general attitude was that pro bono attorneys should treat their clients no differently than paying clients, and therefore, not expect to be thanked. 

My general attitude is that there are many, many, many very real differences between a pro bono attorney and a paid one, and that along with clients who regularly miss appointments, are happy to wait to see me when we’re running behind, and call me to ask them for help with non-legal problems like their cable bills, I think that clients should thank attorneys who don’t charge them.  I generally think that you should thank anyone who helps you, whether they charge you or not, and that you should especially thank people who don’t.



Filed under Lawyering, Volunteering

5 responses to “Appreciation

  1. I’ll be honest – I blatantly favour the clients who are nice to me and appreciative of my efforts over the clients who are mean and demanding. But they’re corporate clients, so I don’t feel too bad about it (by the way, you make me feel like such a bad person with all your amazing making-the-world-a-better-place law posts. Sigh).

    I agree you shouldn’t treat clients differently whether they’re paying you or not – but to me, that means that in a perfect world, they should ALL thank you, not that none of them should. Just because you’re paying for someone’s services doesn’t mean you shouldn’t thank them for helping you – the same applies to a plumber or a waitress or a bus driver, I would always thank them – why is a lawyer any different?

    I have a lovely client who is genuinely thankful and appreciative of all the work I do on behalf of the huge company where she works, with the result that if I can ever go a little bit above and beyond for her, I do. Shhhh, don’t tell the other clients…

  2. Tempus Poenae

    I agree with your professor. Expecting to be thanked is elevating yourself above the client, sort of like saying, “Look at virtuous me, doing law for poor pitiful you!”

    Do you ever thank your clients for coming in? I’m serious. It’s not like this is a one-sided transaction where they take from you and you selflessly give. Without the clients, you wouldn’t be getting experience as a new lawyer. You wouldn’t be getting paid (however meager, but you ARE getting paid). You wouldn’t have business cards or an office or a title. I think a lot of pro bono lawyers make the mistake of thinking of themselves as a savior and saint to poor folks, when really, they’re getting as much out of the arrangement as they are putting in.

    • vadoporroesq

      I am actually surprisingly good about thanking my clients for coming in, thanking them for their time, their patience in waiting for me, etc. (Good in that I remember to do it, not virtuously good. But as a person with a tendency to be self-absorbed, thanking people is the last line of defense.) I do not thank them specifically for the opportunity to use them to develop my legal skills by practicing on them, because I would be unnerved by a doctor saying, “gee, I’ve never done a tonsillectomy before, thanks for letting me try it out!” But I know coming to our office is a pain, and very difficult for clients, so I do always thank them for coming in (and indirectly for keeping their appointments/showing up on time!)

      I am not blind to the fact that part of the reason I got into this line of work was because I wanted to help people who don’t have as much as I do, and that I do tend to put myself above them because of my education and privileged status. I try very hard to not do this, but it is probably one of my bigger struggles as a public interest attorney. I don’t expect my clients to worship me or feel like I’ve saved their house, their lives, or their finances. Oddly, I don’t feel virtuous for doing this work, although I always thought that I would. I came to the realization recently that I like doing public interest work because I cannot stand the idea of valuing what I do and charging people for it. I also genuinely worry that I take advantage of my clients as a means to practicing law and I worry greatly about doing shoddy work for them. So I try my hardest to give them top-notch lawyering, regardless of how much they pay for my services or how much I get paid for this work.

      But at the end of the day, I thank the person who checks me out at the grocery store, serves me at a restaurant, drives the bus, lets me change lanes in traffic, gives me directions or holds an elevator, and generally, anyone who provides a service to me. As a society, we thank people who do things for us, and I don’t think it’s elevating myself to say that I should at least be in the same level as anybody else in customer service. If my clients don’t thank anybody, that’s fine, and as long as they are not abusive or uncooperative, I’ll still help them, but I’m probably going to feel a little differently about them, like how when I was a kid, my parents friends liked me more than Sarah because I thanked them for giving me a ride home and she didn’t.

  3. Jo

    Honey v vinegar!

    C’s grandma is HORRIBLE at being appreciative. You do something for her and she slaps you in the face with the rotten fish of not having done more. She’s made me afraid of old people, which bums me out.

    I actually told my mom that she needs to get out and have other friends, maybe volunteer, because she needs to be appreciated. My sisters that live near her, that she helps every day, take advantage of her and are fairly bitter. Those of us that live further away are very appreciative, but she needs someone close who values her. It’s a human need, I believe.

  4. Pingback: Working for Free | Vado Porro – Go Further

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