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Power moves to underpay (or sabotage) work

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These are some situations I met in the past from some customers (thankfully, the more I learn, the smaller the percentage gets overall):

  • Not returning my emails, telephone calls, messages

Some clients wouldn’t return my calls, even when it was in their interest to do so because I was working for them. This, initially, made me chase harder, and set up a frame where I was at their beck and call.

This was eventually solved by my adopting a more laid back, professional attitude ("if you need something, call me"). And when I need something from them, I now try to always imply in my email that otherwise work is not going to be done.

  • Faking not receiving my e-mails or calls

Probably similar purpose to n. 1, but nastier, because the assumption/request is that I should re-send whatever I already sent. Again, I was doing work in this person’s interest. Coupled with frequent “I’m sorry” power moves.

  • “I told the counterparty I am paying you too much/you are getting rich, and that I would prefer not to continue having to involve you as my lawyer and solve things soon”

This was probably to demean my work and a form of social scalping. Implication was probably: "You are not providing me value, I am providing value to you. You lawyer are just a complication".

My answer now would be:

Me: “I also spoke to someone about you, and told him you obviously need to work more” [smile].

  • “Considering you worked for a shorter time than foreseen, I am sad that you didn’t give me a discount on this, not even in consideration of our friendship/our being relatives”.

This is a real e-mail I received after I requested immediate payment to one person for several overdue invoices. I was paid and simultaneously received this e-mail. I didn’t even answer.

  • "I lost some clients when I requested to be paid without waiting" / "Unfortunately I am starting to realize that as a professional I need to wait to be paid not to lose clients"

Implied threat to me. At the time I made the mistake of expanding on the frame by asking something along the lines of "How long did you have to wait in the end?" and this person answered "Almost three years" (!).

Lucio's suggestion is golden:

"Doesn't seem like a good client to me. The way I see it, good work deserves timely payment. Anyways ...".

Another take:

Me: "Strange: when I request to be paid to my clients they always pay me asap, but maybe that's because I'm a lawyer and they know what's going to happen otherwise..." [smile]

  • Delaying paying invoices without answering my calls/emails at all.

Attitude of “I don’t care, you will wait, not important to me”.

  • E-mails tasking/implying I have to provide advice

I have two examples.

“Hi Bel,

this e-mail is to anticipate the problem then we’ll talk on the phone to decide how to proceed […]

I explained a bit the situation I told you about some time ago, when we speak you can tell me how to proceed.

Thanks a lot. Hugs”

Two:

“Hi Bel how are you?

I am writing due to an issue […]

The notice came yesterday evening, and based on what they say we have 3 days to answer.

For any clarification on this matter we can talk when you wish. Thank you”

I didn’t even answer these two.

  • Messages where the client implies he did me a favor

I recently did some legal work for free for a group of persons, due to personal reasons. One of the persons who benefited from that work, to whom I had requested some personal documents to do the work for him, in the end sent me this message:

“Hi, I wanted to let you know that I was able to close this and finally obtain […]

Now all that remains is […]

I remain available if you should need anything.

Goodbye”.

Tone: he did a favor to me, not the other way around.

  • Messages where the client expressly requests me to work for free

I had invoiced this client for work (I invoiced somewhat late in this case), and then I receive this email:

“Hi, I am requesting your help on a follow-up of […]

Note: if it should be necessary, for this little consultancy, to have to pay “extra” fees with respect to the fees we already paid for the activities you performed in the past, no problem: avoiding that problems repeat themselves is more important to us...”.

Implication: we paid you waaay too much already.

At the time I provided the assistance, as it was quick, and said nothing was due. This escalated into another similar request, ending with:

"I much appreciated your availability, but I want to restate our full availability to consider this activity subject to your normal fees: also because we may have other small interactions in the future (which may become, if it interest you, a normal professional assistance in favor of our company as your normal "habitual" client)".

Which I addressed again for free, specifying that if other assistance were necessary, I was glad to help and suggested a written agreement to better arrange how to proceed. Then I never heard from them again.

I am very interested in what could be a good answer to this one. My take:

Me: "Dear ..., would you mind contacting me on the phone so that we may first address how to proceed?"

Then, on the phone, I would try to surface their feeling of having paid too much, so that I can reply in the open.

  • E-mails praising me in a demeaning way

This was for a very difficult work, and the email I then received was:

“[…]

Compliments for the work you did, you are always clear and precise”.

I feel a very demeaning judge tone here, and the praise is on something that should be not even subject to discussion.

  • E-mails requesting my advice on something and then dismissing it when received

A person requested my advice on a house on sale, I sent him my opinion, and he answered:

“Mmmm it seems the house is rented, so they probably cannot be evicted”.

Not true by the way. And also shows he didn't really care about the house.

  • Asking me to call. Worse version: asking me to call, then not answering and not returning the call

Some new clients asked me to call them through third parties. I feel me calling them puts them into the power seat and demeans my role.

In general, now I never call when asked, and always tell them to call me.

  • First message from new client implying I am to bend over backwards already

I received this message:

"Hi Bel, x gave me your number.

I have this issue: ...

Let's talk after dinner".

No comment.

  • Power moves from colleagues

a) When I asked for help from colleagues on something, some colleagues told me they would help, and then didn’t, or deliberately did very late. Happened more than once, probably to try to put me in bad shape with my client.

b) I had one colleague who would frequently tell me he had given my number to this and that person, and they would contact me. I was never, even once, contacted by any of these supposed persons. In the end I told him:

Me: “I would prefer if next time you can call me together with your client so you can introduce me directly”.

And of course, months later he tells me:

“I gave your number to x, will contact you shortly”.

Or not.

c) I had colleagues who implied they wanted to work with me just to try and receive work from me. Or who passed me one small job, and then started asking for free favors every two or three days.

Conclusion

In most of the above situations, frankly, I would now not focus on answering, but just focus on fading the client (or colleague). But if you have other ideas, I am very interested.

[OFF TOPIC: Lucio, fonts on the website have changed for me some days ago, relative sizes appear a bit messed up and letters are more difficult to read. Is it my problem, or a change on the website's end?]

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

Nice collection, Bel!

Feel free to open a topic for each one of them to go more in detail.

So these are just a few random comments on notes where I see differently (so where the might be most value):

Quote from Bel on December 18, 2021, 6:45 pm
  • “I told the counterparty I am paying you too much/you are getting rich, and that I would prefer not to continue having to involve you as my lawyer and solve things soon”

This was probably to demean my work and a form of social scalping. Implication was probably: "You are not providing me value, I am providing value to you. You lawyer are just a complication".

My answer now would be:

Me: “I also spoke to someone about you, and told him you obviously need to work more” [smile].

 

It's a very fair answer: answering to a power move with another power move.

And in many situations, it's also the best course of action.

Personally, I'd also consider flying higher though:

Him: I told the counterparty I am paying you too much, and that I would prefer not to continue having to involve you as my lawyer and solve things soon
You: It's always preferable to cooperate or to solve things amicably. When not possible, that's when good lawyers can make the world of difference

A bit of a philosopher's frame that caps and ends the "discussion".

And:

Quote from Bel on December 18, 2021, 6:45 pm
  • Messages where the client expressly requests me to work for free

I had invoiced this client for work (I invoiced somewhat late in this case), and then I receive this email:

“Hi, I am requesting your help on a follow-up of […]

Note: if it should be necessary, for this little consultancy, to have to pay “extra” fees with respect to the fees we already paid for the activities you performed in the past, no problem: avoiding that problems repeat themselves is more important to us...”.

Implication: we paid you waaay too much already.

At the time I provided the assistance, as it was quick, and said nothing was due. This escalated into another similar request, ending with:

"I much appreciated your availability, but I want to restate our full availability to consider this activity subject to your normal fees: also because we may have other small interactions in the future (which may become, if it interest you, a normal professional assistance in favor of our company as your normal "habitual" client)".

Which I addressed again for free, specifying that if other assistance were necessary, I was glad to help and suggested a written agreement to better arrange how to proceed. Then I never heard from them again.

I am very interested in what could be a good answer to this one. My take:

Me: "Dear ..., would you mind contacting me on the phone so that we may first address how to proceed?"

Then, on the phone, I would try to surface their feeling of having paid too much, so that I can reply in the open.

I'm not sure they were implying anything.

Did they pay the invoice?

If so, this sounds like it could have become a good repeat customer.

The fact they're telling you they're happy to pay for follow-ups is often a good sign.

Telling them to call was a good idea I think.
On the call, you could say something like:

"for small things that take one minute, no need to invoice. But if you think they can become part of a recurring pattern, then we can do this: you contact me for any issue, and if it adds up to more than a few minutes, then I invoice you at the end of the month. Sounds good?"

When you suggest the written agreement on the email, that feels like a big task to tackle on his side.

Most business folks (or non-lawyers in general) see written agreements as big tasks (that they'd rather skip).

Make it simple for them, and they're far more likely to become a (repeat) paying customer.

Bel has reacted to this post.
Bel
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?
Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on December 19, 2021, 3:05 am

Personally, I'd also consider flying higher though:

Him: I told the counterparty I am paying you too much, and that I would prefer not to continue having to involve you as my lawyer and solve things soon
You: It's always preferable to cooperate or to solve things amicably. When not possible, that's when good lawyers can make the world of difference

Thank you Lucio.

Basically, you suggest addressing the "value" part of the power move without confronting the rest.

From all your answers, I see that escalating confrontation with a customer should be avoided whenever possible.

And that I am probably overreacting in many cases.

Telling them to call was a good idea I think.
On the call, you could say something like:

"for small things that take one minute, no need to invoice. But if you think they can become part of a recurring pattern, then we can do this: you contact me for any issue, and if it adds up to more than a few minutes, then I invoice you at the end of the month. Sounds good?"

So here I also was overreacting a bit. The tone of "I will pay you if you ask me" felt very demeaning to me.

Your suggestion is totally spot on, because it addresses the point of the client but still reserves a possible win for me.

Unless, that is, the client plans precisely to make me work for 20 minutes every month. But even in that case, it is likely that the longer the relationship goes on, the less relevant this becomes.

Do you happen to have a retainer agreement with your regular clients?

  • Asking me to call. Worse version: asking me to call, then not answering and not returning the call

Some new clients asked me to call them through third parties. I feel me calling them puts them into the power seat and demeans my role.

In general, now I never call when asked, and always tell them to call me.

  • First message from new client implying I am to bend over backwards already

I received this message:

"Hi Bel, x gave me your number.

I have this issue: ...

Let's talk after dinner".

No comment.

You can ask qualifying questions to get better clients whether through phone or email.

Potential Client: Hi Bel, x gave me your number.

I have this issue: ...

Let's talk after dinner

You: Thanks for getting in touch.

I would like to understand your situation better:

  • Describe your situation
  • What people are involved?

If you're getting a lot of clients, that's great!
You can even charge for an initial consultation in my opinion.
You know the legal industry better than me so let me know if this can work.

For example,

I would be happy to schedule a 60-min initial consultation with you.
If you are interested, you may book an appointment via my Calendly link.

This is what we will cover during the meeting:

  • Understand your situation better
  • Discuss your options
  • Discuss the risks
Bel has reacted to this post.
Bel
Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on December 19, 2021, 3:05 am

Personally, I'd also consider flying higher though:

Him: I told the counterparty I am paying you too much, and that I would prefer not to continue having to involve you as my lawyer and solve things soon
You: It's always preferable to cooperate or to solve things amicably. When not possible, that's when good lawyers can make the world of difference

Thank you Lucio.

Basically, you suggest addressing the "value" part of the power move without confronting the rest.

From all your answers, I see that escalating confrontation with a customer should be avoided whenever possible.

It's mostly good to avoid a confrontational dynamic with a customer.
The working together dynamic is usually best.

Lucio's frame avoids getting dragged into justifying why he's paying you so much.
Instead, it achieves a few things:

  • You have the client's interests in mind.
    No dispute? Great!
    Have a dispute? I am the lawyer for you to win the case.
  • As suggested above, you are a good lawyer
  • The value of legal knowledge and work
Bel has reacted to this post.
Bel
Quote from Matthew Whitewood on December 19, 2021, 1:05 pm

Do you happen to have a retainer agreement with your regular clients?

I usually ask for a retainer where the work to be performed is continuous or complex or well determined (e.g. a specific lawsuit, or monthly contractual assistance). I'd say the most important factors here are: (i) the continuity of the relationship, (ii) the complexity and continuity of the case and (iii) whether my feeling is that the client will try to take advantage of me (in which case I now ask for at least partial advance payment as well). Where anti-money laundering rules apply, a retainer is basically mandatory.

Potential Client: Hi Bel, x gave me your number.

I have this issue: ...

Let's talk after dinner

This was followed by other behavior by that same person that was demeaning and condescending (e.g. tone of voice, pretense that I answer immediately every time, disregard for my time, implied request to provide a "favor" because of the common acquaintance, and so on).

At the time, I didn't push back effectively against these boundary intrusions. Now I would answer something like:

Me: Hi x, of course I would be happy to talk to you. Let's talk during office hours, so I can reserve you proper attention, and professional secrecy is also guaranteed. You can reach me at [time].

You can even charge for an initial consultation in my opinion.
You know the legal industry better than me so let me know if this can work.

This is something were lawyers are divided in two camps, and I personally prefer avoiding it. The reason is that charging the client for the initial consultation may give the client the sensation of being compelled to go on in retaining the lawyer, even in cases where there is no mutual respect, compatibility, personal feeling, and so on.

A relationship with a lawyer is very personal, and it is impossible for both parties to work together, irrespectively of the merits of the case, if personalities are incompatible. The first meeting is for the lawyer to form an opinion on the client just as it is viceversa.

Matthew Whitewood and Transitioned have reacted to this post.
Matthew WhitewoodTransitioned

Yeah, some of your potential/current clients sound annoying.

I was asking about the retainer because I thought that it may help with tackling some of the communication issues with the client.
They may feel more invested now that there's a recurring contract.
Maybe it's not best practice in these cases as you advised.

Bel: Hi x, of course I would be happy to talk to you. Let's talk during office hours, so I can reserve you proper attention, and professional secrecy is also guaranteed. You can reach me at [time].

Thanks for sharing the rationale behind whether to charge a client for an initial consultation.

Your message looks excellent.

Not necessary but one could throw in a timeframe too like

You can reach me at [time] for a 15-minute consultation.

I find that people are less likely to be late and even possibly come prepared when you introduce a time window.

Bel has reacted to this post.
Bel
  • Guilt tripping me on the phone

Today I received a new phone call from the person who had sent me this text message (mentioned in the first post of this same thread):

“Hi, I wanted to let you know that I was able to close this and finally obtain […]. Now all that remains is […].

I remain available if you should need anything. Goodbye”.

Tone of the above message, that I received after I worked on probate proceedings for free for many persons (including him) for one year: he did a favor to me, not the other way around. He was trying to leverage what he did (sending me documents) and to downplay my work to avoid incurring social debt: social scalping at its finest.

At the time I didn't answer, but am starting to understand that I should have probably answered something like:

"I'm very happy that the work done on the probate during the last year allowed you to close this easily. Talk soon.".

Here below is a summary of the call I had today, which helped me to understand what he was (and is still) doing and that he is, in fact, a very savy (80 year old) social scalper:

Him: Hi, lawyer Bel.

Me: Hi, how are you?

Him: Ehhh I'm old, we're locked in the home now with this COVID resurgence, can't do much.

Me: It's the same for everyone, including us.

Him: So I wanted to wish you and your family a merry Christmas. I tried to call you many times but I know you're very busy...

[note: I started not picking up his calls since the above message]

Me: No problem, I pick up when I can, and if I can't, I will usually try to call back when possible.

Him:I spoke with your father yesterday and we spoke about this situation with the bank, and that we are still waiting to be given access to the bank account that x [the deceased] left us.

Me: Yes, unfortunately banks are like this, they take a long time to do things, other people involved are also in the same condition.

Him: Yes, and my cousing is also waiting. Do you know anything about when the bank will go on?

Me: Yes, that's how it is. Unfortunately banks take their time.

Him: And we are powerless. We can't do much.

Me: Well, you should probably engage a lawyer to speak with the banks on your behalf and push for what you need.

Him: Oh no no no. We will wait. And I spoke with your dad yesterday and with your family and we talked much and we exchanged views and talked...

Me: Yes. So thank you for the wishes, which I also send to you and your wife: have a very merry Christmas. And talk soon.

Him: Ok goodbye.

So, I feel that the whole phone call was a big guilt-trip where he tried to leverage having talked with my father, being old, being powerless, and so on, to make me continue to work for free on his behalf.

And the request was, of course, implicit. I think my telling him "you should engage a lawyer" was an unconscious way for me to try to surface the request, which he then reneged.

In the past I would have said something like: "Ok, let me talk to the bank for you". Thank you Lucio (Uncle Ben did wonders!).

  • “Considering you worked for a shorter time than foreseen, I am sad that you didn’t give me a discount on this, not even in consideration of our friendship/our being relatives”.

I now understand that this message was a big guilt-trip manipulation on me.

When I received it, I did not answer, but it worked nonetheless, because my mood got significantly worse for two days, and I asked myself if I had done anything bad even while I knew this person had manipulated me into not asking for payment (he was the same person who had told me about having lost clients himself because he had asked to be paid without waiting).

Not understanding consciously that he was guilt-tripping me probably made the effects worse.

I did not answer the above e-mail and just discarded this person: my feeling was that he would have used whatever I had said against me. But if there is anything I could have answered to redress, I would be very interested to know.

  • Guilt-tripping during lunch by husband of female client

I remember another guilt-tripping I succumbed to, mixed with the implicit request again.

Years ago. I was at lunch with relatives, had done work for this woman, and she had promised to pay me that same day. During lunch, her husband starts saying to other persons present that:

Husband: "We [me and my wife] are in a tough spot, work is not going well, we are without money, we don't know what to do".

This goes on for ten minutes. I feel worse and worse, and at the end I say to the woman in front of everyone "Ok, you know what, you don't need to pay me for the work I did". She says:

Client: Why? I brought the money, I'll give it to you later.

I say "No, don't worry". She never paid me.

Now I understand it was a well-orchestrated guilt-trip on me, concerted with her husband (good and bad cop).

And the genius part was when she offered to still pay me, like Mysterio initially refusing IronMan's glasses from Spiderman 🙂

The token refusal by the manipulator to accept what the manipulator really wants covers the manipulation better, and also acts as a disguise against it in front of third parties.

I remember that same woman asking me later that same year if I could do other work for her. Which at least I refused to do.

But if this should happen again, I would probably excuse myself from the table while the guilt-tripping goes on. And then, at the end, I would still imply I need to get paid. Or would there be a way to address this kind of manipulation more openly?

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Lucio BuffalmanoTransitioned

Well they re not your friends.  So you could empathasise a bit then just change the topic.  I d say something like.  Everyone has problems that's the life.  Anyway here we are having a nice lunch so on a happier note.....(add positive story)

If they keep trying just cut the lunch short.  Sorry I have a client to meet but it was great catching up.   you guys stay and enjoy yourselves.

 

 

 

 

Bel has reacted to this post.
Bel
Quote from Bel on December 21, 2021, 7:22 pm

 

In the past I would have said something like: "Ok, let me talk to the bank for you". Thank you Lucio (Uncle Ben did wonders!).

  • “Considering you worked for a shorter time than foreseen, I am sad that you didn’t give me a discount on this, not even in consideration of our friendship/our being relatives”.

I now understand that this message was a big guilt-trip manipulation on me.

When I received it, I did not answer, but it worked nonetheless, because my mood got significantly worse for two days, and I asked myself if I had done anything bad even while I knew this person had manipulated me into not asking for payment (he was the same person who had told me about having lost clients himself because he had asked to be paid without waiting).

Not understanding consciously that he was guilt-tripping me probably made the effects worse.

I did not answer the above e-mail and just discarded this person: my feeling was that he would have used whatever I had said against me. But if there is anything I could have answered to redress, I would be very interested to know.

Yeah, you said it, guilt-tripping it was.

An easy Machiavellian way out:

I'm glad the work went well!

And just for your information, it was already heavily discounted compared to my usual rate :).

(optional: happy to do that for friends and family)

All the best, speak soon!

Feel free to open a new thread for that other scenario or for more on guilt-tripping.

Bel has reacted to this post.
Bel
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?
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