If it weren’t for the client…

The September 2012 Last Word, If it weren’t for the client (Lexpert) isn’t just a little brilliant. It’s thoroughly brilliant. So brilliant it doesn’t have a best paragraph. It’s all good.  Read it. Enjoy it. I dare you to tell me it’s not as brilliant as it is. Because it is.

Thin Client

He’s dolorous when he should be elated, and I’m confused. He did it: the deal’s done, the fat lady’s sung and been booted off the stage. The bill hasn’t been paid, granted, but surely that’s not it? I expected—well, if not champagne, then a bit of a post-closing glow. Surely, he’s not that jaded already? Surely, the shine hasn’t come off, and this isn’t just another day?

No. Clearly not just another day. He’s not just dolorous; he’s downright droopy. He answers in monosyllables. Then utters a sigh, and another one. Looks to the side. I settle back in the uncomfortable chair. A dam’s about to burst. I prepare.

His eyes slant side to side. Anyone close to us? Anyone listening? ‘Tis a small town, after all, and we all seem to go to the same four restaurants. No. It’s safe. Another sigh. More of a grunt, really. And then he mutters it. I jump. I’m sure I’ve misheard. I lean in. I stare. “Really?” I say. “Did you just…”

“Fucking clients,” he says, slightly louder. And then repeats it. And I think, were we not in a public place and within earshot of people who might know people who know people who know him—he’d shout.

Now, I’m taken aback not because I’ve got some kind of rarified, refined idea of how lawyers should speak—frankly, you tend to be a foul mouthed lot, even when you talk to me on record—but I do have a pretty rarified, refined idea of how you think about… you know. Clients. And this dude I’m sitting across from right now—well. I’ve never seen him sleeveless, but I suspect he has a “The Client is God” tattoo on his left bicep. The juxtaposition of client and an obscenity, coming from any lawyer (with me in the room, anyway), is surprising; from him, it might well be a harbinger of the apocalypse.

Now, before we go any further: I know you’re going to try to guess who he is, which firm’s he’s from and what client he’s talking about. Could be any firm—yeah, maybe that one, which claims its lawyers have client service tattooed if not on their hearts or in them, then certainly in the brains and within their Blackberry crunching (an interlude: a moment of silence for what was and what could have been… ah, RIM) fingertips. Or that one, more brusque, but just as devoted to staying as close to the client as decency and broadly accepted business practices permit. Could happen to any partner at any firm. Perhaps not with any client, though. Although… you might have worked if not for this client, then one like it. Read on…

He’s done sighing; now, he’s boiling. “Do you have any idea,” he says, slowly, deliberately, every syllable seething with rage, “do you have any idea,” he repeats, “how effective we could be if it weren’t for the… if it weren’t for the…” His rage stifles the adjective. And the noun.

I nod. Yeah. I can see it. He is, after all, the expert. The expert. Getting paid a pretty obscene hourly age for sharing that expertise—executing on that expertise. He sees the path, the pitfalls. What must be done to avoid them. In this particular case—he recalls his professional sanity in time and starts skirting around the details a bit—it was clear. There was the right way to do this thing.

And then… there was the client’s way.

He pauses and looks at me expectantly.

“The customer is always right?” I say, lamely. He chortles.

“It cost them… it cost them…” he lowers his voice and utters the amount. I blanch. Repeat it in awe. “Not counting the extra legal fees,” he says. And, I murmur gently, time? He utters a terrible laugh. “Tripled the time it took to get it all done.” He taps his fingers on his glass. Stares into space.

“Well,” I say. “Is… I mean, is the client unhappy? Taking it out on you?”

He turns his gaze at me. I shudder. The despair is… terrifying. Utterly terrifying. And he’s a friend, and a good guy, and this is, did I mention, a small town, but a hyper-competitive town, and it doesn’t matter how great your work on our last deal was, if word gets out that you mucked up this deal, that you disappointed that client, well, you’re gonna pay, baby, and…

“The client?” he repeats. “The client is…” His head drops. His hands cover his face. I stop breathing.

“Thrilled,” he spits out. “Thrilled. Best deal of his life. Can’t wait to do it all again.”

“With you?”

“With me.”

“His way?”

It’s sad to see a grown lawyer cry at something other than his or her kids’ graduation or wedding. I look away, but even though his hands are still covering his face and his mouth, I hear him whisper, in horror, “His way.”

Marzena Czarnecka is a Calgary-based freelance writer who’s rather fond of Frank Sinatra… but would never have wanted to work for him, if you know what I mean.