Of clients and their disregard for legal advice

My client, Wasike is a good one. But like all good ones, he has one serious and strong short coming. He seems to know what he wants from a professional, down to how that which he wants should be done. He pays well, sometimes, so letting him go is quite challenging in these hard economic times. –it’s not every day that you get a client who pays well. Dealing with him is quite conflicting.

This is how it goes:

It usually starts with an early morning phone call.

Habari ya asubuhi, Wakili”

“Ni mzuri. Sema.”

“I have a neighbor here. Ameiba shamba yangu. Nataka tumupeleke polisi. Akona kichwa ngumu sana

“Tutamupeleka polisi on which charges?”

Sijui. Si wewe ni wakili. Utajua.”

And that is where my problem with him comes in. A neighbor “stole” his land. He now wants me to take the neighbor to the police. On what charges? He doesn’t know.

I have had similar incidents with other clients but not on the scale of Wasike. He was unfortunate when his eldest son passed on. For some reason, he doesn’t like his surviving daughter in law because of personal reasons. He is even looking for ways to have his son’s children raised by his other sons. The other day, he said that the children were malnourished. When I asked him the basis of his statement, he said, “they have big round stomachs”. I then advised that he takes the children to a hospital for a medical check up to ascertain why the children’s stomachs are big. He said it wasn’t necessary. That everyone can see that they have kwashiorkor.

When he refused to take my advice on taking the children to see a doctor, I simply told him, “If you must mention to the court that a child is not well fed and therefore malnourished, you must take him or her to a doctor for a report to that effect”

Client’s often disregard a lawyer’s advice if they have a personal perspective of what the solution to their issue is. But what is an ordinary solution to a problem may not necessarily be the legal solution. That is why you must never give yourself “legal” advice and purport that the same is from your lawyer.

This is not a dilemma faced by lawyers alone. Doctors seem to be the biggest sufferers from this problem with clients/patients. A patient may go to a doctor and say, “Doc, I have a headache and I generally don’t feel well. I need aspirin and ibuprofen”. You wonder, why seek professional help when you already have a solution to whatever issue you are facing?

The purpose of a lawyer is to advise. A lawyer’s advice is considered of utmost wisdom, that’s why lawyers are often called, “Counsel”.

It is therefore important for you the client to listen to what your lawyer has to say, rather than you suggesting a solution to your lawyer. If ordinary people had solutions to their problems, lawyers would be irrelevant.

The professional code of conduct is there for a purpose. – to hold lawyers accountable, to enforce professionalism in their dispensation of counsel.

How then will you hold your lawyer accountable for his professional advice if you dispensed it yourself?

When you have a legal issue, tell your lawyer about it. Tell her all the details. Tell her everything. From your many words, your lawyer will sieve out the legally relevant facts and will dispense advice. You have only two cardinal duties thereafter: listen to the advice and pay for the advice.


This article appears in our digital law newsletter, The Deuteronomy Vol 6, Issue 1 of June  2nd, 2017

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