The Dysfunctional Lawyer, Part 2

“A Bailiff and An Attorney – A Match for the Devil” (1760), Source Library of Congress, British Cartoon Prints Collection (Digital ID cph. 3c05267)

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

–  Dick the Butcher, from Shakespeare’s Henry VI

Despite the large number of lawyer jokes, most lawyers are not dysfunctional human beings.

We articulate and guard the rights of our clients in a non-violent arena, i.e. the courtroom, in which confrontation takes the place of combat.

And we are ethically bound to put the client’s interests before our own. That requires us, among other things, to decline (or withdraw from) cases where some mental or physical condition on our part would materially impair our ability to represent the client.

The Dysfunctional Lawyer

Regrettably, the legal profession is not free of dysfunctional individuals. Abuse victims may be especially vulnerable to such individuals, and should be on the lookout for these characteristics.

A. The Large Ego

Deservedly or not, lawyers are regularly praised by those who want something from them. That stroking can produce an enlarged ego. But a sense of self-importance is not an indication of real ability on a lawyer’s part.

The lawyer with a large ego may be entirely competent. However, s/he is likely to be difficult for clients to deal with (reinforcing the supplicant role abuse victims are seeking to escape).

Large egos are, also, fragile. They must be propped up. Alcohol and drug abuse are not unknown among lawyers. These obviously interfere with judgment. The state bar will know whether a lawyer’s license has ever been suspended or revoked.

B. Entitlement

A large ego can lead to a sense of entitlement. More than a character flaw, the sense of entitlement may cause a lawyer to rationalize the misuse of client funds to support a lavish lifestyle.

Alternatively, a sense of entitlement can be used to “justify” the initiation of a sexual relationship with an emotionally fragile client.

If inappropriate behavior by a lawyer (unwelcome sexual innuendo, touching that makes a client uncomfortable, and the like) does occur, it should not be tolerated. Such behavior is not a “compliment” to the abuse victim, and should be reported to the state disciplinary committee.

Basic kindness by a lawyer, on the other hand, should not be mistaken for romantic interest. Kindness can be such a novelty to abuse victims that the error is understandable. To best serve the client, a lawyer must maintain a certain degree of objectivity. This necessarily requires some distance.

C. Unnecessary Aggression

While lawyers are bound aggressively to pursue their client’s interests, some lawyers are destructively contentious. This can be evidenced, for instance, by the bullying of office staff. Surprisingly, such contention may be a cover for insecurity on the lawyer’s part.

Excessive aggression by a lawyer can work to his/her client’s disservice, if opportunities for viable compromise are missed. It can result in unnecessary disputes with opposing counsel (increasing both delays and billing), and can be intimidating to an abuse victim [1] [2].

If opposing counsel is destructively contentious, the court can be asked to intervene and may impose costs.


With this information in hand, abuse victims should be better equipped to select a good lawyer, maintain a healthy relationship with their lawyer during the course of a case, and begin rebuilding their lives.

[1] A lawyer’s aggression should never, of course, be turned on the client.
[2] A client is at liberty to change lawyers at any time. However, if the case is far advanced, finding a substitute lawyer may be difficult. The exiting lawyer commonly places a lien on the file for work already done (effectively reducing the fee an incoming lawyer can earn).

The role of abuse victims as clients is discussed in Part 1 of this article, which can be found at 12/28/14.



Filed under Abuse of Power, Law, Violence Against Women

9 responses to “The Dysfunctional Lawyer, Part 2

  1. Very interesting psychological insights, Anna. Great read! 🙂

  2. This was very good. I have never heard a lawyer be honest about the abusive natures that can be encountered among their fellow lawyers before. Well, done, Anna. You are truly an advocate for the abused.

    • You’re so kind to me, Michael. Actually, I wish there were more I could do for victims. But health constraints have interfered. Sometimes God’s plan for our lives is not what we might choose for ourselves. Still, He knows best, and is able to use us for good in ways we might never have imagined. It can be very difficult for abuse victims — whose trust has been so grievously violated — to believe that. But it is true. I say that from experience.

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