Why you should say 'no' to your clients

Why you should say 'no' to your clients

Sometimes pushing back is in the client's best interest, as Sydney barrister LOUISE MATHIAS explains.


Imagine a client conference. Your client tells you their story, what they want and expect out of the legal proceedings. However, what the client wants doesn't equate with your views on how the matter should proceed - it's not in the client's best interest or might not be based on legal principles and legislation. But you feel emotionally invested with the client and you want to fight their fight, so you say nothing. And besides, you have monthly targets and budgets to reach and don't want to upset the client who might otherwise change firms.

On the other hand you could respond objectively and professionally, with a polite "no".

I am always impressed with solicitors who have the courage to say"no" to their clients, even though it may not be what the client wants to hear.

Saying "no" takes boldness, professionalism and conviction. By gong further and saying, "I heard what you are saying and if I am correct you are saying X" (and concisely repeating what they said in your own words,  you are more likely to get a positive response. Then continue "However, if we go down the path you propose, I don't believe it will be in your best interest legally, emotionally or financially or achieve the best outcome for your case. What I propose is X, for these reasons..."

This approach promotes open communication and helps establish trust between you and your client. Remember, people appreciate open communication and the knowledge that their are being listened to.

A few years ago during a family law conference, Sydney-based Judge Sexton (Sydney Registry) said "a best practice guideline for family lawyers was not to get emotionally involved and just parrot clients' instructions, but to push back". She continued, "Our job is not to be used by our clients as a means to ventilate their emotional position, it's about advising clients to understand what is better for them legally, emotionally and financially - that is what is called pushing back." The push back approach is favourable to solicitors' ethical obligations found in rule 7 Legal Profession Uniform Law Australian Solicitor' Conduct Rules 2015.

It is our role as legally trained professionals to help clients through difficult problems in their lives and to offer appropriate solutions.

Lawyers need to remain above the malaise and client battles by providing objective advice. When a commercial, legal and professional empathetic approach is undertaken, everyone benefits.

Telling it like it is honest, objective and professional. And from my experience, clients ultimately appreciate this approach, it helps build trust.

If "no" is part of your repertoire and advice, you will stand out as a professional, empathetic, honest and commercially-minded lawyer.

About the author

Louise Mathias is a barrister, mediator and family law arbitrator at Elizabeth Street Chambers. Visit her block for insight on family law, medical negligence, victims of institutional abuse and professional practice topics.