The Dilemma of the Vengeful Client: A Prescriptive Framework for Cooling the Flames of Anger
73 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2008 Last revised: 16 Apr 2011
Date Written: 2009
Lawyers are presented with a challenging dilemma when counseling angry clients who seek to use the legal system as a weapon for vengeance. Legal scholars have argued that lawyers should, where appropriate, dissuade their angry clients from litigation strategies that are immoral or arguably unethical. However, angry clients are remarkably resistant to appeals based on morality and reason. Thus, it is not surprising that lawyers have been largely ineffective in their efforts to dissuade angry clients from using the legal system as a battlefield. Instead, lawyers often reluctantly defer to clients whose judgment is impaired by their emotional reactivity.
This article takes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding and resolving this important problem. Building on studies in the fields of neuroscience, medicine and psychology, I argue that when lawyers serve as hired guns for vengeful clients, the litigation process becomes an escalating cycle of war that inflicts psychological, emotional and even physiological harm on the client. I then shed light on why vengeful clients are so resistant to rational appeals based on morality and even economic self-interest. Finally, I provide a prescriptive framework for lawyers to use in helping vengeful clients significantly reduce the anger that otherwise impairs lawyers' ability to engage in effective client counseling.
Keywords: dispute resolution, forgiveness, moral dialogue, ethics, professional responsibility, morality, litigation, attorney client relationship, mediation, hired gun, client counseling
JEL Classification: K4, K40, K41, K10, K19
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation