Mastering Difficult Client Relationships: Essential Tips for Patent Attorneys

Handling challenging clients is part and parcel of any service-oriented profession, especially in the intricate world of patent law. In this week’s Dear Sandy, our esteemed Controller, Sandy Maxey, responds to an attorney at a mid-sized firm who shares a common yet taxing dilemma: managing a new client whose communication style is not only challenging but sometimes downright disrespectful. From disregarding advice to setting unrealistic deadlines and maintaining a condescending tone, this scenario puts professional skills and patience to the test.

Dear Sandy,

I am a patent attorney at a mid-sized firm, and I have recently been tasked with managing the portfolio of a new client. While I am excited about the opportunities this assignment presents, I am finding the client’s communication style to be particularly challenging and at times, disrespectful. They frequently disregard my professional advice, impose unrealistic deadlines, and their overall tone can be quite condescending. I am committed to maintaining professionalism and ensuring the quality of my work remains unaffected, but I am struggling. How can I effectively manage this situation without causing friction or appearing uncooperative?

Troubled by the Tone

Sandy’s Response:

Navigating a professional relationship with a challenging client can indeed be difficult, but it also presents an opportunity to hone your communication and boundary-setting skills.

  1. Keep a Detailed Record: Documenting all communications is essential. This record can be invaluable in resolving disputes or misunderstandings regarding what has been communicated.
  2. Establish Clear Boundaries: Organizing a meeting to set clear expectations and timelines can be instrumental. It’s an opportunity to assert the reasoning behind your professional decisions and to establish yourself as an authority.
  3. Confront Disrespect Directly: If the client’s disrespect persists, it should be addressed directly, yet diplomatically. Articulate the need for respectful communication to maintain a productive working relationship.
  4. Leverage Firm Support: Should the problem continue, involve a supervisor or partner. They can offer additional support, mediate the situation, or potentially reassign the client to another attorney better suited to handle the dynamic.
  5. Value Your Professional Well-being: It’s crucial to remember that while clients are important, they should not undermine your professional integrity or well-being. If necessary, seek adjustments within your firm to protect these.

Why This Is Important

Dealing with difficult clients not only tests professional mettle but also provides an opportunity to strengthen communication and negotiation skills. Sandy’s advice underscores the need for strategic thinking and personal resilience in these situations. Whether printed in a newspaper or shared online, these insights can help any attorney navigate the complexities of client relationships in the legal field.

This guide serves as a roadmap for patent attorneys and other professionals who may find themselves in similar situations, offering both strategic advice and reassurance that they are not alone in facing these challenges. By maintaining professionalism and setting clear boundaries, attorneys can manage difficult client relationships effectively, ensuring that their careers remain on a positive trajectory.

We Want to Hear from You

Do you have experiences with challenging clients? How have you managed these relationships without sacrificing your professional standards? Share your stories and strategies with us on LinkedIn to continue the conversation.