12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law (Step 8)

Step 8 – “Just Say No” to Some Clients.

We are continuing our series on Judge Carl Horn’s 12 Step program for lawyers. In Step 8, Judge Horn begins with the proposition that there have been significant changes in lawyer-client relations, and generally, those have not been for the better. Many lawyers find that the lawyer-client relationship has become increasingly stressful and problematic. Many lawyers have recognized that their clients are increasingly demanding, and therefore, are now choosing their clients more carefully.  

Judge Horn refers to an ABA study which addressed the increased client influence over the pricing and execution of legal projects. This has become a major pressure point in the profession. Clients tend to be more project, than relationship, focused. Projects are often bid out to multiple firms rather than turning to one trusted counselor. Clients also demand fast turn around and 24/7 access to lawyers. Many clients want to be directly involved in the process; billing is more carefully scrutinized. There has also been a proliferation of formal billing guidelines and a lack of uniformity across the industry for those billing procedures.   

According to the ABA study, the results of these changes include more time and resources being spent on administrative tasks and relationship management. Lawyers have less control over the pace of work and less ability to escape the pressures of the job. There is often ambiguity as to what and how to bill. Lawyers often feel more like a “hired gun” rather than a respected counselor.  

Horn then cites a book by Walt Bachman, Law v. Life: What Lawyers are Afraid to Say About the Legal Profession. Bachman has a chapter titled “The APC Factor: The Truth About Clients.” The APC Factor stands for “Assholes Per Capita.” Bachman proposes a formula to determine the APC factor in a given situation. As Horn jokes, Bachman no doubt engaged in “highly sophisticated social science” and utilized his intellectual and academic skills sharpened during his years at Harvard on a Rhodes Scholarship to generate this formula.  


Tongue now firmly in check, Bachman proceeds to apply what we might call AA (Asshole Analysis), to the world of law. In the instance of American litigation clients, this formula would be more specifically stated as:


For example, if we take the total number of new litigation clients in America last year (say 2,000,000) and determine the number of those litigants independently and objectively determined to be assholes (say approximately 800,000), the APC Factor is derived as follows:


Conceding the need for further research, Bachman draws on his own experience and that of his lawyer friends to suggest an APC Factor for litigation clients “in the vicinity of .4 and rising”. Estimating the APC Factor for society at large as “closer to .1”, Bachman reaches the compelling conclusion that “the APC Factor for [litigation] clients is four times that of the overall populace”. Of course, it remains with each individual lawyer to decide how this seminal research should be applied to his or her practice!

Horn concludes by suggesting that we can increase the inherent satisfaction in the lawyer-client relationship by keeping in mind a few key principles. First, be scrupulously honest with our clients, including but not limited to the work we choose to do and how it is billed. Further, be careful not to cross ethical lines and to keep a measure of professional distance, particularly where an objective third party might see our client’s conduct as deceptive. Strive to provide wise counsel, which requires more of a “big picture” approach to problem solving and conflict resolution. Finally, perhaps applying Bachman’s brilliant AA, we should simply “just say no” to some clients.   

Next week, we will cover Step 9 – Stay Emotionally Healthy.  

Comments are closed.