If you surveyed 100 lawyers, you’d probably find that 99 of them will tell you that law school doesn’t prepare them for what their real world legal practice will be like. I certainly learned some basics, but most of what you learn is just a good base for passing the bar and general legal knowledge. Other than my evidence class and mediation legal clinic where I got to mediate real cases, I can’t think of much that I learned in law school that I use today. I’ve advocated that law school should be changed so at least one of your three years is spent in a rotation like system comparable to medical school. It will never happen because innovation and law school don’t work hand and hand, but it should.
The problem with the law school curriculum is that it doesn’t teach you how to either run your own practice or be a part of someone else’s practice. Specifically there is no training on how to run a business and how to deal with clients and their varying personalities. Unfortunately, for most lawyers you have to learn this stuff on the go. I certainly did and made some mistakes along the way. The good news with business decisions is that you can usually pause and ask someone advice when you are stuck. With a client though, you are usually winging it when there is a problem.
The hardest situation for me to learn how to handle is dealing with people that are literally crazy. I typically get a call or e-mail from someone that is looking for advice. The ones that call (or occasionally show up to the office without an appointment) sound perfectly normal. But as you start listening to their story, they let you know that the police have planted a chip in their brain to follow them around and control them or their former co-workers are hiding at their new job and trying to sabotage them. And in almost every case, especially those that e-mail me, they want to sue Oprah Winfrey.
The typical Oprah complaint is that she is spying on them through the TV or using her empire to ruin their life. A recent e-mailer told me that Harpo Studios helped cover up a raping by multiple doctors. The Oprah was also accused of covering up Leonard Nimoy’s disfigurement of the e-mailers ears. Not only was Oprah accused, but so was the Queen of England who was said to be the e-mailer’s grandmother.
The people that contact me by e-mail warn me that they can’t call because their phone is monitored. The ones that call won’t e-mail because those e-mails are being read or controlled by others. And they almost always want to sue Oprah because they know she is rich and assume that is a great way to get out of their financial troubles.
Some of this is funny, but it’s not funny. Most of these people are legitimately mentally ill. I had always assumed that if someone was mentally ill I would know it right away, but boy was I wrong. And as I had no idea how to deal with someone that was delusional, I didn’t know what to do. As I said, there is no law school class about handling this type of problem. And given my ignorance and naivety, I wasn’t sure what to say. I was worried that I’d set someone off. This is a really big worry when you have someone show up at your office, especially when I have a staff of people and other tenants on the same floor as me.
In the end I’ve realized that they are not coming to me for psychological advice or help and I am not qualified to give it. If I get a crazy e-mail I ignore it. If I get a caller that seems unstable, I let them know that I unfortunately can’t help them, but also listen as patiently as I can. Because nothing I say or do is going to convince them that they aren’t really being controlled by the police, watched by Oprah, raped by Donald Trump or anything else that they’ve made up in their head.
On a side note, the Cook County Court website allows you to search a person’s name to see how many times they’ve been sued. Since 1994, in Cook County, Oprah has been sued nine times. Of those nine times, five times she was sued by people that were representing themselves. Now that doesn’t automatically mean that their case is b.s., but almost every plaintiff’s lawyer in town would sue Oprah if they thought there was a good case because she is a great defendant, e.g. she has a ton of money. In one case, a woman sued Oprah, Mayor Daley, the CTA, Comed, UIC, Western Illinois University and about 70 other businesses, agencies and individuals. Now I can’t say for sure that plaintiff was mentally ill, but it sure seems that way and of course the case was thrown out. Oprah was most recently sued in December and again it was by someone representing themselves. I don’t know the facts or if that person has issues, but it’s certainly my belief that if Oprah did something where she could successfully be sued, the attorneys in Chicago would be fighting each other off to get that case.
If anyone has any advice on dealing with clients that have psychological issues, I am all ears because it is definitely something I still need to improve on.
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