The 10 Most Dangerous Types of Lawyer


some colleagues

Lawyers as a group can have many redeeming features – we can be generous, friendly, helpful, and talented.

But not all of us.  And not always.

There are some types of lawyer that simply don’t get it. Whether it’s a conscious decision on their part, a lack of self awareness, or simply inadvertent stupidity.  Whatever the cause, some lawyers exhibit qualities that you would be careful to avoid.

The Lone Wolf

Absent forced circumstances (eg – you’re a solo practitioner with nobody else to work with) trying to do everything yourself is extremely stupid.

You don’t know everything. Nor can you do everything.  Aside from the damage to your firm’s profitability, you’re also avoiding a fantastic opportunity for checks and balances.

At worst, a second pair of eyes can pick up basic errors or typos in your work should it exist.

At best, having a second practitioner on every piece of work can pick up missed issues, incorrect stances, or out of date positions.

It’s a dangerous lawyer who thinks they can do it all by themselves, or that others don’t have anything to add.

The Seagull

You’ve probably heard of seagull management or seagull parenting?  You know – the ones that flap in, make a mess, then flap out again?

Well, some lawyers meet the description pretty well too!

The seagull lawyer rarely takes ongoing and diligent responsibility for anything, but they insist upon weighing in to everything and making a mess.  They suggest ideas, arguments, thoughts and issues and then they flap out without seeing it through.

Contrast this to the lawyer who raises issues and actually then takes the time to investigate, discuss, supervise or deal with those issues properly.

The difference is staggering, and doesn’t leave your colleagues in the lurch.

The Lack of Responsibility

There are some types of lawyer who pretend to be responsible for files, but in reality don’t take responsibility for anything.

“Where is that advice?” – “Oh I asked such and such to do some research and they haven’t finished it yet”

“Why is the WIP so high on this file?” – “oh, well so and so spent too much time putting together the first draft of the advice, and I had to spend lots of time fixing it up”

I could give lots of examples, but you get the idea. Nothing is ever this person’s fault, but they are often still happy to share in the accolades should everything turn out well in the end.

Know anybody like this?

The Paranoid

Many people probably believe that this kind of lawyer is, in fact, good.  Certainly there are circumstances where a healthy degree of paranoia can help your strategic decision making.  But some lawyers take it to extremes.  They don’t send a letter without 15 pages of butt covering notations.  They get counsel’s advice even when it’s not necessary.  They refuse to tell clients that their chances in Court are more than 50% no matter how good the prospects are. The give overly low estimates to clients for files (out of fear that they won’t get the job) and then write down every single bill anyway, just in case (even when it’s within an estimate).

The problem with this kind of lawyer is that they lose sight of their job – to serve the client.  They believe they are doing so by constantly pointing out all the problems and giving 50 pages advices where 2 pages would do, but in fact what they are doing is alienating their client – and usually not providing the client service that they ought to be anyway.

The second problem is that this kind of lawyer will never be able to build a practice.  Their outlook, approach and communication styles are so concerned with the negative that clients frequently do not respond to them in a positive way, and so they have a great deal of trouble establishing the necessary trust and rapport.

The Gung Ho

This is the antithesis of the Paranoid lawyer.  The gung ho tells clients that they can do anything, that they are the best thing since sliced bread, and that whatever their client wants is achievable.

They often leap into work without regard for its cost, and they have a tendency to be aggressive advocates on their clients’ behalves.

Why can that be a bad thing?  Because, like many qualities taken to extremes, the gung ho lawyer is a liability risk.

While the Paranoid lawyer swings in the other direction, the gung ho lawyer often goes so far, so fast, that they haven’t stopped to consider all the issues.  Their bills end up extremely high and they rarely understand why they shouldn’t be paid.

A gung ho lawyer with a gung ho client can be a dangerous combination.

The Scaredy-Cat

The scaredy-cat is the one who is afraid to tell the truth when it’s required.

Sure, nobody likes to own up to mistakes, or tell clients that the plan isn’t working, or deliver any other kind of bad news.

But sometimes you just have to do it.

Instead, the scaredy-cat makes excuses.  And that is extremely dangerous.

When something goes wrong, instead of telling their boss or their client, they hide it.  They are afraid of the ramifications.

They are afraid of giving realistic estimates to their clients for legal work because they are afraid the client will go elsewhere.

They are afraid of going to a networking event because it might not score them any clients.

You get the point.  Lawyers need to be brave.  Not stupid – but brave.

The User

The user is a consumer of resources.  They have no compunction about tying up 5 other staff members to do an urgent task and causing the rest of the firm to lose out.

They get memo after memo of research, just to make sure it’s right – and then they write off the time.

They get others to do their work, and then they take credit for it.

The user is all about themselves and their own immediate requirements.

The user isn’t someone you want to work with for long.

The Closed Book

The closed book doesn’t share.  They are similar to the User in some respects, but with the closed book lawyer you just have no clue what’s going on.

Do they have a Court matter coming up and need help?  Who knows.

Are they struggling with their workload?  No idea.

Are they going to a networking event that others could benefit from, giving a presentation, or embarking on a venture that could be improved with the involvement of others?  Nup – no clue.

Similar to the lone wolf lawyer, except that they will accept help if offered – they just don’t talk about anything that’s going on, and instead prefer to live in their own little world.

The Lawyer that Doesn’t Listen

Perhaps the most dangerous of all – the lawyer that doesn’t listen.

Clients, judges, other lawyers – it doesn’t matter what’s being said, the lawyer that doesn’t listen is too busy thinking about what they are going to say next instead of actually hearing what is said to them.

This is the lawyer you tell 10 times that a case is about X, but in their head it remains about Y.

It’s the lawyer that refuses to accept that a provision of an Act has changed, because all of their knowledge is about the previous one.

It’s the colleague that is late to meetings because they weren’t paying attention when the time was changed.

It’s Never Just One

Most of us show some of these characteristics at one point or another, but their are some lawyers who fit the bill all the time.

Do you know anyone on this list?  Point them to this article and see if they figure it out…

Happy Lawyering!

  • As a normal person, this can be quite helpful for us to find the right lawyer and avoid these types. After reading, I find that the “Gung Ho” one would probably be the least desirable. However I’m sure that many professional lawyers don’t show any of the types you listed here.

    • Thanks Sam for your comment. I suspect most lawyers show aspects of most of these at one time or another, and in different situations. It’s a matter of degree about when it becomes a problem. Also I’ll ignore the distinction between a lawyer and a “normal” person 🙂

  • Wow being a lawyer I must not say this but what you said was absolutely true. I have worked with lawyers who are irresponsible and because of which they lost cases which they are supposed to win.

  • >