anotherlongshot (anotherlongshot) wrote,

Nasty clients make you appreciate the appreciative ones

I had the misfortune of dealing with a client by myself on Thursday - and I say 'misfortune' because it wasn't a very pleasant incident. That is, to put it mildly. Last Friday I filed some papers to request for setting down and get a hearing date for an uncontested divorce case (the process, by the way, was painfully dull - it consisted of copying-and-pasting and changing the names of the parties on a fixed template). On Tuesday I came back from a full day in court to find the papers on my desk with the word "rejected" on it. I saw an IM from the associate on the file, asking me to go talk to her when I got the chance; but she wasn't at her desk for over an hour and so I went off at around 7 for tennis with my boyfriend.

The next day I was in court again, during which the opposing counsel asked my side's witnesses for some additional documents, and because of which I followed everyone else to their office in frigging Tuas where I stayed until 7, when I absolutely HAD to leave for my parents' 25th wedding anniversary dinner. I went straight home from Tuas and didn't get back to the office.

So it was only on Thursday that I got the chance to check my email and found an email from the Divorce Case Associate, telling me to re-file and find out from the Court Department what was wrong. So I went down and talked to the court clerk. Apparently, my header erroneously stated "high court" when it should have been "subordinate courts", and there was an affidavit of service that was missing.

All well and good. The same email also told me that I should call the client and update her on the progress of her matter. Associate also told me on IM to call her and ask her about some other matter that I'm not doing.

I did all that. Called the client, got her secretary to get her to call me back, and when she did I told her that the papers for setting down were rejected. I explained to her why they were rejected, and added that nothing was screwed up technically because we filed a week early. She sounded okay at first, until we got to the part where she went, "Next time don't make such mistakes. I'm not impressed."

Right. She had to come down within the hour to sign an affidavit, which I bloody prepared in a mad rush...but the fact that I got it out in like, twenty minutes at most shows how standard-issue it was. The associate sent me a form but I couldn't use it because I couldn't delete the "Form [whatever]" on top and couldn't add the parties' names to the top of the page, so I printed out the thing and typed it all out from scratch. The entire twenty minutes included me getting all pissed off trying to figure out how to delete stuff off the form that assoc sent, printing out the form, printing out another affidavit (identical to the form save for parties' names), typing it all out from scratch, going to the associate and getting her to confirm that it was correct, reading it over and noticing a hell lot of typos, correcting the typos...standard issue stuff. Not particularly exciting.

Anyway, client arived at 12. I went up to the reception where she was waiting, then showed her to a meeting room that I booked. We sat down. She uttered a couple of sentences, then started grilling me about the rejected papers. First she asked what went wrong, so I told her about the error in the header. I tried to reassure her that everything was really okay and that it was really nothing to worry about, but she wouldn't have any of it, and she wouldn't have any of it at all.

So I sat there for about five minutes while she had a go at me about how she was, like, so totally unimpressed with the typos, how I didn't understand the repercussions of my mistake, how a big firm such as mine should've had other people to do the corrections while I was away at trial, how unprofessional it was that the partner and associate both didn't check the papers before I sent them to the court department, and how, astoundingly, pupils are, contrary to what I have experienced and heard from my friends, not busy.

Still, throughout the whole tirade I just sat there thinking what a laugh it was. I didn't feel bad. I didn't really care. I just thought it was rather amusing that the first time I got ranted at at work was by a client, not a partner. I also find it quite amusing now that my first time dealing with a client didn't exactly go down too well. Maybe that says something, right? I know.

Contrast not-so-nice client to the two utterly down-to-earth and generous gentlemen that we defended this entire week. I was totally not happy about being put on the trial (they put me on to help the associate on the case carry bags and shit because he broke his leg and was in crutches, the poor thing) and couldn't care any less about it, and wanted it to end ASAP. But throughout the course of the five days, my attitude changed almost completely - and it wasn't because I suddenly developed a passion for hearing about invoices ad nauseum and trying to digest a bunch of long-ass numbers. The clients - two brothers - were SO DAMN NICE. They sent us to court and back every single day because the associate was in crutches. They always offered to help me carry things. They always held the lift door for us. And they are genuinely nice and...genuine, and they're not fussy at all, and they listen to you and treat you with respect without exalting you. Throughout the whole trial they maintained their sense of humour (and they're really funny), even on the first day when you couldn't really have known how well the trial would go.

Having nice and appreciative clients definitely goes a long way in making a shitty job less shitty. Here were two men who worked their way to so much from nothing, and they were easily one of the most humble and down-to-earth people I've ever met. On the other hand, we have Nasty Client, a typical high-flyer, who apparently thinks the working life of her lawyers revolve around her case, and who apparently thinks, by virtue of her totally amazing successful career (seriously, I couldn't possibly care any less), she has the right to treat other people like crap.

That also reminded me of one thing: I don't want to become that kind of person. Unfortunately I've displayed shades of it when I get irritated with service staff who don't bring me my warm water after 10 minutes have passed since my request and stuff like that (though I'm only outrightly rude to the rude ones), but I haven't quite gone over to the dark side yet. So in a way, I'm glad I got scolded. It makes me more convicted of the kind of person that I want to be, the things that are important to me, and most important of all, the things that are not.

In any case, it turned out that the mistake wasn't actually mine. The associate prepared the draft order of court which I modelled my documents on. It said "high court" on the draft, which was why the forms I prepared also said "high court". And my specific instructions from the associate were to give the stuff to the secretary, who would give it to the court department, who would check. Yeah, I don't control whether they check or not, so what was I to do about the missing affidavit? If I could read minds, I'd hold myself liable, it stands, I'm only human.

In any case again, I held myself liable to the client. Could've pinned it all on the partner and the associate when she asked why didn't they check or whatever, to which I said something like...oh, I think I said I didn't know. But I did say it was my fault. I mean, at that point I genuinely thought it was my fault (didn't notice the draft order of court thing. I wondered why the hell I put High Court and thought I got the template from documents from an O 14 hearing that I was involved in and forgot to change the header) but she appeared to be wanting to hold the partner and the associate accountable, and I didn't want to get them into trouble, so I said it was my fault.

I think this has to be said: I'm honest to a fault. I can think of lies to cover my ass, but when it comes to saying them, I just can't. I'm not a convincing liar at all. And so it follows that when I'm being grilled on why something went wrong, my first instinct is to tell the truth. That is also my only instinct. I talked to the associate that broke his leg about this and he didn't think I should've been so detailed in my explanation; but well, this is just me. Can't do much about it. Don't exactly wish to, if I'm being honest.

On to another topic, I must say that I was really surprised at the level of um, lack of competence of the opposing lawyer during the trial. His manner of cross-examination was particularly shocking. Every second-year NUS law student would know that the most important thing about cross-examination is that you shouldn't ask questions that you don't know the answers to, and thus, you shouldn't ask open-ended questions because it puts you at risk of letting the adverse witness go off on his own story.

THAT WAS EXACTLY WHAT THE OPPOSING LAWYER ALLOWED THE TWO NICE CLIENTS TO DO. Oh my god. His cross-examination was like watching a trainwreck: you know it's awful to look, but you can't tear your eyes away all the same. It was just so bad. I don't think he succeeded on any point at all. At one point I thought he was constantly surprised by the answers that he got; at another point I thought I would do exactly the same thing that he was doing. And I have zero trial experience.

I did feel sorry for the plaintiffs, even though I shouldn't have 'cause they sued two super amazingly nice men (actually their companies). They were brothers too but they didn't sit next to each other throughout the whole thing and barely talked to each other. When the trial was finally over, they each carried a box of documents by themselves to bring back to the lawyer's office. And during cross-examination, the main witness was asked to produce some invoice that would show whatever I can't remember. He was all indignant and convinced that he gave it to his team, but it wasn't in the bundle of documents. He was pointing at the paralegal and looking like a deer caught in the headlights.

I felt damn bad for him. They were obviously lay-laymen who didn't have a sound grasp of the whole thing, and they were saddled with an incompetent team. And seeing them carry the boxes by themselves today only compounded the sense of sympathy I felt for them.

The associate said I had too much sympathy. Ah well.

Opposing lawyer got whacked damn badly by the judge though. When he was asking my side's witnesses for evidence, the judge went, "Bring them tomorrow [witness] to humour [lawyer]." To humour??? He was really poor thing - constantly got scolded by the judge. I would've died if I were in his shoes.

Lastly, tennis with Wei Chuen on Tuesday was great. Tennis with Ben today was hell tiring, but I hit a crisp, short forehand winner cross-court and knew exactly what I was doing. I also realised that I could control the direction of the forehand if I timed everything right.

The difficulty still lies in the timing. Ah well. I love my new racquet.

Time to eat watermelon and watch Chuck!

Tags: chuck, legal profession, playing tennis, pupillage, wei chuen, work

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