OPINION: “Paul thinks abuse can be justified”

I was on holiday in Suffolk last week when I spotted a sign in a pasty shop which said “Abuse will not be tolerated here”.

Which set me thinking – how did it come to this?

Maybe it was a frustrated client for whom the lack of a Cornish Large Special was unacceptable; they’d not received a satisfactory explanation and someone was responsible.

Given the lack of a Pasty Ombudsman, no doubt it had escalated, Anchorman-style, into an ugly clash of shortcrust shoving.

No wonder the owner had to put up a sign.

Striking similarities with conveyancing

Several weeks ago, we’d been sitting in the office eating bonbons, twiddling our thumbs and waiting for the phone to ring.

A potential client had completed some paperwork and uploaded it to our portal just a few hours after they’d received it.  Which we thought was pretty good.

They asked for the name of the lawyer handling the case and we went straight back and confirmed the money we needed on account to get started.

Which resulted in a furious complaint – “Very, very poor.  Faceless money-taking corporation vibes.”

As they weren’t clients yet, we knew things would only go downhill from there so we sent them packing.

It makes you think

LinkedIn is full of posts highlighting the misery that is today’s world of conveyancing.

I wanted to find out what people thought lawyers should do if they receive abuse so I ran a poll. Some 64% said we should “name and shame”, 30% said “suck it up” and the remaining 5% said we should quit.

After I had wasted a few hours trying to find that pesky missing 1%, over 16,500 people had read the article – clearly this was an issue.  As most thought that naming people would stop bad behaviour, I wondered why don’t we do it, and if we did, what results would it bring?

John Attridge wrote that “if the lawyer can’t deal with it, how good are they?”  Samantha Imray, a conveyancer, responded saying “I’ve been called a b***h and wished dead”. Which, in my opinion, is quite bad.

Tim Higham commented that “people were only rude if they had cause to be”. This seemed to have an air of victim-shaming about it, as in “she was wearing a short skirt, your honour, she brought it on herself.”

Paul Travers said that “[abuse] was justified as being a **** lawyer”.

Which was a bit depressing, so I stopped reading and looked for more bonbons to eat and thumbs to twiddle.

When does frustration cross the line?

There are two issues here; when does venting frustration become unacceptable and why don’t lawyers call out abusive behaviour.

Agents we’ve worked with for years can get understandably frustrated.  It can be because conveyancing is a bit of a pig at the best of times, and other times, because we employ humans, we’ve “dropped the ball” on a matter.

Peter Ambrose

They have been known to call five times in an hour to ask why something hasn’t been done sooner, which is normally because we didn’t get round to doing it.

Sometimes, marks get over-stepped resulting in sharp exchanges, but apologies are offered and accepted, we waft a bit of pixie dust, get the thing exchanged and we’re all mates again.

Much like the comments between Gogglebox’s Daniel and Stephen, longer relationships based on respect seem to offer more flexibility.

Which is very different from clients accusing us of incompetence, negligence or, even worse, ruining their Christmas.

Grinch accusations are unacceptable in today’s society.

Why not call out abusive behaviour?

Lawyers have an exhaustive list of people who can be abusive.

Their client.  Their client’s dad.  The other side’s lawyer.  The other side’s client.  Agent.  Broker.  Surveyor.  Management company.  The lawyer two places up the chain.

So why don’t lawyers say, “actually, I’m not incompetent, just really, really busy, and I don’t deserve this abuse”?

Most are too intimidated by the threat of a complaint or a bad review, which is sadly, a bit one-way.  There is no “www.checkaclient.com” although the domain is up for renewal in September, so I’ve put a reminder in my calendar to check if it becomes available.

Law firm owners have a bad reputation of supporting their staff.  Much like the junior doctor forced to work 100 hours a week; “it’s just the way things are”.

The other problem is that actually, few people really care whether lawyers get abuse.  As I saw on LinkedIn, some think they deserve it.  Let’s face it, agents have been getting it in the neck for years – it goes with the territory.

The issue is that it really shouldn’t.

Conclusion

It’s clear that the idealistic intentions of the “be kind” variety do not work – the haters continue to hate.

We all have a responsibility to call them out – lawyers need to stop acting for abusive clients and stand up to anyone trying to bully them.

Otherwise, we risk losing a grip of living in a civilised society and mass brawls in the Cornish Pasty Company in Southwold will become a common occurrence.

 

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18 Comments

  1. Hillofwad71

    “They asked for the name of the lawyer handling the case and we went straight back and confirmed the money we needed on account to get started. Which resulted in a furious complaint – “Very, very poor.  Faceless money-taking corporation vibes.”  
     
    Sure unwarranted abuse but at the same time the  response  they received  to a perfectly  reasonable question was unanswered and  greeted with a request for money .
     
    The question really asking before  I instruct you ” Is  my case going to be assigned to an individual who I can chase through the deal  to make  sure it goes through before the stamp  duty deadline or bandied around the office  picked up when any Tom Dick or Harry finds the time”
     
    It would  put my nose out of  joint too .
     Surely that could have been  answered to with .
     
    ” Can you  please credit our account for x and   and either  our Mr Jones. Mrs  Smith  of Mr Green would be handling the case to which you will be notified shortly  “

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    1. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

      An absolutely fair point, although I did have to paraphrase the question and response for brevity!    They just wanted the name to give to the agent, which we would of course have given them.  It was more the over-reaction than anything.

       

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      1. PossessionFriendUK39

        There’s about as much need for a ‘Pasty Ombudsman’,  as there is for Tenant campaign groups

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  2. Rob Hailstone

    Thought provoking article from Peter as usual.
    In my experience, most complaints are made firmly and politely, many emanating from a lack of understanding about the conveyancer’s role and the home buying and selling process generally. A calm discussion and an explanation usually resolves matters.
    However, there are people who complain who are simply bullies. They kick off nine to the dozen to a junior employee but when contacted by a senior experienced person, they suddenly become all sweetness and light.
    Naming and shaming those who behave and complain with vitriol and hostility in the 21st century works a lot better than it used to. The recent incident involving Sharna Walker highlights that clearly.
    Peter is right, “we all have a responsibility to call them out – lawyers (and agents) need to stop acting for abusive clients and stand up to anyone trying to bully them.”
    And as for abusive anonymous posters, don’t get me started.

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    1. Countrybumpkin

      Data Protection?

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  3. haveathink

    Very simply I think firms like yours need to look at the fee structure you are offering.

    If you raise your fees you typically get a better client and one more enjoyable to work with.

    If you make a stand with this – less clients will equal more money and a better working environment.

    I think the property industry has endured a race to the bottom of fees and now is the time to say enough is enough.

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    1. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

      haveathink – you are ABSOLUTELY bang on!   Fees definitely determine the type of client, like rental fees.
      Whilst our fees are sensible ( they start from £1500 ) sadly, this does not always solve the issue, but talking to colleagues from firms with much lower fees, their experiences are most definitely more challenging.
       

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  4. AlwaysAnAgent

    This all sounds rather whiney to me. I suppose everyone is a victim these days.

    You should try being a letting agent for a week. If you cannot handle a few irate calls from estate agents, you should try dealing with tenants, contractors and landlords.

    Honest and reliable service usually does the trick.

     

     

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    1. Mrlondon52

      It’s apples and pears. A letting agent can control all the variables (apart from say boiler parts taking a week to order) but the lawyers can only move at the speed of the local authorities (and mortgage co’s) so that’s why the client base tends to shoot the messenger.

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      1. AlwaysAnAgent

        That isn’t true. Agents can only influence the moving parts, they can’t control them. Most of the moving parts involve third parties and there are a lot of moving parts with a tenancy and, I would say, many more moving parts compared with the conveyancing process.

         

        For example, a letting agent cannot control a landlord who wishes to move back into a property. We cannot control tenant behaviour. We can only persuade contractors, we do not have any control over them. We also cannot control changes in legislation which then results in increased costs for landlords and causes distress, anger and frustration. It’s all part of the job.

         

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  5. Countrybumpkin

    Very good article. The world has lost respect. It’s only going to get worse. I remember when it was a big occasion when my parents were honoured to have a dinner party invitation accepted by their lawyer and his wife. Us kids had to go upstairs and keep very quiet ! The gentleman’s handshake, the integrity and trust in lawyers is lost. We experienced a better system in Lockdown as many conveyancer offered their mobile number  through working from home. No receptionist saying ‘I’ll see if he/she is available’
    have a good weekend everyone and remember to be kind

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    1. AgencyInsider

      No denying that there has been a regretable loss of trust and integrity with lawyers – but then look at  politicians and certain members of the royal family. A fish rots from the head.

      That said, the type of deferential reverence you saw exhibited by your parents was of its age and I would not mourn its passing.  Lawyers should be respected but putting them on pedestals is seldom warranted.

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  6. smile please

    You think this is abuse?

    Shows the bubble you live in. Also look at the customer experience/ journey your firm offers. Why does the client react in such a way?

    I think you need to get out more in the real world.

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  7. Woodentop

    Society took a dive a few decades ago when they forgot that ‘Manners Maketh Man’.

     

    Starts in the home, then school (haven’t found a teacher prepared to take on bullies today or their arrogant parents) and racketed up with social media …. ‘My rights, I can say what I like, stuff you etc etc’.

     

    The system is now geared up to prevent you from taking on these horrid people. Just look at all the looney left wing political agenda for one sided complaints procedures with little to no recourse for false allegations. We now live in a world of ducking and diving and as said, “Let’s face it, agents have been getting it in the neck for years – it goes with the territory”. “the haters continue to hate” no matter what you do and forbid they were ever in the wrong.

     

    “Suck it up” or walk away is all one can do now. Shameful that it has been allowed to come to this and will continue to get worse. I prefer the latter option and have physically thrown out 5 customers from our offices and told more to look elsewhere. If you can’t be civil, don’t expect it back and I will not give them the satisfaction of me working for them, plenty more customers to work with.

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  8. DG

    There are quite a few negative comments from agents here, whilst I kind of agree with some of the sentiment, I cannot agree with the tone.  I think Peter has written a great article here, based on his own experiences and expectations.  For too long now we have had to put up with quite frankly terrible behaviour from people who are just plain rude and obnoxious .  What I think we need as any industry and maybe even a nation, is a database for companies that deal with the general public, it wouldn’t have to reveal anything that would breach GDPR rules, just enough information to flag them as the kind of person we wouldn’t want to deal with.  The standards in the right part of the industry go above and beyond those expected by any normal person, I am sure we all have stories of ‘clients’ which have been so absolutely disgusting and disgraceful in their behaviour that we would even consider telling the opposition not to deal with them. I think the term for them is serial complainers although I can think of a few other names for them.  I work in a lovely little town and we even get the odd one here, so I dread to think what happens in the big cities.  Anyway, please be nice to each other, we’re all striving to do provide the best service we can.

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    1. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

      Thanks DG.
      It’s a very difficult problem. 
      Yesterday a client accused us of being negligent because the management company information was incorrect.  People loosely throw around “negligence” as if its just a trivial threat to gain attention, whereas in reality it could be business-ending and requires us to report the case to our insurers.  
      And THIS is the issue – not whether we should “just deal with it” but make it clear the implications of accusations.
      We have today had an accusation from a client that he had been “misled” in his dealings with us.  It is clearly not the case, but for a law firm, such a comment is non-trivial and cannot be brushed aside as “just something to deal with” as it could well result in a significant claim. 
      I do a lot of training with agents, and I start each one the same; “the fundamental difference between us, is that unhappy clients just want to throw rocks through your windows, they want to sue us”.

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  9. jan - byers

    If I had that message I would have ignored it

    Snowflake alert

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    1. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

      I wasn’t actually referring to that particular case as the issue – it was just to illustrate unreasonableness – believe me, that wasn’t abuse!

      We have people screaming and shouting at us, threatening all sort from reporting us to the police, ombudsman etc etc.  Last week I even had an agent demanding our complaints procedure so she could report us to the Law Society (sic) –

      Someone saying “very poor” is the really least of our worries!

       

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