In a fair, efficient legal system, lawyers exist to ensure that all the details of an argument are exposed and that both sides are represented adequately. It's very important for them to see eye-to-eye with their clients, as it could mean the difference between winning and losing a case. But sometimes lawyers get stuck with a client so stupid, it's a miracle they're able to function in society at all.
Whether it's a jailbird who can't understand that he shouldn't make incriminating phone calls, or a homeowners association who wants to evict a family simply for being overweight, these people are sure to induce the most painful of headaches on any poor attorney tasked with representing them. Here are some of Reddit lawyers' most laughable, ridiculous stories about the dumbest thing they've had to explain to a client.
"In my state, we have this thing called 'Victim's Compensation.' An oversimplification of how it works goes as follows: if you are the victim of a crime and suffer some form of injury (psychological, physical, etc), you can apply for a payment from state funds. If you are the perpetrator of one of those crimes (an assault, robbery, abuse of a minor, etc), an order can be made for you to pay the state an amount relating to that victim's compensation.
I once had a client who felt the process of being convicted for assaulting his relatives and having to pay Victim's Compensation back to the state was arduous...and, in return, felt he should be receiving his own Victim's Compensation from the state.
By his logic, his victims got compensation and that was unfair. He didn't at all grasp the concept that his victims had been badly injured by his conduct, for which he had been convicted. While I'm sure his victims weren't nice people, they hadn't assaulted him. It sure was a fun time trying to explain why there was approximately a zero percent chance he would qualify. The guy seriously didn't think he had done anything wrong."
"I had to explain in depth to a man that he hadn't really won a $20 million 'super lottery' from Australia that he'd never entered, that it was a good thing that his family, bank, and church wouldn't lend him the $2,000 they said they needed to verify his identity (on top of the several hundred dollars he'd already sent them), and that yes, his priest was right that it was a scam.
This was during a clinic at a free community legal center. The poor guy had limited English and only $20 left in his bank account, but he really did not want to let go of the $20 million dream. His priest had sent him to us for advice because he wasn't having any luck talking sense into the old guy himself and thought lawyers might help."
"When I was a legal intern at a criminal defense lawyer's office, we once had a client who had been charged with murder. We explained to the client that he should absolutely NOT make any phone calls saying anything incriminating because it would be recorded.
In addition, the area where prisoners use the phone has a GIANT SIGN that says, 'PHONE CALLS WILL BE RECORDED.' On top of that, before you are able to call out, there is an automated recording that reiterates that all calls are recorded and monitored (unless it is to your attorney, which are covered by privilege). Right after we explained to him that he should be very careful on the phone and perhaps avoid making calls altogether, the guy promptly made a call to his girlfriend asking her to hide his murder weapon."
"I filled in as a receptionist at my dad's law firm many moons ago. One day, the dumb son of a long-standing client called in a panic. Apparently, he had gotten wasted and married a woman (his longterm girlfriend and baby mama) in Las Vegas.
One of the first things he said was, 'But, it's fine, right? I mean...what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, so if I never go back, am I good?' I finally figured out that he took the saying literally and thought that he was ONLY married while in Clark County, Nevada. I had to explain that, no, he was married in all 50 states. He started yelling that he wanted a 'do-over' which became our intraoffice catchphrase for the rest of the summer.
While I was explaining that he was indeed married, another secretary passed a note that read, 'Is that Rick?' I nodded and she said, 'Give me the phone!' She had gone online and found pictures of the joyous ceremony.
'Rick!' she yelled into the phone. 'Log onto MySpace right now and DELETE all of those photos immediately, and for the love of GOD make your page private!' (Brief silence) 'Why?! Because you are on probation! If the judge sees these photos he will revoke it and send you to jail! You aren't allowed to leave the state, let alone be drinking and partying!' In case you're wondering, yes, Rick stayed married rather than appear before a judge and admit that he had violated the terms of his probation."
"A client in a discrimination case was seeking reinstatement at his school from which he had been wrongfully expelled. He didn't want money or any type of compensation, he just wanted to be able to attend classes again.
When I told him that the case would require a small retainer (about $2,500) plus appearance fees, he said, 'No, I'll pay you on contingency.' I then told him that he wasn't suing for money, he was suing for reinstatement. There was no monetary award for his action, so my 'contingent' fee would be one-third of zero.
He then told me, 'No, I mean I'll pay you your fee contingent on you winning.' I explained to him that there were dozens of man-hours involved in bringing his case to court, so it wasn't fair to pay me based on an outcome that had nothing to do with my hard work. His response? 'Well, you better win then.'
At that point, I texted my secretary with an SOS, and two minutes later she came in like a winged angel and said, '(My name), your brother is on the phone...from jail.' That quickly ended the madness of non-paying, tough-luck Chuck.
Another time, a client came into my office and said, 'Someone has been robbing my checks for 15 years.' Huh? He then showed me his paperwork, and when I say paperwork, I mean crinkled, folded, balled up garbage that I had to decipher. When I got to his 'checks' (pay stubs) I said, 'You have checks and you get paid, so no one is robbing you.'
Then he bluntly said, 'Someone named Stu is taking money out of my checks and I want to sue him.' Stu? I looked deeper and on one pay stub I saw: 'Deduction - SCU.' It dawned on me immediately.
I said, 'That's not Stu, it's an abbreviation for Support Collection Unit. They take money for child support.'
He looked at me blankly and said, 'Child support? I ain't got a child.' Again...huh?
As I started to ask my next question, he said, 'I had a child, but that was a long time ago, like 10 years.'
'You have a 10-year-old child?'
'In New York, you have to pay for them until they're out of college, 22 years.'
He was flabbergasted, more so because he couldn't sue 'Stu' than anything else."
"I used to be a lawyer in a small country town, so I've seen some pretty hilarious stuff. I once had to explain to an elderly gentleman that an argument didn't allow him to stab his neighbor in the chest. 'But he was shouting at me and I wanted him to stop!' he said to me.
His attack was not in self-defense and he referred to it as 'poking,' as in, 'He wouldn't shut up so I poked him a little bit.' After he was sentenced, he was picked up from the courthouse by...the victim. They proceeded to go to a pub and get hammered, and are still the best of friends.
Another time, I had to explain to a client that an argument over weed (which is illegal here) isn't grounds for him to beat the ever-loving snot out of his neighbor. That same client was quite happy to plead guilty to 'assault cause harm' but refused to plead guilty to 'aggravated assault' even though they carry the exact same penalty.
I had a young aboriginal client who was on bail for some fairly trivial offenses and he breached his bail about 10 times. I had to explain to him that the court wouldn't believe him when he said he would turn up to court next time because he hadn't turned up to court the last three times. As far as I know, he is still in jail.
Once I had to explain to a bloke that he wouldn't get custody of his children after he had been charged with domestic violence offenses against the mother. His justification for wanting full custody? 'But she isn't fit to be a mom, she stayed with me!' I've also had to explain to a large number of men why quitting their jobs so they didn't have to pay child support was a very bad idea. Yeah, people can be pretty stupid."
"My first case as a lawyer at a small firm was a minor personal injury case. My client walked into a standpipe (fire hydrant for a single skyscraper) with an exposed bolt on a crowded street in Manhattan. The bolt punctured her thigh, requiring two stitches.
The wound healed within weeks and after a month, the scar was barely noticeable. I pulled documents about city regulations on standpipes, which showed all bolts and such were supposed to have a plastic or rubber cap. As a result, the insurance company agreed that the workers' failure to do so was negligent, so the only question left was about damages: how much was it worth?
I argued that my client was a young woman who swam for exercise and was embarrassed by the scar (because that's what she told me). Before I made the demand, I called my client to find out what her expectations for recovery were. For a scratch resulting in two stitches, she wanted...$2 million, because 'it wasn't (her) fault.'
Shockingly, I got an offer of $18k, which my client reluctantly accepted after I pulled some cases to show her what horrific injuries result in a $2 million, like a 10 year old with burns over 60% of her body from a faulty stove that tipped onto her with boiling water, not a tiny dot 'scar' that embarrasses you in your yuppie swim club."
"I used to own a property in Buffalo, New York. I bought it at 23, lived in it for a bit, and then moved elsewhere and rented said property. My final tenant was a classic crapstorm of stupid.
She failed to pay her rent, I offered a payment arrangement. She didn't pay on the arranged dates, so I sent her a notice to pay or leave. Again, she did not so I sent a notice. Then she said that she'd been in an accident and lost her job. A certain acquaintance let me know she did, in fact, have a job, so I literally explained to her on the phone, by letter, and by email that she had enough income to pay the rent and utilities, plus eat food. She acquiesced, paid half, and we worked out a new payment arrangement.
She kept up payment for a whole month (yay!) then completely went MIA. At that point, living out of state and looking at property values, I was ready to sell. We struck a deal whereby she could have two free months' rent if she signed an early term on the lease, and I sold the house within three weeks. Meanwhile, I served her a demand for rent, then filed for eviction. The court date was set; still no payments. She then informed me in no uncertain terms that she was not going to pay.
The night before her court hearing, she texted me to let me know that her son was in the hospital so she couldn't make it. I told her explicitly that, if that was true, she should let the court know as soon as possible. She didn't show up to court and got settled against for over $3,000 plus a warrant for her arrest. When she found out, I received lots and lots of angry texts.
The day of her eviction, she bailed on the property and stole all of the appliances. I learned this at 2 pm and texted her at 2:10 pm to let her know that if she returned the items undamaged within 30 minutes, no harm no foul. If not, I'd call the police and file charges.
She did not return the stuff and I ended up filing charges, so she is now wanted for grand larceny. I have no doubt in my mind that she completely thinks her actions are legitimate. I waver between self-shaming for letting her use me, being baffled, being angry, and being thoroughly entertained."
"When I was getting my divorce, I overheard a wonderful conversation between a haughty woman and her short, round lawyer who maintained an inspirational level of professionalism even though I could tell he was getting frustrated.
Woman: 'I don't know why he can't pay me more child support when he just bought a new home and took his new wife on a honeymoon vacation! The least he can do is pay my car payment each month!'
Lawyer: 'Well, here's the thing: the judge says you need to get a part-time job or she's taking away your alimony, and that your ex-husband is not responsible for the car you bought after you divorced.'
Woman: 'How can the judge expect me to get a part-time job when I am going to school part-time? That is just way too much time out of my day when I could be doing other things I enjoy. I have to take care of the kids, too!'
Lawyer: 'Well, you have 50/50 custody with him for the children and you can work a part-time job while they are with him.'
Woman: 'No, I need to keep my alimony and I need more child support, this is ridiculous!'
Lawyer: 'Please don't take this the wrong way, but I kind of agree with the judge that $3,000/month in child support is very generous and as long as you get a part-time job, he will still have to pay you half the alimony you receive now (didn't state the number, but I assume it was a lot).'
The woman then stormed off and made a huge scene as she exited the court hallway."
"I used to represent people in a state mental hospital because they were either not guilty by reason of insanity or not competent to stand trial because of mental illness. Occasionally during their sentences, they would need normal medical treatment, but would often refuse. Since they have a constitutional right to refuse medical treatment, the hospital would petition the court to order the medical procedure, and I would represent them at the hearing. For example:
Me: 'The doctors think that you have cancer and would like to perform a biopsy so they can treat it.'
Person: 'No, I don't have cancer.'
Me: 'Ok, then what is the VISIBLE LUMP I can see coming out of your neck?'
Person: 'I've always had that.'
Me: 'Ok...we will see what the judge says.'
Spoiler alert, the judge ordered the hospital to treat his cancer."
"I'm a lawyer and this is the abridged version of an actual meeting which took place last year:
Me: 'It's not worth suing your neighbor to recover the $37 owed to you from 2011, ma'am, so forget about it. Besides, you're 77 years old! Why on Earth would you even entertain the thought of pursuing this at all?'
Old Greek lady demands that we commence legal action immediately.
Me: 'It will be considerably more costly to pursue this than any negligible amount you stand to gain. The only reasonable thing to do is to write this off as a bad debt, ma'am. Enjoy life and spend time with your grandchildren. There's no point wasting another second thinking about this.'
Old Greek lady starts screaming at me in Greek, accusing me of secretly acting for the other side, and then calls me a coward.
Me: 'This meeting today has already cost you more than $37, but I will waive my fee completely if you leave right now.'
Old Greek lady continues hurling abuse at me and I think she may have put a hex on me as she left."
"The time to come see me about getting evicted is as soon as possible after receiving an eviction notice, not over a year after being evicted. This couple had been homeless for over a year before they finally decided to see a lawyer about their eviction. Even if everything that occurred had been unlawful, it was well past the point of appeal.
People also regularly get mad at our receptionist that they can't just connect directly to a lawyer, ask a legal question, and have it answered for free. How do these people think attorneys make money?
They get mad that we have to have them fill out intake paperwork so that we can perform a conflict check. They get really mad when the personal injury firm that shares our building won't tell them the reason why they won't take their case. It's usually because their case is terrible, but there's also the potential liability of an attorney telling someone their case is terrible if a malpractice attorney reviews their case and disagrees, so no personal injury firm will reveal why they aren't taking your case."
"I'm a property manager and I've had to appear before the landlord and tenant board numerous times to deal with delinquent tenants. One time I had a tenant who ended up with bed bugs. Her apartment was treated within a week, which is really good, but she blamed me for the bugs because six months prior, someone else in the building had them and took me to the board (I maintained she likely got them from one of the kids she babysat).
One of her demands was an abatement for the week she spent living at a friend's place while her apartment was treated and money for the cost of staying at her friend's place (her so-called 'friend' charged her to stay for the week). I explained that while some of the costs she was asking for were quite reasonable (like the cost of getting her clothes steam cleaned), I would not be paying for both an abatement and her hotel as it was double dipping; she could have one, but not both.
She decided that I was trying to cheat her out of money she was rightfully owed and proceeded with the trial where she was immediately told by the board that I did everything right and that my response time in treating her apartment was excellent and well within the board's guidelines, so she had no case against me. Instead of walking out with $300, she walked out with nothing.
Another tenant stopped paying rent, so I applied to evict him. At the board meeting, he gave me a story about his wife being sick and having various medical expenses, so I worked out a payment plan with him and made sure he was comfortable with all the payment dates. 'You're certain you can make these payment amounts and dates? Because if you are a dollar short or a day late, I can and will evict you,' I inquired, and the mediator asked him the same thing.
'Absolutely,' the tenant agreed.
Of course, he missed the first payment and we ended up back at the board two more times. Each time, the board gave him an extension. Finally, he didn't show up for the fourth hearing so I won by default. Later that day, I saw him in the building and he asked me if everything was good and if he was still not going to be evicted.
I had to explain to him that no, he would be evicted since he didn't show up to the hearing and I won. There were three previous hearings, why would there all of a sudden not be one? The forms are all the same and he basically wrote the same thing on all of them, so why would that time be any different?
He appealed his eviction but it was denied without a hearing because the board said he was obviously aware there was going to be another meeting since he asked for a morning slot, therefore he couldn't claim he didn't know about it."
"I'm a real estate attorney that represents condominium and homeowners associations. I once had a client that had a condominium unit that was being rented out to a family that apparently was very distasteful.
The president of the association called me and went on and on about how disgusting this family was, calling them fat and revolting. The association literally wanted the family to be evicted, and I had to explain that I couldn't evict them simply for being fat.
It was especially obnoxious to me since I'm overweight myself (but working on it!). This client had never met me in person and they had no idea what I looked like, but it was difficult to bite my tongue."