Power and control: Lawyer-client relationship

A power and control wheel has been developed as a tool for recognising abuse and psychological assault by lawyers against their clients.

This Lawyer-Client wheel was motivated firstly by the book Lowering the Bar: Lawyer Jokes and Legal Culture by Marc Galanter, and secondly, by the State Bar of Texas ethics rules (which reflect ethics rules for lawyers across USA generally).

Marc Galanter made a point in his book that lawyers are widely mistrusted by non-lawyers in many societies, and their victims are afraid to speak out loud because of fear of retaliation. But their need to vent is so great that people use humour to express their outrage, and this humour serves as a safe cover. When challenged, the joke-teller can say, “I was just joking!”

Power and Control: Lawyer-Client Relationship Abuse and Psychological Assault Wheel Diagram:

Power and Control: Lawyer-Client Relationship Abuse and Psychological Assault Tactics:

Using Coercion and Threats

• making or carrying out threats to do something to harm the client
• threatening to withdraw as counsel of record on the client’s case
• threatening to commit incompetent or unethical practice by violating the State Bar disciplinary rules of professional conduct
• threatening to request the court to order a psychological evaluation of the client without just reason
• ambushing and railroading the client to prevent informed decisions
• exaggerating the harmful outcomes to the client
• pressuring the client to accept a plea deal offer
• pressuring the client to do illegal things

Using Terrorism and Assault

• making the client afraid by using looks, tones, demeanors, gestures, actions
• staging temper tantrums
• violating rules of politesse; rules of orderly, fair meetings; and the State Bar ethics code
• displaying weapons or other objects or images of violence
• terrorizing the client
• sadistically manipulating the client
• psychologically assaulting the client

Using Emotional Abuse

• putting the client down
• making the client feel bad about herself or himself
• calling the client names
• making the client think she or he is crazy
• playing mind games
• humiliating the client
• making the client feel guilty

Using Isolation and Guilt

• isolating the client and forbidding client to consult with other lawyers without permission
• using presumed guilt or suspicion of guilt of client to justify abuse
• using private meetings instead of telephone, mail and email communications
• refusing to state the purpose of meetings

Minimizing, Denying and Blaming

• making light of the abuse and not taking client’s concerns about it seriously
• saying the abuse didn’t happen
• shifting responsibility for abusive behavior
• saying the client caused the abuse

Using Information Abuse

• misrepresenting the experience and specialized knowledge of the lawyer
• using asymmetric information to mislead the client
• preventing client from seeing all the evidence
• providing insufficient information for client to make an informed decision
• using misrepresentation, double-talk, stonewalling and obfuscation to prevent informed decisions
• not informing the client about public access to the case file at the Court house
• refusing to communicate, explain and clarify in writing
• failing to disclose State Bar ethics rules existence and contact information

Using Attorney Privilege

• acting like the boss
• treating the client like a servant
• making the big decisions
• ignoring client’s instructions, decisions and best interests
• failing to get client’s consent
• being the one to define lawyers’ and clients’ roles
• not writing a fee contract
• preventing preview of contract before signing
• making unilateral changes to contract after initial agreement
• using vague, ambiguous, ineffective language that protects the lawyer but not the client
• refusing arbitration

Using Economy Abuse

• making the client pay more money
• not refunding client’s money if not used for the stipulated purpose or if not earned
• using bait-and-switch tactics after receiving advance fee payment
The wheel is available for reprinting and distribution for non-commercial purposes. You may download the pdf of the wheel and the complete list of tactics from the originators of this wheel here. Or, you can see the welcome page that discusses the making of the wheel and provides other useful links here.

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Meet the Author

Clare Murphy PhD is the founder of SpeakOutLoud. Her website is dedicated to providing in-depth research about coercive control and psychological abuse. Clare mentors, supervises and trains professionals to recognise and work safely with domestic violence. She offers one-on-one counselling and consultation to those who are ready to make sense of coercive control and abuse, and to Grow and Flourish Beyond Trauma.