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Learn About Coercive Control and Psychological Abuse

Power and control: Lawyer-client relationship

– Posted in: Social Institutions & Abuse

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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tara l 28 January 2015, 6:25 am

I found out that my boyfriend did indeed abuse his wife in a few ways, and his lawyer helps try to silence the wife against speaking about her abuse. This sickens me. Lawyers who represent and defend their abusive clients are despicable. They have no morals. How can female lawyers defend abusive male clients? It’s disgraceful. Female attorneys should not be so quick to support men like this.

Merrill 10 November 2010, 1:04 pm

Yes ‘To Speak Up’ is important! This action however requires some steps; recognition that something is not quite right, is one step -… I am trying to research some material for a colleague whom feels minimised at work : How relevant is the Lawyer Client Power Control relationship model with understanding Workplace bullying (boss to staff member)?

Comments welcomed


rebecca 18 September 2009, 8:00 am

I have been abused emotionally and physically. Everyone going through that should speak up because I would not like you going through that. Don’t be scared to speak up. I’ve been through it and now I’m in a foster home and I’m happy there, but not all foster homes are fun. But my life has changed and am now happy that I’m not around those people that hurt me. Being abused is not fun. But speaking up is the hard thing to do. I know, I’ve gone through it. Don’t let anyone abuse you any more – speak up to yourself, tell someone like a friend, family, or if they don’t care, call the police department they will help. Trust me on this one.