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When is abuse acceptable?

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When is abuse acceptable? 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.  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 we don’t 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 crap 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.

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.

as published in https://propertyindustryeye.com/