Client Management For Nice People: Jaw-dropping client experiences (and how they changed us.)
Client Horror Stories

Detecting Red Flags and Dealing with Narcissism in the Legal Profession with Matt Davis

Detecting Red Flags and Dealing with Narcissism in the Legal Profession with Matt Davis

This article was based on Episode #36: today we have Our Beloved Host, Morgan Friedman, talking to Matt Davis from Davis Business Law, about the importance of learning to identify problematic clients to try to avoid problematic situations. Please watch the complete episode here!


“…when you have somebody that wants to be a creator, that wants to make something happen, instead of being served and catered to, like maybe somebody who will clean up their coffee cup, somebody who will take responsibility, who wants to create something, who wants to create a new and better circumstance, then that’s somebody who you can really help.” – Matt Davis 


Welcome to the world of client relationships in the legal profession, where detecting red flags and navigating personalities are essential skills. Learn more about the importance of identifying problem-bringers, detecting narcissistic tendencies, and finding problem-solvers among potential clients. With an open mind, gain insights into the strategies, warning signs, and practical tips that can help lawyers foster healthier and more productive professional relationships.

A few years ago, Matt Davis, handled a case with a guy who had a problem with his ex-wife. The man had been cheating on his wife and got another woman pregnant. Stuck in the drama triangle, which will be further discussed later, Matt felt sorry for the man who had wanted full visitation rights to his children. However, this is not something that is always possible, and Matt knows this is going to be a difficult case. Of course, he made sure to explain everything to his client.

Once they were in court, the judge starts losing his mind on the client because he doesn’t answer questions and is just expecting to get the outcome he wants. The client will not take full responsibility about his role in the deal. The judge shut down the hearing and gave him what he deserved, and now Matt looks like the bad guy. According to Matt, “The people you pull up by their bootstraps, turn around and screw you over because they don’t have any skin in the game. They don’t have any responsibility.”

Despite all the help and precautions Matt had provided for his client, who didn’t even foot the bill, he instead received a thousand-word text from the client’s ex-wife sayong what a lousy sob he was. How crazy is that?

Well, we for sure don’t want to take any part in any similar issues, so here are a few things we should learn from Matt’s experience.

Identifying Red Flags in Potential Clients 

In the legal profession, identifying red flags in potential clients is crucial for maintaining healthy and productive professional relationships. Here’s how you can identify red flags and avoid being caught up in a situation you’d rather avoid:

  • The presence of unrealistic expectations. When clients have unreasonable demands or expectations that cannot be met, it often leads to dissatisfaction and conflict down the line. Recognizing these unrealistic expectations early on can save lawyers from entering into difficult and contentious relationships.
  • Lack of responsibility. Clients who refuse to accept any responsibility for their role in a dispute or legal matter can be challenging to work with. They may exhibit a victim mentality and constantly blame others, making it difficult to reach favorable outcomes. Lawyers need to be aware of this trait and consider its implications before taking on such clients.
  • Paying attention to clients who excessively focus on themselves. Those who consistently use “I” or “me” in conversations may exhibit narcissistic tendencies. These individuals often prioritize their own needs and desires over the interests of others, which can lead to conflicts and difficulties in collaboration. Detecting this self-centered behavior early on allows lawyers to make informed decisions about whether to engage with such clients.

Identifying these red flags requires astute observation and intuition. Lawyers can benefit from paying attention to clients’ communication patterns, demeanor, and overall attitude during initial consultations. It is essential to have open and honest discussions with potential clients, asking probing questions to gain insight into their expectations, level of responsibility, and self-awareness.

Dealing with Narcissistic Clients

As we all know, dealing with narcissistic clients can present unique challenges. This is true in all aspects. Matt Davis gave us a though-proviking idea on the concept of narcissism and its implications in client interactions takes center stage. Likewise, he helpfully offered valuable insights into detecting narcissistic tendencies and provides strategies for navigating relationships with such clients.

As mentioned, narcissistic clients often exhibit an excessive focus on themselves, seeking to satisfy their own desires and priorities above all else. Thus, it’s important to detect these tendencies early on in order to anticipate the challenges that may arise during the course of representation.

Navigating relationships with narcissistic clients requires a delicate balance. There is a need for lawyers to establish firm boundaries and maintain a professional stance while still providing effective legal representation. It is essential to manage expectations and keep the focus on the client’s legal needs rather than catering to their egotistical demands.

Additionally, Matt explored the potential pitfalls of working with narcissistic clients. They may be prone to blaming others, lack empathy, and create unnecessary conflicts. Lawyers need to develop strategies to manage these challenges, such as remaining objective, setting realistic goals, and maintaining clear and open lines of communication.

While it may be tempting to avoid representing narcissistic clients altogether, Matt highlights that there can be opportunities for growth and professional development in these situations. By effectively managing relationships with narcissistic clients, lawyers can refine their skills in negotiation, conflict resolution, and maintaining professional boundaries.

The Drama Triangle and the Empowerment Dynamic

The Drama Triangle is a psychological framework that explores the dynamics of dysfunctional relationships and interactions. It consists of three primary roles: the victim, persecutor, and rescuer. 

The victim role is characterized by individuals who perceive themselves as powerless and constantly seek external validation and support. They often feel oppressed, helpless, and overwhelmed by their circumstances. The persecutor role, on the other hand, involves individuals who adopt a critical and controlling stance towards others. They tend to blame and judge others, creating an environment of conflict and negativity. Lastly, the rescuer role involves individuals who take on the responsibility of “saving” others, often at the expense of their own well-being. They enable the victim’s helplessness and perpetuate the cycle of dependency.

How do these roles manifest in client interactions and professional relationships within the legal context? Lawyers may encounter clients who assume the victim role, expecting their legal representative to solve all their problems without taking responsibility for their actions. They may also encounter clients who play the persecutor role, constantly criticizing and blaming others for their predicaments. Additionally, some lawyers may find themselves adopting the rescuer role, feeling the need to rescue their clients from their difficulties.

According to Matt, “The issue really boils down to, as a professional, can you help this person or is this person just perpetuating a Drama Triangle? Because guess what happens? If the rescuer does not perform exactly to the specifications of the victim, the rescuer becomes the persecutor.”

However, there is also an alternative framework known as the Empowerment Dynamic. This framework emphasizes problem-solving, personal responsibility, and creating positive outcomes. Instead of perpetuating the Drama Triangle, individuals can shift their mindset to become creators who actively seek solutions, coaches who provide guidance and support, and challengers who encourage personal growth and development.

Strategies for Client Evaluation

As expected, the topic of strategies for client evaluation takes center stage. Matt and Morgan delve into the importance of assessing potential clients to determine their suitability and avoid engaging with individuals who may be problematic. 

Clients who exhibit a lack of responsibility for their actions and fail to acknowledge their contributions to the problem at hand are likely to be problematic. On the other hand, those who demonstrate self-awareness and a willingness to take responsibility are more likely to be proactive problem-solvers, making them desirable clients.

Likewise, it’s also essential to be able to detect unrealistic expectations. Clients who have unreasonable demands and expectations are more likely to create tension and dissatisfaction throughout the legal process. Recognizing these unrealistic expectations early on can help legal professionals make informed decisions about whether to engage with such clients.

Ultimately, the goal of client evaluation strategies is to ensure that legal professionals work with clients who are aligned with their values and objectives. By identifying red flags such as egotism, lack of responsibility, and unrealistic expectations, legal professionals can make informed decisions about whether to take on a particular client. This proactive approach not only helps to minimize potential conflicts and challenges but also enables lawyers to focus their energy on clients who are more likely to be collaborative, solution-oriented, and contribute positively to the legal process.

Maintaining Professional Boundaries and Self-awareness

Maintaining professional boundaries and self-awareness are crucial aspects of successful client relationships. Legal professionals face a multitude of challenges when it comes to becoming emotionally involved in their cases, including the importance of retaining professional judgment and emotional detachment.

Thus, there is a huge need for self-awareness in recognizing personal biases and emotions that may influence decision-making. It is all too easy for lawyers to become personally invested in their clients’ cases, which can cloud their judgment and compromise their ability to provide objective legal advice. By cultivating self-awareness, legal professionals can identify when their own emotions or biases may be at play and take steps to mitigate their impact on their decision-making process.

The role of partners or colleagues is also important in maintaining professional boundaries. Having trusted individuals who can provide feedback and support is essential for legal professionals. Partners or colleagues can offer objective perspectives and help identify when professional boundaries may be at risk of being crossed. This external feedback can serve as a reality check and help maintain the focus on providing the best legal representation while avoiding emotional entanglement.

Recognizing the importance of maintaining professional boundaries is vital not only for the lawyer’s well-being but also for the best interests of the client. By staying emotionally detached and grounded, legal professionals can better serve their clients’ needs and make sound decisions based on legal expertise rather than personal biases.

In conclusion, maintaining professional boundaries and self-awareness is crucial for legal professionals to navigate client relationships successfully. By remaining self-aware and seeking feedback from partners or colleagues, lawyers can mitigate the risks of emotional involvement and ensure that their decision-making remains grounded in professional judgment. By doing so, they can provide the highest level of legal representation and achieve favorable outcomes for their clients.


This article was based on Episode #36, please watch the complete episode here!