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Wellbeing / Stress management

My client fired me – here’s what I learned

For the first time in 20 years in business, I faced the appalling prospect of being fired by a client. Here’s how I got through the most difficult time of my career.

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my client fired me

I have written about firing my client before but had never thought I would write about a client firing me. I hesitated to write this as putting it in black and white makes this distressing event seem so much more…well, real.

I did my best to hold on to both the client and my wits to the point it was draining me, stressing me, and making me feel ill. Even though I could have not done anything differently, I worried about it every minute of the day and blamed myself for weeks until finally, I let it go.

Here’s the story

A client (let’s call him Lance) called 2 years ago and was very aggressive on the phone. I must admit at the time, alarm bells rang. He was setting up a business similar to another existing business and was impatient to get it up, registered, trademarked, website terms and finalised while staying ‘under the radar’. He was more concerned about getting up and running before they noticed, than having the right business and structure.

Oddly, I did assist him, against my better judgment. During the process, his email address was frequently bouncing and I could never contact him by telephone. He always called from overseas, where he said he was on business.

"Even though I could have not done anything different, I worried about it every minute of the day..,"

Then a few weeks ago, I received a call from an agitated man who began the call using expletives. I had no idea who it was, tried to ask him for his name and company. When he finally calmed down long enough for me to understand him, Lance was yelling he would sue me, lodge formal complaints with every regulator on the planet (his words) and have my practicing certificate taken away, as well as my home. I was shaking after this call. I also was a bit surprised. I felt a bit like that Seinfeld episode where Kramer is fired from the office job that he didn’t know he had in the first place. Except with less humour.

Shaking and confused, I looked back at File Notes, emails and records. How did I have no sign this was an issue or going to backfire, with no contact from this client in years? One thing that is paramount to my business and profession is ethics. Above all else, the client comes first and correct procedure, advice and ethical behavior is the most important priority in our business. We check, double and triple check. So how could this happen?

Lance continued to send me several threatening emails every day and would not accept any assistance. He continued with the aggression directed at me. I stopped sleeping, was stressed, anxious, distracted, wanted to make everything right, help him to fix his issue and settle everything back to normal. But I had to realise and accept that I could not; it was not an issue I had caused and besides, he would not accept any assistance.

What had occurred

Looking back, the warning signs were everywhere with Lance’s bouncing emails, a discontinued telephone number and a domain name with an invalid contact address. I had tried to contact him on several occasions and had been receiving notices from regulators as he had listed me as his legal contact and local mailbox (which I had not agreed to). And he was now blaming me for his issue with the regulators and his business colleagues. Because I couldn’t find him, I was unable to forward the legal notices and fines for his business that he was receiving from regulators. I had no forwarding addresses, and no overseas contact information for him. The regulators also had the same problem so were sending the notices to me which he had listed as an alternate address.

I try to move mountains for my clients, I go above and beyond, do not charge for a large portion of my time as I realise I am often working with startup businesses, never go over quoted amounts even if it takes more than estimated, spend a lot of time answering queries, telephone calls-all at no cost to clients.

I have only had one hiccup where I had to lose one client in nine years of Legal123. Yet when faced with losing my first client, I was seriously stressed and upset about it.

What I learned

Some people take their frustrations out on others and are particularly inclined to do so when they don’t have to meet you face-to-face. When difficult situations happen, these types will blame you for their issues and failings.

I believe the rise of the internet leads to less face time and personal contact, which means more issues and misunderstandings can arise. There may, too, be less effort toward respect and common courtesy in both business and personal relationships, and expectations of others have shifted boundaries…..funny how the world has changed since the internet!

I chose to share my story to help others understand that diverse, complex and sometimes ugly situations may arise in your business and you may feel like you should just shut up shop and go back to a job where someone else can manage these scenarios. I was amazed by how one client issue made me lose confidence and question my value, ability and professionalism despite doing everything correctly and following all ethical and professional protocols.

Then you get up the next day and get that call from the person that really does need and appreciate your help, or the great idea they want you to be part of or that client who cannot thank you enough for the help you did provide to them…..and the ugly can be forgotten. You can move on, trust your integrity, get over the glitch and continue with your fantastic growing business. And ensure you get your sleep back!

Have you been fired by a client?  What do you do when you feel like you have done everything you can but it is still not enough?

Vanessa Emilio

is a Practice Director, Lawyer, Founder and CEO of Legal123.com.au, a legal website business with easy-to-use, inexpensive legal templates, forms and agreements for everyday Australians as well as lots of useful information.

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