Recent events reported in the national news have highlighted an important aspect of the relationship
between attorney and client, namely, the obligation of the attorney to say “no.” Adjectives such as
“fixer” and “bag carrier” may enjoy colloquial cache, but these are dangerous descriptors to apply to a
lawyer. The danger is that the label itself – and most certainly the actions that accompany the label – by
its very nature abrogates the lawyer’s fundamental duty to give disinterested advice. The duty to assess
proposed action, to determine the implications for the client, to advise the client on the risks of the
proposed action and, when necessary, to say no – all of these critical attributes of the relationship are
swept aside because the lawyer is no longer functioning as a lawyer but is instead fulfilling the direction
of the client.
Employ the words “fixer” or “bag carrier” or whatever sobriquet that applies; it makes little difference
because the result is the same: the relationship is not that of attorney and client. It bears more
semblance to a business arrangement, in which the lawyer who may not or will not say “no” to a client
has sacrificed the lawyer’s most valuable asset, and that is independent judgment. In its place, the
lawyer has replaced the financial gain of the transaction in payment for the client’s own judgment, but
this is an unequal trade. This is so because the lawyer is rendered little more than a cheerleader, a
willing partner to whatever business arrangement the client desires.
Lawyers spend personal and professional resources gaining good clients. The temptation is to keep a
good client at nearly all costs and the adjective “good” encompasses many attributes: regular referrals,
notoriety, power, to name a few. But a client who expects the lawyer to obey without rendering advice
is not a good client. The lawyer who will fill that directive is not a good lawyer. Toxicity exists on both
sides of this relationship. The best response to the client who will not take “no” for an answer should be
to show that client to the door. The client’s best response to the lawyer who lacks the backbone to say
“no” should be to look for a better lawyer.