Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Saving Clients From Themselves 

This is a topic about which I have written before, but it is worth bringing up again. What do you do when you see a client, internal or external, about to make a dumb move? Do you jump in and tell them to stop? Do you go along and try to stay out of harm's way? Do you document your innocence to avoid the future fallout? Do you go over the client's head to a higher authority?

Actually, you might do all of these things depending on circumstances. And, they might work -- or not. There is no answer for clients who have death wishes and don't know it. Over the years, just about everyone has fought and found they often made matters worse. Others have tried to go along in the hope that the outcome wouldn't be too bad. When it was, they were caught like the client and blamed for failing to provide good counsel. Those who document their innocence and counsel have learned that sometimes it doesn't mean anything when higher powers are thirsting for blood. (I can tell a personally painful story about this.) And, going over a direct contact's head can have an ugly fallout, if the contact figures out what you have done.

So what do you do? It seems the most important step is to read the situation first, to determine who the players are, their positions and their power. If you can do that, it will tell you how to approach the task. And, even though I know documenting can be fruitless, I do it anyway. There is no telling what the outcome might be of a truly dumb move, and you don't want to be trying to remember what you said or did in a deposition.

So can clients be saved from themselves? Some can and some can't. But, as an old PR mentor used to say to me, "Live to fight another day." He was a World War II veteran who had fought under Patton and had been wounded in France. He knew what he was talking about.


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