Dr. David B. Adams – Psychological Blog

Psychology of Illness, Pain, Anxiety and Depression


IgnoranceLaw firms have online bullet lists as to when, how and why to fire your attorney. There are an equal number of citings as to why and how an attorney can and should fire a client. There is less discussion of the underlying client motivation/rationale for firing his/her attorney. The focus is, instead, upon legal malpractice.

I have found over the years that aside from obvious concerns for competence, corruption, and caring (my three C’s as to what clients seek in an attorney), there are more subtle reasons that a patient uses to justify the decision-to-fire.

I had a recent case in which an injured worker needed representation, was well represented, and his attorney was deeply invested. After years of diligent work on behalf of the patient, the attorney was fired.

The patient’s reasoning was simply that the attorney had mentioned “settling the claim.” To the patient this meant a variety of specious implications:

1. He would not have mentioned settlement if he cared about my condition

2. He would not have mentioned settlement if he cared about my future

3. He would not have mentioned settlement if he truly understood my injury

4. He would not have mentioned settlement unless he was being influenced by the insurance company

5. He would not have mentioned settlement unless his entire goal was his own financial betterment

Patients deeply entrenched in their suffering frequently engage in argumentum ad ignorantiam or “appeal to ignorance” (where “ignorance” stands for: “lack of evidence to the contrary”). To them their beliefs are true because they have not yet been proven false. This, of course, excludes a third option, in which the patient has not engaged in sufficient investigation.

There may be multiple reasons why his attorney has referred to settlement; the patient investigates no further. (By the way, this is an error in formal logic, and in debates, appeals to ignorance are sometimes used to shift the burden of proof.) An injured worker may reasonably believe that s/he needs legal representation to insure that medical needs are met in a timely and appropriate fashion, that benefits are received, and that they have assistance in meeting their expectancies under that State’s workers’ compensation laws. The patient does not understand requirements and benefits or read the injured workers’ State handbook. Not unrelated, the patient most often has no experience with obtaining medical care that involves limits and barriers.

The patient expects resolution of all problems and does not enter into a legal contract with the understanding that some damages may be permanent or that compensation will be proportionate to a lost career or chronic pain. At the point of hearing that “compensation” is not complete nor designed to be balanced, the attorney is blamed. Most patients do not know that the attorney will still collect for services rendered up to that point, and they obtain a second or even third attorney, compounding their financial problems and agitating themselves needlessly.

This is the absence of logic.

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