Monday, 12 April 2010

Handling Difficult Clients

This little tale comes from our colleague Aaradhana Sadasivam (an IP lawyer from distant parts), who says "I do not have difficult clients, but only difficult moments with my clients". She writes:
"As a child, I remember reading a story about a cloth weaver-cum-merchant and his potential buyer.

It so happened that a poor cloth weaver-cum-merchant put in a tremendous amount of effort, skill, and time, in weaving a fine piece of cloth. In the evening he took the cloth to a nearby market hoping to sell it in exchange for a good amount of money. In time the cloth weaver-cum-merchant was approached by a potential buyer, who after giving a very through and detailed examination to the cloth, enquired on the cost of the entire yarn. The cloth weaver promptly advised on the cost of the yarn to the potential buyer. The client thought for a moment and decided to buy but only half of the yarn and before the seller could say or do anything, he tore away the yarn into two pieces and enquired on the cost of the half piece of the yarn in his hands. The weaver, once again, advised the cost of the half piece of the yarn. The prospective buyer, while still holding on to the torn half piece of yarn, and feeling the smooth texture of the cloth, appeared to went back in his thoughts and the very next moment divided the half yarn into further two pieces and enquired on the cost of the now quarter piece of the yarn. The weaver, yet again, calmly and patiently advised the cost of the quarter yarn. A spell of thoughts, followed by the noise of tearing off of the remaining cloth, and the torn yarn was divided yet again, and again, and each time the cloth was torn the cost of the torn cloth was enquired, and each time the client demanded to know the cost of the torn piece of the yarn and, yet in turn, he received a calm and patient response to his enquiries from the weaver-cum-merchant. This went on for some time. The prospective buyer went on to piece the yarn into small, and smaller, pieces and every time he pieced the yarn, he asked the cost of the torn piece, and each time received a patient and calm answer.

In the end, and after piecing the entire yarn into the tiniest bit that he could, the buyer finally changed his mind once gain, and decided to call off the prospective purchases reasoning that the now torn pieces of the yarn had no use for him. The poor weaver-cum-merchant gathered up all the bits and pieces of his yarn that he had so lovingly woven and expected to earn his livelihood. D despite a bleak outlook of his own life’s affairs, all the while during dealing with his prospective but a rather ruthless client, he managed to maintain a calm, peaceful environment, remained hopeful of selling off his wares, continued to answer with a high level of patience, dignity, decency, and managed the situation without displaying even a single speck of anger in his voice! No, not even once throughout the entire negotiation.

What a great display of a manner of dealing with a difficult client without going insane with anger and, yet maintaining a total control of the situation and self-dignity.

While maintaining the cloth merchant’s level of patience could be a great Herculean task for most of us, but we can certainly learn a lesson on two on dealing with difficult clients".
I suspect that, among both contributors and readers, we have experienced situations in which keeping our cool and retaining at least some human dignity has been the best outcome we can have hoped for. If you have any Herculean tales which are also IP-related, please do share them with us!


  1. Jeremy, truly a ripping yarn...

    At a more mundane level, a few weeks ago I received a call at 4.30 pm on Friday, from the former Chief Executive of a significant client. I hadn't spoken to him for several years. He wanted me to give a quick review to a simple consultancy agreement. I asked him when he needed it. He said it was urgent and he was trying to get it out that day. Heart sinking, I said it would probably only take me an hour, and I could do it by 6 pm. He said he just needed to get his colleague to approve the instructions. At 5.30 pm, he called me back to say he hadn't been able to speak to his colleague, so he accepted the work wouldn't be done that day (gracious of him). I assumed he would contact me the following Monday. I have still not heard from him.

  2. Your little parable troubles me.

    While it is true that the time wasted on abortive quoting is our raw material, it isnt our woven cloth.

    Sometimes I prefer to take the instructions and accept that there may be no payment. Its quite hard to get it right with the obligation to provide the client care contract that regulators insist on but can be done. It fits in with your parable too. You could give the man the cloth to prevent him destroying an artwork. It would be a better result.

  3. My particular favourite was an occasion when I was asked to review a joint venture agreement. I received the document and said that it was already very complete. I said I would comment on anything they shouldn't do and tidy up the contract. I agreed to do it cheaply as the client was clearly not rolling in funds.

    After reviewing I sent it to him indicating that it was fair, that if he agreed that X was how it should work then it would be fine and nothing to add, but I amended it quite a lot to renumber to get rid of inconsistencies and mistakes and called him to talk him through it.

    Imagine how I felt when he said he didn't feel I should be paid as I hadn't really added anything other than renumbering.

    It resolved it wasn't worth arguing about as the amount I had agreed on as a set fee was about 36 miuntes of my time, hardly worth bothering with, and certainly not worth arguing about.