Bad news

Are you thinking about going to law school — and being encouraged to go, or even pressured to go, by your parents? Let’s start with the probably reasonable premise that your parents want the best for you. (Sure, your parents might be sociopaths who are trying to destroy your life, but why would you listen to them at all, if that’s the case?)

Not infrequently, the parental conception of “what’s best for you” involves a stint in law school. If you don’t want to go, how can you convince your parents that law school is a terrible, awful, very bad idea?

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Several readers have sent e-mails asking for advice on how to deliver bad news to clients.

Here’s proof that, if ye shall ask, ye may receive.

Think first about the “bad news” that you’re delivering. You’re not a physician, so you’re not looking a person in the eye and explaining that he or she has just six months to live. That’s really bad news, and that’s hard to deliver. Your job is easy.

Even in the universe of bad news delivered by lawyers, if you’re working with a corporate client, you’re probably getting off easy. You’re not reporting to the client that “the Supreme Court just rejected the application for a stay of your execution” or “the appellate court just affirmed the conviction, so you’ll be doing the time.” The bad news that civil litigators are delivering to corporate clients just isn’t that significant. So calm down.

I’m also ruling out other bad news that folks deliver to, or receive from, in-house counsel. I’m not thinking about telling employees that they’ve been laid off or fired or delivering unhappy performance reviews. I’m not thinking about how you deliver bad news to your own law firm or to a court. And I’m ruling out situations where the bad news results from your own error, rather than an adverse decision by a court. (It’s much harder to tell a client, for example, “I blew the statute of limitations, and your claim is now time-barred,” than it is to tell a client, say, “The court denied our motion for summary judgment.”) So maybe I’m cheating here, by limiting the discussion, but the optimal way to deliver bad news will vary with the situation.

So what’s the best way to deliver news of an adverse judicial decision to a corporate client?

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Justice Clarence Thomas got bad news yesterday from Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. His nephew, Derek Thomas, had an epileptic seizure after hospital staff used a taser on him. From ABC 26 News:

According to a statement from the family, Derek Thomas, who is epileptic, refused to put on a hospital gown and tried to leave his examination after a possible suicide attempt. They say security “punched him in his lip, pulled out more than a fistful of his dredlocks and tasered him to restrain him.”

Doctors knew about Thomas’ epilepsy, but ordered security officers to use the taser anyway, instead of sedating him, the family says.

Ouch.

Clarence Thomas is allegedly outraged and plans to fly down to New Orleans to check on his nephew, according to ABC 26 News. And because this facility sounds a wee bit unpleasant, the family is trying to have Derek Thomas transferred somewhere else.

At least this is happening after the term has ended. He can deal with this crisis more easily with the Court in recess, just as Justice Ginsburg has the summer to grieve for her husband.

Video report from Jefferson Parish, after the jump.

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