Complaints are Opportunities

I read Lee Rosen’s email newsletter, Friday File. It’s a great place for practical advice on how to run a law practice. You can subscribe here.

In a recent edition, Lee described a traumatic experience with his dentist, who lost control of his drill and punctured Lee’s tonsil. Two weeks of painful healing ensued. Lee did not complain, the dentist did not apologize, and Lee quickly changed dentists. In retrospect, he realizes that his complaining would have been a service to himself and to the dentist. He goes on to compare his challenging experience to clients making complaints to him.

I’ve walked quietly away from many negative experiences where I could have complained, but chose not to. It’s a hassle and takes effort, time, and persistence to follow up on poor service, and as I argue for a living, I am disinclined to advocate for myself. I’d rather exercise my advocacy skills for my clients.

Most dissatisfied clients don’t complain; they just leave. And it’s quite likely they will tell others all about what you did wrong. So, when they do complain, you get to choose whether to treat it as a problem or an opportunity.

See it for the opportunity it is, and be grateful.

Becky’s Cake Experience

My wife, Becky, brought the lesson home to me the other day. She ordered a birthday cake for her cousin from Caroline’s Cakes in Spartanburg,  South Carolina. Her cousin, whose birthday is February 13, loves red velvet cake, appropriate for the near Valentine’s Day birthday. When the cousin lived near us, Becky used to ensure that this was the cake served for her birthday celebration. This year, Becky ordered the cake for her cousin, who now lives in Florida, via next-day air express delivery. Though this was a pricey delivery method, it would insure timely arrival of a fresh cake.

Caroline’s Cakes offered tracking of the cake once it left their bakery. Since the ordering process had been smooth and the delivery seemed insured, Becky almost didn’t check on the cake’s progress. But early on the morning the cake was due to be delivered, she did. The cake was showing “in transit.” In fact, it was still in South Carolina, and the projected delivery was for the following Monday, February 15, despite large payment for next-day delivery. Convinced that the cake had been shipped by ground, Becky sent off a blistering email to customer service at Caroline’s Cakes expecting little satisfaction but manifesting her dissatisfaction.

A Bad Experience Turned Around!

Later that day, she received a phone call from Richard Reutter, President and CEO of Caroline’s Cakes. He explained that her e-mail had been forwarded to him and he wanted to explain the situation. First, five stars to the staff member who made sure the CEO saw the email. Secondly, 5 stars to Mr. Reutter for responding immediately and personally to the complaint. The cake had in fact been shipped air express but the plane carrying it had been grounded due to very rough weather in the south. Through a series of legitimate ongoing weather-related circumstances, the cake remained in transit and clearly would not make the promised on-time arrival. Mr. Reutter apologized. He immediately refunded the cost of the cake and the air express shipping. He offered to send a replacement cake.  He offered a legitimate, remorseful explanation for the cake snafu and did everything he could to make it right.

Though Becky had been saying spiteful things about Caroline’s Cakes, the CEO turned the situation around. He called himself. He took responsibility. He was sorry. He took immediate action to return her money and offered alternatives. Becky will order from Caroline’s Cakes again.

Lessons Learned

So, what is the lesson for me as I steer the ship of my own law firm through any rough waters that come my way? Here are our rules for handling client complaints:

    1. Make sure your staff knows that complaints come directly to you.
    2. Call the client making the complaint immediately.
    3. Ascertain the problem with active and empathetic listening.
    4. Acknowledge the bad experience.
    5. If it’s your fault, accept responsibility.
    6. Even if its not, offer a remedy, whether it is a valid explanation, a refund or further action.
    7. Thank the client profusely for bringing the issue to your attention.

In the long run, every complaint is opportunity to have your cake and eat it too! You can use it to improve your client relationship, protect your reputation, and find a flaw in the way you practice law and fix it.

The result may surprise you.



Photo of Rich Cassidy Rich Cassidy

Rich Cassidy is a Vermont personal injury and employment lawyer. He also works regularly as a mediator and arbitrator.

A founder of Rich Cassidy Law, he has more than 40 years of experience with the practice of law in Vermont. Over the years…

Rich Cassidy is a Vermont personal injury and employment lawyer. He also works regularly as a mediator and arbitrator.

A founder of Rich Cassidy Law, he has more than 40 years of experience with the practice of law in Vermont. Over the years, his practice has changed substantially. As a result, Rich has represented all sides in many kinds of disputes: plaintiffs and defendants, employers and employees, injured parties and insurance companies. He believes that the breadth of his experience benefits all of his clients.

He is proud to represent the Burlington Police Officers Association and United Nurses & Allied Professionals.

For many years, Rich’s personal injury practice has been limited to representing injured persons and his labor and employment practice has been focused on representing employees. He enjoys the challenge of representing individuals in a world that seems increasingly dominated by large corporations and powerful institutions.

He has significant experience with litigation and alternative dispute resolution involving higher education, public education, public safety, health care, municipalities and manufacturing. His clients have included college students, faculty, and administrators as well as individuals, businesses, governmental agencies, and not-for-profit entities. He represents both labor unions and individuals in collective bargaining relationships. Many of his individual clients in employment law cases begin work with him under Limited Scope Representation Agreements.

He has also advocated for individuals, businesses and governments in a broad range of civil litigation, including in construction cases, cases under the Uniform Commercial Code, and contract and business tort claims.

In addition to his work as a litigator and counselor, he has served as a mediator and arbitrator and is a member of the Panel of Early Neutral Evaluators for the United States District Court for the District of Vermont and the early neutral evaluation panels for the Vermont Environmental Court and Vermont Superior Courts.

Rich believes that legal process can serve the ends of justice and has been active in work to improve the law throughout his career. For details see our public service page.

When he’s not practicing law or in a committee meeting, Rich enjoys reading, walking his dog, Sophie, skiing, swimming, and rowing his Adirondack Guide Boat on Lake Champlain.



·         Albany Law School Union University, Albany, New York

    • J.D. – 1978

·         University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont

    • B.A. – 1975

·         Mount Saint Joseph Academy, Rutland, Vermont

    • College Preparatory Diploma – 1967 -1971

Bar Admissions:

·         Vermont, 1979

·         New York, 1979

·         U.S. District Court District of Vermont, 1979

·         U.S. District Court Northern District of New York

·         U.S. Court of Appeals 2nd Circuit, 1986

·         U.S. Supreme Court, 1990

Honors and Awards:

·         Jonathon B. Chase Award, ACLU of Vermont, Inc., 1990

·         Grassroots Award, American Bar Association, 2009

·         Equal Justice for All Award, American Bar Association, 2008

·         President’s Award, Vermont Bar Association, 2015

Professional Associations and Memberships:

·         Uniform Law Commission

    • President, 2015 – 2017
    • Executive Committee, Member
    • Scope & Program Committee, Chair, Member
    • Secretary
    • Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act, Drafting Committee Chair
    • Apportionment of Tort Responsibility Act, Member, Drafting Committee
    • Revised Uniform Arbitration Act, Member, Drafting Committee
    • The Model Punitive Damages Act, Member, Drafting Committee
    • Covenants Not to Compete Drafting Committee, Chair, 2020 to present
    • Developments in Privacy Law Committee, 2020 to present
    • Vermont Member, 1994 – Present

·         American Bar Association, 1978 – Present

    • Board of Governors, 2005 – 2008
    • American Bar Association, House of Delegates, 1999 – 2015

·         American Counsel Association, President, 2009 – 2010

    • Director

·         American Law Institute, Elected Member, 2015 – Present

·         Vermont Association for Justice, Member

·         Vermont Trial Lawyers Association, Member

·         Vermont Employment Lawyers Association, Founding Member, Past President, Treasurer

·         Vermont Bar Association, Member, 1978- Present


Past Employment:

·         Hon. Robert W. Larrow of the Vermont Supreme Court, Law Clerk, 1978 – 1979

·         Chief Justice Albert W. Barney, Jr., Vermont Supreme Court, Chief Law Clerk, 1979 – 1980

·         Law Office of David C. Drew, Associate Attorney, 1980 – 1982

·         Hoff, Wilson, Powell and Lang, P.C., 1982 – 1986

·         Hoff, Wilson, Powell and Lang, P.C., Shareholder, 1986 – 1989

·         Hoff Curtis, President and Shareholder, 1989 – 2016


Rich is a frequent writer and speaker on legal topics. He has lectured on trial practice, employment, arbitration, mediation, and construction law subjects before the American Bar Association, the National Employment Lawyers’ Association, the Vermont Bar Association, the Vermont Trial Lawyers Association, and the Vermont Employment Lawyers’ Association.

He has been selected for inclusion in Best Lawyers® and New England Super Lawyers® by his peers. (Listing in The Best Lawyers in America® or Super Lawyers® does not guarantee a desired result in a legal case or that listed lawyers are necessarily more skilled than lawyers who are not listed in such publications.) He was the 2013 “Best Lawyer of the Year” for Employment Law – Individuals and the 2015 “Best Mediator of the Year.”

His blog, On is widely read by legal professionals and is syndicated on Lex Blog.