Despite those assurances that I would make a full recovery, I had to have keyhole surgery on my leg last week. I can’t pretend the day of the surgery was pleasant; it wasn’t, it was all like a bad dream.
When clients are anxious about court appearances, I always advise them how best to cope. On this occasion I administered the same advice to myself: the day will pass faster and better than you think; then begins the period of recovery. As my doctor told me, I have had an operation on the most important weight-bearing joint in my body. It will take time to recover; I must be patient.
Just as a patient isn’t “cured” in the operating theatre, a divorce doesn’t “end” in the courtroom. A client must never think that an appearance in court or a day of settlement will provide immediate closure. A subsequent period of recuperation and rest is essential: it allows the client’s mind to settle and readjust. Often for example, when the immediate trauma of the divorce is over, clients can suffer from panic attacks and other stress-related conditions. These are normal and are part of a healing process that, in my experience, typically lasts for 12 months after the case is resolved. I advise my clients that they should not expect a quick fix. It won’t happen. I have found that when clients know that those up and down days will continue for some time, they find it easier to deal with their experiences and emotions. For many of them, the healing process is all about the conquering of the unknown.
A couple of days before I went into hospital, a member of our admin team came in my office, to discuss a client who was fretting about the divorce and financial process. Our client wanted to know what the courtroom would look like, how she should dress and how she should speak in court. What exactly was going to happen to her? What form would the hearing take? Would she have to sit like a criminal in the dock?
These are perfectly normal concerns, and ones in which my team at Stowe Family Law is well-versed. They spoke to our client carefully, reassured her and advised her that divorce hearings are civil – rather than criminal – proceedings. Only in the most complicated of cases, involving a large number of people and many reams of paper, is it likely that clients will sit in anything other than a small room. In most cases, the lawyers sit either side of a table and a judge, not wearing robes, sits at its head. There is no “dock”.
I reflected on that client’s concerns as I sat in the Spire Hospital, nervously waiting to go to theatre. I realised that although a divorce hearing and an operation are not the same – although I am sure that parallels can be drawn! – I understood her worries only too well. Because I too was anxious about what was going to happen to me. We shared similar fears: the fear of the unknown, the fear of the risks, the fear of not having any control and the fear of the future.
When a relationship breaks down, emotions can be very difficult to control. Divorce is an extremely turbulent time: it is not unusual for people to find themselves unable to hide their feelings. They may express themselves inappropriately – and sometime we lawyers will bear the brunt. Others will bottle up their emotions and this, too, can be a mistake. I always make a point of telling my clients that they are not alone; there are others who are in similar situations and who feel exactly the same as they do.
In fact, I keep a regular supply of tissues in my office because it is quite normal for clients to become extremely upset at the beginning of a case. It is no surprise -indeed it is expected – for a client to break down in tears at a first meeting. Emotions are at their rawest; the pain is at its most intense.
In the Spire Hospital I discovered for myself why clients can be so unlike themselves at first – and why the advice that we provide is spot on. Everyone there did their best to make that nightmare day as pleasant as they could, and I very much appreciated it.
At Stowe Family Law, we too go to great lengths to ensure that our offices are as comfortable and welcoming as they can be. We have paintings on the walls and comfortable sofas in our reception areas. We let the sunshine pour through the windows and – most importantly – we always put time and care into listening to our clients and understanding their needs. We encourage our clients to talk to us, and to tell us straightaway if they have any worries. As a result I believe that the men and women who come to see us – even those who are visibly upset at the first meeting – soon feel relaxed and cared-for whenever they are here.
Even small details, such as flowers, can lift a client’s spirits. We always have cut flowers on display; earlier this week, on my first visit since surgery to our office in Cheshire, I noticed that the camellia outside is in full bloom. It looks stunning; no wonder our family law office in Cheshire is called The Camellia Building! I took a photo on my phone (above); I hope you like it. It certainly gave me a lot of joy.
Could we – or should we -do anything else to help? If you have experiences of your own to share, I would be very interested to hear them.