From my latest Solicitors Journal column “Family Business”, 11/4/2014
Detachment and focus should be at the heart of a lawyer’s approach, says Marilyn Stowe
Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin have given us another synonym for divorce. In our profession, new terminology enters the lexicon at a dizzying rate. Rarely, however, does it attract so much publicity.
The phrase ‘conscious uncoupling’ already has more than 100 million references across print, broadcast and social media.
While such New Age language and sentiments probably resulted in snorts of derision from most SJ readers, there is something for the legal professional in all of this. Numerous articles on the subject have pointed to the wisdom of ‘uncoupling’ rather than keeping a failed marriage together. The same principle applies to the professional relationship between solicitor and client.
In the past, our profession has tended to ignore the importance of recognising the different emotional states in which clients can present. A client who has been deserted will frequently feel alone and a terrible victim of circumstance. A client who has been having an affair may approach proceedings feeling guilty about the consequences of their actions.
In 2014, the pressure on a family lawyer to have a good bedside manner when advising a client is immense. It is the role of the lawyer to ensure that at the point of divorce, what happens next is expedited as efficiently and painlessly as possible. While all of us are qualified professionals with the technical expertise to steer a client through the divorce proceedings, those often underrated soft skills can also help to secure a satisfactory resolution to all but the simplest cases.
That said, I do not advocate a touchy-feely approach. Detachment and focus, from that first meeting, can only serve a client well. An experienced family lawyer is able, in most cases, to advise a client of the probable outcome of their case at the first meeting.
Taking a firm hold of the situation, by explaining this early on – even when the assessment is not what the client had hoped to hear – can reset expectations and end up saving time and money.
As vital as it is to approach every client’s case with compassion and care, it is equally important to refrain from tiptoeing around those who cling to impossible dreams. A good lawyer has a straightforward manner and does not fill clients with false hope. The ability to listen with detachment, but provide equally good counsel to either a client feeling guilty or one outraged by circumstance, is vital.
Our clients need to have confidence that we know what we are talking about, and understand how much our advice will cost and the expected outcomes.
As professionals, we need to be consciously uncoupled, and the secret, I suspect, rests with the ability to strike a balance between what the client wants to hear and what the client needs to hear. Thanks Gwyneth.
This article was first published by Solicitors Journal, and is reproduced by kind permission
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