When I was practising as a family lawyer I was quite often asked: “Don’t you find the work depressing?” Well, yes, it can be rather gritty at times, but then you do see some of the worst of human nature.
As a random example, take the family cases published over the last couple of weeks. They included:
- The usual litany of child care cases, most of which involved parents who neglected and/or abused their children.
- A family squabble over who should inherit a dead man’s estate.
- The usual arguments over money following family breakdown.
- Court of Protection disputes over the affairs of people who are no longer able to manage them.
- The case of a child denied a relationship with his mother by the actions of the father and his family.
And so it goes on. Case after case seems to demonstrate how badly human beings can behave towards one another, whether out of selfishness, spite or just plain ignorance. OK, there are the odd exceptions, such as a surrogacy case in which a parental order was made in favour of a loving family, but they are sadly few and far between.
So how do the lawyers, judges, social workers, Cafcass officers and other family law professionals who have to deal with this sort of thing every day manage to cope with it?
Well, I can only speak from my own experience, and the first thing that I must admit is that I did find child care work too depressing to deal with, and I made the decision to stop doing that sort of work as soon as I could. Some may consider this to be a ‘cop out’, and they may be right, but it takes a special kind of person to do child care work, and that person was not me.
Otherwise, my main ‘defence’ was to try to stand back from the cases with which I was dealing and not get too personally involved in them. Sometimes this was easier said than done, but I think it is essential from a professional point of view, as one’s judgement, and therefore advice, can become clouded if one gets too involved in a case.
This approach does of course run the risk that your client may think that you don’t care about their case. Well, I am sure there are some lawyers who really don’t care, but I firmly believe that most of them do, so if you think that your lawyer is too aloof or not really involved in your case, do not automatically assume that this means they do not care. It may actually mean that you are getting the best out of them.
Of course, sometimes good advice means telling a client what they do not want to hear. That may, for example, occur in those cases when it is the lawyer’s client who is behaving badly – the lawyer may have to point out the folly of such behaviour. If the client persists, then the lawyer may have to consider whether it is still in the client’s interests to act for them.
Good lawyers do care, and not just about the results of their cases. They care about their clients, even if those clients are parents accused of abusing their children. Just because someone may have failed in their personal battle against the worst of human nature does not mean that they should be abandoned to their fate. After all, to err is human. The belief that one might actually be making things better for such people helps family law professionals cope with the work that they do.
I don’t for one moment expect anyone to pity family law professionals generally, or family lawyers in particular, but perhaps a little consideration could be given for the type of situations they have to face on a daily basis.
Photo by César Astudillo via Flickr