The phrase “bedside manner” is typically applied in the context of a doctor-patient relationship. At once, the care provider attempts to be reassuring while being honest about a diagnosis. I find in my practice that family law clients often expect, and often seek, a good bedside manner from their lawyers. After all, divorce can be the most difficult experiences a person may endure.
But, what makes a good bedside manner in medicine is not always translatable to family law situations. In medicine you have a diagnosis, and the patient can choose to fight the disease wholeheartedly, or accept the consequences of its progression. In divorce, clients are not fighting a physiological antagonist in the context of physical self-preservation. They are either fighting their spouse (who may also be the other parent), circumstances (unemployment, for example), a psychological or emotional issue (theirs or the other person’s, or both) or their own habits or routine (arguing); and often the fight ensues with a combination of these, or other, factors. Whew! I recently laughed when an oncology nurse told me I had a tough job. But, as I write this, I think she may have been right.
In my experience, divorce lawyers come in myriad flavors. But, for purposes of this blog, we will take a look a three.
(1) The Downstream Swimmer Divorce Lawyer: These types “go with the flow.” If a client has unreasonable expectations, these attorneys are not ones to try to manage client expectations about “system deliverables.” If the client wants to pursue a course of action likely only to add cost without any real chance of prevailing, so be it.
(2) The Social Worker Divorce Lawyer. These lawyers become subjective and try to “take care” of their client or the divorcing couples situation. While well-meaning, they are often idealists who do not understand the underlying problem. Take alcoholism, for example; some people labor under the well-meaning, but incorrect, assumption that they can somehow cure alcoholism. The 3 C’s of Al Anon are helpful in this context: You’re not the Cause, nor the Cure, and you can’t Control it. Subjectivity has no place in proper advocacy. Which leads me to number 3.
(3) The Forthright Advocate Divorce Lawyer. The forthright advocate assesses the situation both from the liabilities and strengths of the opposition and those of the client. In some situations, the stress of a divorce can cause situational anxiety to go off the chart, years of argument, emotional upheaval, family dysfunction, etc., can cause the client to be hypersensitive to criticism or conflict, which litigation naturally entails. And, their jittery demeanor can be exploited or misconstrued as instability or worse. The forthright advocate will recommend that the client seek counseling to help prepare the client for that conflict. The forthright advocate does manage the client’s expectations, and does challenge the client believing that “friendly fire” is a good tool to use to prepare the client for a deposition, or motion hearing, or trial. The forthright advocate lets the client know what he or she is doing and that, although it may be uncomfortable at first, it may help the client’s overall ability to cope with a difficult situation. Moreover, the forthright advocate keeps the client “in the loop” as to strategy, what the law provides, and what the client may expect during the process.
I am proud to say that I am a forthright advocate because I firmly believe that the lawyer’s primary goal is to inform clients as to what they need to know, and not to tell them merely what they want to hear.