I have been doing this work for long enough now that I have seen and heard many things – some of the stories I hear make me cry because I can hear and imagine the pain that a family is experiencing and working through.
Many times, I am the first, and only, person they share these painful, and deeply private stories with.
I feel privileged and honoured that I can share a small part in the process of helping my client through one of their most challenging times.
I listen so they feel heard, and understood. So they can speak freely about what is happening for them; what their hopes, concerns are; what they want their future to look like; what they imagined their life to compared with their current reality; and what is keeping them awake at night.
Whatever it is, I listen.
And then we do the work so I can understand what the legal issues might be.
And then we start looking at the options for resolution.
Together, we agree on the best approach to try and achieve the solution they feel is their best available outcome, at their pace.
Usually, by this stage, I can see that they feel lighter, that a weight has lifted. They realise that, unlike the way divorce is typically depicted in the media, working towards a peaceful solution is achievable and accessible.
At this point in my career, people seem to know who I am, or have heard or read something about me through a trusted friend or colleague, my webpage and various social media pages.
Generally, people know a little about me and my approach before we speak on the phone.
Generally, they have a sense of who I am, and how I recommend approaching things. Mostly, I get the impression my calm and empathetic approach is why they call me.
So, imagine my surprise when someone recently called me and asked for a meeting so they could get some advice.. we had a conversation about what was happening, what has been tried, and what was needed.
“A vicious lawyer!” was the answer.
Honestly, I repeated my name to make sure they meant to call me.
“Yes!”. was the answer.
I was very honest.
“No-one in my life has described me as vicious and I am entirely comfortable with that. I’m also certain no-one has described me as aggressive either, and I am entirely comfortable with that too. And although you will certainly find lawyers who may be described as either aggressive or vicious, and perhaps both, I don’t believe there is a place for vicious or aggressive behaviour in law.. and certainly not in family law.
I also said,
“The thing a vicious approach will guarantee you is many years of bad feelings, probably years of litigation, and extremely high legal fees.“
We continued our conversation, because, as it turns out, perhaps a vicious lawyer wasn’t required, but instead, strength was needed when she couldn’t find her own voice.
I do believe that strong advocacy is required in family law.
I also believe that it can be delivered with calmness, and compassion.
An effective approach doesn’t need to be aggressive or vicious. I’d actually suggest either approach is pretty ineffective in all honesty. They don’t help people focus on your future, or what’s best for your children because they remain emotional, lost to objectivity and looking for revenge.
Our job as lawyers is to bring objectivity to the conversation. It is to empower our clients with information to make smart legal decisions that have been tested against reality. Our job is to minimise protracted conflict. Engaging in aggressive and vicious exchanges does the opposite. And it causes everyone anxiety.
So, to those who think they need an aggressive lawyer, or a vicious lawyer, I can say: First, do the hard work of considering why you think you need that approach – is it because you think that’s the best way of achieving your outcomes; or because your spouse has engaged someone you think is aggressive? Or is it because you are hurt, and angry, and you want your spouse to know and feel your pain? Is it because movies and media have (incorrectly) portrayed that aggressive lawyers are the most effective?
Second, spend the time thinking about what is important to you now, and what will be important to you in 12 months time. What approach is important to you and will get you to yourself 12 months later? What kind of approach will allow you to emerge from this process in a way that has enabled you to retain your grace and dignity?
Before you engage in the legal process – do that hard work – you might need help from a professional whose role is to provide objective emotional support, focussed on your emotional well-being: for example, a counsellor/psychologist.
I am confident that the money you invest in that emotional support will save you many, many dollars in legal fees.
And if you don’t have the ability to slow things down with the legal perspective, make sure you have the emotional support running along side your legal support – it is going to help.
You will very rarely find the emotional answers you need through the legal process.
Do the work to keep your mind clear enough to make smart decisions about your future, and what you need and what your children need.
You can thank me later, I hope this helps?