When I meet clients for the first time, they often say to me “you seem too nice to be an attorney.” Some would take that as an insult. Attorneys, especially divorce attorneys, have this stereotype of being mean, overly arrogant, aggressive – just terrible people. Don’t get me wrong, I have met those attorneys during my career. Fortunately not all of us are like that.
What I learned from doing this for over 17 years is that being an aggressive and confrontational lawyer does not make you a good lawyer. Many times acting in a combative manner can be detrimental to the client. The other side gets angry and responds in kind. The judge may take offense to the behavior. All this can lead to poor outcomes.
Lawyers get caught up in winning and don’t think about the costs to their clients or their family. It’s part of why some people became lawyers. They love to argue. However, some just argue for the sake of arguing. These attorneys take actions or positions that are seen as unreasonable, causing their clients to incur unnecessary attorneys fees and can even impact the decision by a judge.
That does not mean I am a pushover. I will stand up for myself, and more importantly, my client. I am not just confrontational for the sake of fighting. My experience and training has taught me how to advocate for my clients in a way that is going to allow them to have a voice, get their points across and provide them with the support they need without creating an explosion with the other side.
My philosophy is to make my clients feel supported and informed. After all, they are usually coming to my office during one of the worst times in their lives. People going through divorce need to be comforted. They need to know that they are being heard. And they need to know that they have options – that their divorce does not have to be a war and that they can come out on the other side OK.
When clients come to my office, they will notice I often meet with them in a different environment than other attorneys. I do not have the huge imposing desk in the middle of a stuffy office. Nor do I have them sit at a giant conference table in a very sterile-looking conference room. Instead, we meet in a room with couches and chairs. They sit where they are comfortable. They are offered coffee or water and then we talk. We talk about their interests and concerns. They tell me there story of why they are in my office.
Once I have heard their story, I then provide them with information. After all, clients in my office are making big decisions. Before they can make those decisions, they need to have an understanding of their options and what it all means. For those coming into my office for the first time, we generally discuss the process of getting divorce. I explain mediation, collaborative divorce; litigation and arbitration with them. Once I have explained he different processes, we talk about what would be the right one for them and their spouse. Not every case is the same and not every process is right for every person.
Clients who have met with other attorneys before they came to my office have told me that I was the first person to EXPLAIN everything to them. From what I have heard, and what I have seen in my experience is that some attorneys are focused on getting the client to sign a retainer and start filing a Complaint right away. Not everyone who meets with me is ready to make that decision right then and there. I rather that my clients take time – think about what is going to work best for them.
My goal is for clients to say they “feel better” after talking with me. It’s one of the best things you can have a client say. When clients say that you know you are doing a good job. I know that I have provided my client with the information, support, advice and resources they needed through their case. And that is what this job is about.
So yes, I may be “too nice” to be the typical divorce attorney. I can live with it.