We as divorce professionals balance two very important ‘obligations’ – that to our families, to help financially support them – and to our clients, to assist them through a challenging transitionary period in their lives – in the most efficient, compassionate and least disruptive way.
While many of us would like to change the divorce paradigm and legal process itself – that certainly isn’t going to happen overnight and we’ve yet to find real, meaningful solutions that improve the status quo. But what we can do now is change how we approach the system and by doing that, we remain able to earn a living without compromising our personal integrity or perpetuating a system that encourages (many) attorneys to increase animosity rather than deescalate it.
Legal consumers will always need advocates, guidance and/or advice. There will always be people who refuse to play fair, have complicated estates, are dissolving relationships with large power imbalances and/or face emotional strain so significant they are unable to navigate the process without traditional representation. Even so, there are several ways we can practice responsibly and begin to shift a system that has left so many unhappy and beyond frustrated.
- Focus on the individual: By focusing on the litigant’s needs and concerns (as opposed to what we think is best for them), we can help them to find creative solutions and make choices that are best for themselves. No two relationships are the same so why would we assume that every divorce should be resolved in the same manner? Is having money in the bank for a rainy day more important to your client than receiving more income through spousal support? Partner with therapists, coaches, ally’s to help our client’s identify their goals, rule out anger or vengeance as motivating factors so that we can focus on what matters to them — not prioritize the issues that we feel are most important. By focusing on the individual, we can seek meaningful feedback from them and act on it.
- Legal options: Why are we so afraid of unbundled services, legal coaching and/or mediation? There is no one size fits all solution for divorce and the modern consumer understands that. By offering creative and effective options to traditional representation we are not only driving down the cost of divorce for many people, we may find more meaning in our work and happier clients. Sure our volume increases but we also aren’t left with tons of cases that never seem to ‘go away’ – making for frustrated clients and disillusioned lawyers.
- Assess practical implications: How can we make life smoother during the divorce and help to create less problems for the client after divorce? Sometimes that means encouraging them to give a little (or a lot in some areas) to get what they need to help them and their kids in everyday life. We can look to the person and how s/he walks through life to help determine what can maximize his or her best result.
- Destigmatize divorce: Let’s do our part to refrain from judgment and encourage our community to better understand divorce. It’s awful feeling isolated or being told that you should have “worked harder.” No child benefits from having miserable parents who stay married but can’t stand the sight of each other. It is courageous to leave an unhappy relationship and rarely is it done without months or years of agonizing thought, tons of therapy, adjustment of expectations and facing internal demons. We need to disrupt the prevailing societal message that when we divorce, we fail. Sometimes marriages just don’t work out.
- Guide not proselytize: Is there a way for our client to understand profound consequences of their actions without instilling the fear of god? I think so. Motivating by fear is paralyzing while providing encouragement is liberating. By guiding our clients we are empowering them to make their own decisions – decisions that they will likely feel better about.
- Transparency with information: Providing valuable information about the law and legal system through resources, infographics, online options, and instructional videos – will not make lawyers obsolete or unnecessary. Instead it will actually make our work more meaningful and interesting. Instead of explaining what “proof of service” is or what the law says about reimbursements for down payments on a joint residence, we can be spending our time doing what people want lawyers to do – finding outside the box solutions and strategizing negotiation tactics that work.