With 20 years of experience as a domestic relations lawyer, and now sitting as a judge in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, Judge Michele Lowrance reflects on the bullying she’s observed in the courtroom, and suggests ways for young family law attorneys to combat it.

By Judge Michele Lowrance

I recently had an opportunity to talk with quite a few young family law attorneys. Among their experiences was one I knew only too well while a new attorney: bullying. This can be a pervasive problem. Although often not personal and used as a power strategy, mastering certain skills and learning to handle the bully can advance your own power. What follows is a list of defensive tactics to use against bullies:

  • Don’t mirror their behavior. If you do, they have pulled you into their territory, causing you to be off balance. If you choose to confront them, do so only when you’re feeling in control and centered.
  • When feeling overwhelmed ask, “Could you say more about that?” Keep asking for clarification.
  • Watch your body language. Crossing your arms may suggest that you’re intimidated.
  • Keep eye contact.
  • Assert the topic you want to discuss. Insist on staying on one issue at a time.
  • Ask open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a yes or no.
  • Practice what you want to say ahead of time.
  • Remember this is not about you. A bully tries to treat everyone in a dominating way.
  • Don’t threaten or try to manipulate the person, proceed to the next legal step. You will gain their respect and maintain your own.
  • If you want someone to stop screaming, stop interacting with screaming as if it were a legitimate mode of communication.
  • Stay calm, collected, and focused when dealing with a person that would otherwise mislead, unnerve, or distract you.
  • Make a list that sets your bottom line. One list of what you will tolerate and one list of what you will not.
  • Don’t focus on trying to change the behavior of a bully, put your energy on your own reactions.

Above all, remember that it’s not a bad thing to be intimidated by a bully – courage is only developed when you’re first afraid.

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Judge Lowrance was a domestic relations lawyer for twenty years prior to becoming a domestic relations judge in the circuit court of Cook County, Illinois. She is the author of the book The Good Karma Divorce and has been a guest on Good Morning America, the CBS Morning Show, CNN, ABC and other networks.