Removing the emotion from a case allows both you and your client to see things clearly as they are. Transparency and support go a long way in building trust with your client.
By Emily Latiolais, Family Lawyer
A career in family law will teach you quickly the many hats that must be worn on the job. While you likely anticipated the extroverted and socially forward career, emotional management is not one that can be taught without hands-on experience. While information on picking up on social cues and how to properly diffuse an emotional situation are available throughout Continuing Legal Education courses lawyers must take each year, there is no guide book on how to handle the intricacies for each specific emotional case.
A strong natural intuition, people skills, and the ability to diffuse situations while maintaining strength of character to stay true to one’s principles is a continuing education in and of itself. Below we explore the relational side of our chosen profession and some methods that can be used to bring clients – and, on occasion, colleagues – back to center to focus on what is truly the best outcome for all parties.
Diffusing Emotions in Emotional Cases
EQ vs IQ
The first step in being able to diffuse an emotional case is to act with EQ instead of IQ (emotional intelligence versus intelligence). Family law cases typically will involve a range of emotions, which can take a toll if you allow yourself to become immersed in the back and forth between the parties. It is your job as the lawyer to shelf emotion and compartmentalize. As the lawyer, you must mitigate the expectations of your client while simultaneously advocating for them against the other party and to the court. This allows you to separate the emotional and meet it with rational space while still validating your client’s emotions. Emotions, whether rational or not, are very real for the person feeling them, and choosing to ignore or discard your client’s emotions will break trust, thus creating a barrier making it difficult to achieve everyone’s overall objectives.
Don’t Fan the Flames
It is no industry secret that highly emotional cases often take up a significantly higher amount of time and resources. It will also inevitably be more expensive for your client to pay you to litigate every tit for tat. Choosing to diffuse emotions rather than feed them will benefit both sides and their family in the long run.
Bring a part of the “drama” also puts you at risk of getting emotionally involved yourself. It is important to remain professional with your opposing counsel and to remember that they are your colleague, not your enemy. Not only will it benefit your reputation as a professional, but it will pay off for your client in the long run – if you’re able to create resolution and not resentment, your client will be spared from continued emotional distress and potentially crippling legal bills. Seeking to find a compromise among both parties and separating the emotion keeps you professional and keeps your client’s best interests at the forefront.
Just Say “NO!”
Do not be afraid to say no to your client if they are asking you to do something frivolous or otherwise inadvisable. A client’s emotions can be so overwhelming such that they lose the ability to think clearly; sometimes, your client needs to hear “no” from someone who can see the bigger picture. Choosing not to confront a client’s irrational feelings head-on can become extremely dangerous, even life or death in certain situations. It is important to diffuse, not enflame your client’s irrational feelings and discern what is venting versus what is dangerous. Creating realistic expectations with your client and being transparent will minimize and often eliminate outbursts in the courtroom and will prevent a lot of heartache from irrational or unrealistic expectations. Don’t be afraid to say “no” when a client asks for something not allowed by the law or if you believe it will harm them in the eyes of the judge in the long run.
Meet Emotions with Perspective
As a neutral third party, a family lawyer can see the black and white as well as the gray areas of a case. Your job is to remove the cloud of emotion by bringing in perspective. There are times when children are involved in a case, that parents may use kids to get back at each other. Often, they do not even realize they are doing it; they feel victimized and lose sight of the most important factor which is what is best for the children involved. While their feelings are sometimes valid, it is important to remind them that it’s about the kids, and not about them. This can be a difficult task for a family law attorney because the client is your main priority, but we must bear in mind that the kids are usually the court’s main priority. This means your advice should be in line with what will be most successful in the courtroom. This not only saves your client money, but it also saves them the heartache of trying to fight potentially losing battles.
Diffusing Emotions in Emotional Cases: Your Emotional Management Role
While each case requires a unique emotional approach, I encourage you to tap into the emotional management role as it is one of the many hats you will wear as a family lawyer. Removing the emotion from a case allows both you and your client to see things clearly as they are. Transparency and support go a long way in building trust with your client. Keep their best interest at heart, be willing to say no, validate their emotions, keep what is important in perspective, and uphold your professional reputation while staying true to your principles. While there is no perfect formula for success, it’s important to remember that you get what you give in your legal career.
Emily Latiolais serves her community in Lafayette, Louisiana through her private practice Latiolais Law Firm. Her firm offers services in personal injury, divorce & custody, estate planning & probate, & general family law. Emily is an accolade of the Super Lawyers Rising Star 2019 & 2020, and has received outstanding pro bono awards on both a local and state level. www.latiolaislaw.com
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