By Jordan Gerber, Esq.
I generally detest lawyer networking events. I know, I know. Probably not the best opening line for an article posted on a site whose readership includes attorneys, but hear me out. Now, I don’t want to go as far as quoting Groucho in saying that I have no interest in joining any club that would accept me as a member; but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel like Rodney Dangerfield walking into the dining room of Bushwood every time I attend one of these soirees.
When I first started my practice and was attending enough of these events that I began to develop a pallet for Sutter Home and spinach phyllo, I found myself feeling like I was trapped in a scene from Groundhog’s Day. Allow me to set the stage:
Interior. Night. Cocktail hour. I enter the room and am soon approached by an older gentleman in a nicely tailored suit. He carries glass of scotch in his right hand and an unlit cigar in his left.
Man: “So, Miss…” He looks down at my name tag, apparently finding it very hard to read despite the 12 point letters written in red marker.
Man (chuckling to himself, clearly his own biggest fan. SPOILER ALERT: he’s a lawyer): “Miss Gerber, what kind of law do you practice?”
Man: “Why on earth would you do that?” (he is again laughing, apparently he gave up a promising future in stand up to become a securities litigation attorney) “William,” (he bellows, elbowing the man behind him) “This young lady practices family law!”
William: “By choice?” (William and Man burst into synchronized laughter)
A woman joins the conversation, apparently having been distracted by Abbott and Costello’s routine.
Woman: “Oh, my dear, bless your heart! I don’t know how you do it! I had a family case when I first started practicing twenty years ago and it almost drove me crazy! All of those feelings, it was way too messy for me! And the client was just so needy!”
That was usually about the time I dropped a stack of cards by the bar, grabbed a phyllo for the road and split.
I admit, being a family law attorney takes a different breed of attorney. Some may say a good family attorney is somewhat of an oxymoron as the lawyer must possess the ability to empathize with their client and understand that when dealing with these types of cases, it is not a zero sum game. This is difficult for many as it is often the antithesis of what we are taught in the dog eat dog world that is law firm culture.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still a lot of heartless family lawyers who see their clients as nothing more than dollar signs and couldn’t care less about the door hitting them on the backside on their way out of the office. All I can do is speak for myself and share the three most important lessons I have learned about how to effectively deal with family law clients:
1. Understand that while any type of litigation can be stressful, your client has an additional handicap
Divorce is rough. And when you throw a kid or two into the mix even if you’re not married, things get real pretty much from the jump. Unless your clients are Bruce and Demi, chances are there’s some seriously bad blood there. You have to let your client know that you understand what a huge transition they are facing and that it could be the most difficult thing they ever have to do. Be their cheerleader; let them know you understand how much courage it is going to take to reinvent themselves and that in the end, no one else (especially their spouse) can determine their happiness. Life is all about adapting to change and this can be a hard lesson to learn. That said, refer them to a good therapist and insist they go. If they are reluctant, remind them that it will be much more cost effective and practical to have someone listen to them vent who is qualified to do so and probably charges half what you do. This will also help you set boundaries so that you don’t find yourself acting as an extra on the set of ‘Days of our Lives’ having to deal with all of those “feelings” the woman in the scene alluded to.
2. Manage expectations
Every good lawyer knows to under promise and over deliver. When dealing with family law, it is imperative that you don’t give your clients false hope. They aren’t going to get their kid full time unless the other parent sends little Johnny home with cigarette burns on his arm so don’t lead them to think otherwise. Family law isn’t transactional and isn’t for the used car salesman breed of attorney. Teach them that no matter how much they hate their spouse or baby mama or their kid’s deadbeat dad, they have to love that baby or kid more. By accepting the role of family attorney, you have an obligation. Act accordingly.
3. Teach them that the more they take emotion out and view the situation as a business transaction, the better.
Most attorneys’ ill will towards family law is all of the drama that it assumedly comes with. Teach your clients that it doesn’t have to be like that. There is no sense in wasting money in being adversarial when *news flash*: it’s all coming from the same pot. You can’t move on when you are living in the past. Trust me, it’s better to have five happy clients with functioning kids that you make a little less dough off of than one client that you egg on to burn through their entire estate and end up with a Dylan Kleibold (one of the Columbine school shooters) on your conscience.
After obtaining her Juris Doctorate degree from the prestigious University of Miami School of Law and entering the world of family law, Ms. Gerber soon realized that many firms practicing in this area were lacking the human element. This epiphany motivated her to open The Law Office of Jordan Gerber, P.A. in 2010, serving clients all across South Florida. Her clients short and long term interests are Ms. Gerber’s top priority. The Law Office of Jordan Gerber, P.A. is founded on the principles of mutual respect and empowering clients. By focusing solely on matrimonial and family law, she intimately understands the importance of acting as both butterfly and bee. She thoroughly enjoys writing for her firm’s blog and hopes that its readers find it both entertaining and informative. Her website is www.gerberfamilylawfirm.com and she can be reached at Jordan@gerberfamilylawfirm.com