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Is Your Attorney Listening?

The trail of emotional destruction that follows the breakup can be immense and long-lasting. Being distressed and angry is completely normal. In fact, as I tell people who end up at my office during a consult, you wouldn’t be normal if you weren’t!

Family disputes are painful. Depression is common when people suffer a breakup, especially when the relationship lasted for a long time or when there are children.

Does the Attorney Get It?

When you begin working with your attorney, it may seem he or she isn’t very sympathetic to what feels like the end of your entire life as you know it. Although we want the same goal as you, we have to take a very different approach to arrive there. As an attorney, I’m constantly thinking of how a judge would analyze the case if and when we go to court. The judge is a stranger, a third-party neutral who comes to court with certain expectations about how things are done. The judge first sees each party as a clean slate and doesn’t necessarily think the opposing party has done anything “bad” although you see it differently. Your attorney has to first analyze your case objectively the way the judge will perceive it in order to properly advise you and prepare for court. We’re zealous advocates but we are wise to focus on the substance of your case, and not just the drama your ex created, that may come out in the closing argument. We have to pace ourselves to let the judge see the facts before we make the closing argument because the judge must rule based on the facts. We bide our time, so don’t be surprised if we don’t seem to “get it” until we reach the courtroom. It is against this background that your attorney is working.

Our Job as Attorneys

Every client needs moral support, especially from friends and family. Clients also need to vent, which can be a good thing. However, good attorneys try to guard against using a client’s resources and money by spending substantial time addressing the need to vent or have moral support. We have feelings too, sometimes the very same outrage about your ex or the attorney that you have. But as attorneys, we can’t let ourselves focus on that (or on our egos). We need to keep boundaries in place to properly do our job. An emotional attorney makes things personal, creating hurdles and obstacles, fanning the flames that are already there. This makes it harder to resolve a case outside of court, and more expensive. Believe me, once the process is underway, your attorney probably knows what a jerk your ex can be. But he or she must analyze your legal situation, which may have very little to do with how you feel at all. Unless you are in the midst of a custody case, your case may be purely about dollars and cents, like a business transaction.

What Do You Need to Do?

We are sympathetic to your personal life, but we have to help you recognize you may benefit from talking with a trained professional to help you move past intense anger, loneliness and sadness. Judges consider it a positive thing when a person seeks help, especially when there are children in the family. We aren’t trained to properly assist clients with addressing those feelings. Plus, your attorney’s shoulder is too expensive to cry on, especially because your insurance won’t cover it. The best thing attorneys can do when these issues arise is to refer a client to a counselor or other trained professional to assist with working through these feelings. Even people who lack insurance can seek help, sometimes on a sliding fee scale, such as the East Carolina University Family Therapy Clinic. A client should always talk to his or her attorney when there is a concern about these matters.

Amy A. Edwards is a family law attorney in Greenville, North Carolina, and is certified as a Family Law Specialist by the North Carolina State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. She is licensed only in North Carolina. www.amyedwardsfamilylaw.com © 2015

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