By: Bruce P. Matez, Esq.
Check out this great article written by Jeena Cho. https://lawyerist.com/80492/10-lessons-werent-taught-law-school/
Jeena’s 10 lessons are very interesting and true. These are all lessons I did not learn in law school and which I have had to learn in practice, many of which took a long time to truly understand, and many of which I continue to work on as a practitioner. Two of these have particular relevance to the area of divorce and family law.
Having difficult and uncomfortable conversations with clients and other attorneys (opposing counsel in a case) is often one of the most challenging aspects of being a divorce and family law attorney. It is an art form that takes time, effort, patience and practice.
Handling conflict well is probably the most important attribute of being a good divorce and family law attorney and, even more important, being an effective divorce and family law mediator. As a litigator, lawyers have long standing relationships with their adversaries. Often clients do not understand this dynamic. We have to cultivate and nurture those relationships in each of our cases and remember that when one particular difficult, high conflict, perhaps excessively antagonistic and arduous case is over, we will likely have another case with that attorney. As a result, we often have to balance our ethical obligations relating to the representation of our clients with the need to maintain a healthy relationship with our legal colleagues. That is incredibly challenging. I believe that the BEST divorce and family attorneys are those who strike that balance well. As a mediator, I have to balance the needs and emotions of my clients, and get a feel for how to manage the conflict. Each couple present very different challenges related to their particular level of conflict.
One of my favorite stories is about the couple whom I met with just before they were scheduled for trial. They had been in litigation for over a year. They agreed on nothing and had been ordered into mediation by the court to attempt to resolve their financial issues. I asked them at the beginning of the mediation when was the last time they had spoken to each other about the issues in their divorce. They told me they had been communicating only through their attorneys for over a year and a half. They had been married for over 25 years and had older children. As the mediation started they began arguing, getting louder and louder. I sat back and let them argue for over an hour. They screamed at each other and both cried at times. My staff actually knocked on the door several times to assure that everything was ok in the room. After about an hour, at a lull in their arguing, i quietly asked them “are you done and do you want to continue with the mediation?” They both said they wanted to continue and both acknowledged that they were done arguing and tired. 45 minutes later, they came to an agreement on all of their disputed issues and resolved their divorce.