A look at the importance of emotional security for family lawyers – and the role of emotional security in creating good lawyer-client relationships.
By James Gray Robinson, Lawyer and Business Consultant
Many lawyers are beginning to understand the importance of emotion in the practice of law – especially family law – including the concepts of mindfulness, compassion, empathy, and understanding. The practice of law has never been a cookie-cutter kind of business; every client brings new challenges and problems that need to be addressed. Many articles have been published about the importance of emotional intelligence and its role in managing and caring for clients. Just as important as emotional intelligence is the concept of emotional security and its role in building the relationship between lawyer and client.
Why Emotional Security for Family Lawyers is Crucial
Emotional security in this context is basically a lawyer’s ability to have and exhibit confidence and competency to their client as well as the ability to engender trust between both parties. Lawyers who are anxious or stressed send all sorts of subliminal messages to their clients, as well as oftentimes being unprepared or fearful when conversing with a client. Clients (especially in litigation) are usually going through a very difficult time in their life and need to feel confidence and commitment from their attorney. If the attorney is not able to generate these feelings of trust in their client, being fired would be the least of their problems. These are the breeding grounds of ethical complaints.
Building Emotional Security for Family Lawyers
In order to build emotional security, it is extremely important for the professional/lawyer to take an inventory of their strengths and weaknesses. Have some frank discussions with your associates and friends about how you are perceived and what you can do to present a confident and competent persona. If you are feeling afraid of failure or poor performance, seek help from counselors or coaches on how to deal with your fears.
Most lawyers are very good at anticipating a client’s worst-case scenario in order to avoid the case going there, but not many lawyers know how to not take it personally. Lawyers have to do the best job they can and be practical enough to know that not everything works out as planned. Lawyers need to set boundaries on their time, and physical, emotional and spiritual health. They especially need to learn how to say “no” when work is making their personal life unbalanced.
As a family lawyer, you need to pay attention to your physical health – especially if you are medicating any stress or anxiety. You also need to take responsibility for your own happiness. No one else can make you happy in the long run: only you can do that. In conjunction with establishing good boundaries, you have to decide which principles define your character, and enforce scrupulous honesty and steadfast integrity. Little white lies won’t get the job done – especially if you are lying to yourself.
Emotional Security and the Lawyer-Client Relationship
Family lawyers also need to create and maintain the emotional security of their relationship with their clients. As a lawyer, you have to take the lead and the responsibility for establishing a mutual sense of trust. The first step is to never promise results you know you can’t produce to convince a client to retain you. The next step is to always make your client’s best interest the priority in your lawyer-client relationship.
Don’t promise to make the adversary’s life miserable because that may cause a nagging belief that you will make your client’s life miserable as well.
Are you available to your clients or do you ignore their requests and fail to return calls on a timely basis? We have all had extremely needy clients, or those who genuinely expect that you should make yourself available to them 24/7. You will need to manage these expectations, but intentionally disregarding calls/emails or taking your clients for granted will not create emotional security for your clients. Ask your client to bring any new concern to your immediate attention so you can deal with it promptly.
When you meet with or talk to your client, are you 100% focused on them, or are you doing other tasks, multitasking, or allowing other business to interrupt your meeting? Reassure the client that they have your undivided attention, but that you are also mindful of the need to be as efficient and effective as possible to ensure that they are getting value from your efforts.
Never, never, never, lie to your client. It will not only poison your relationship with the client, but it will also poison your reputation and may lead to complaints to the Bar.
Don’t be afraid to take surveys of your clients and ask them to rate you on how they feel about you. Ask them to rate you on a scale from one to ten on selfishness, honesty, empathy, respect (for the client), affordability, integrity, genuine concern, and most of all trust.
How your client feels about you is just as important as the results you achieve for them – possibly even more important when it comes to referring business to you. When you have an emotionally secure relationship with your client, your stress and fear of failure will be dramatically reduced.
James Gray Robinson, Esq. was a third generation trial attorney, specializing in family law, for 27 years in his native North Carolina up until 2004. Since then he has become an individual and business consultant who works with a wide range of people, professional organizations, and leading corporations. At the age of 64, Gray passed the Oregon bar exam and is once again a licensed attorney. www.JamesGrayRobinson.com