Which (despite my holiday mood) did set me wondering whether this is something clients often want from lawyers back in the UK - and whether it’s a quality that a good lawyer should have?
As a family lawyer, I deal with individuals at what can often be one of the most difficult times of their lives. And (unfortunately) I have seen firsthand the difficulties caused by overly aggressive letters from solicitors on the other side of a case. A very aggressive approach not only often causes additional hurt in an already stressful situation, but, in my view, is often ineffective - it can polarise individuals rather than move matters towards a resolution. Inflammatory language in correspondence is firmly discouraged by Resolution (the English association of family lawyers), and there’s good reason for that.
So what qualities should a client look for in their lawyer? I’d suggest good listening! It’s difficult to act properly for a client without fully understanding what that person wants to achieve. Asking your client intelligent questions can be as important as giving intelligent answers. Neither is dispensible. That’s one reason why I will often ask new clients where they want to be in a year’s time. It’s a helpful way of re-framing what their objectives actually are – not just in the next month or so, but in the longer-term. If it’s possible, do they want to have an ongoing amicable relationship with their spouse? Do they hope to stay in their current home, or be somewhere entirely different? Do they see themselves in work, or not? All of this will inform how we go about trying to resolve matters.
Next, I would suggest that a firm approach is often needed. The boundary between this, and something overly aggressive, can be difficult – and this is where lawyers quite easily get it wrong, including me. But taking a non-inflammatory approach doesn’t mean that you don’t fight your client’s corner, or take decisive action on their behalf.
Most clients are quite happy for lawyers to be firm with the other party in a case, but are perhaps less happy when their own lawyer is firm with them. But in my view, this is a quality that is needed in a good lawyer. There is no point in telling one of my clients that he or she has a great case and is going to win if that’s not true! Sometimes, I need to tell clients that the way they want to pursue their case is unlikely to get the result they want. That can be hard news to hear, and that’s one reason why it’s important to have a lawyer whose advice you trust.
So what qualities should you look for in a family lawyer? Aggressiveness - no. Listening, and standing firm when you need to – yes. Despite what the billboards say!