Hobbling your own attorney

Posted Friday, August 21st, 2015 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Attorney-Client Relations, Not South Carolina Specific, Of Interest to Family Court Litigants, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys

Folks hire attorneys to accomplish their legal goals. Too often those same folks hobble their attorneys by failing to remedy counterproductive behavior. It may be human nature to blame one’s problems on outside factors but it is astounding how often family court litigants refuse to correct the behaviors that undermine their legal goals.

More than most other areas of law, family court litigants have the ability to change the outcome of their cases by changing their behavior during the litigation period. A wise attorney counsels clients on how they might change their behavior to improve their case. A wise client listens to that counsel. Doing so often reduces the fees needed to achieve successful results and increases the chances of successful results being achieved.

A litigation strategy predicated on documenting a client’s strengths is much less expensive than a strategy based on proving the other party’s weaknesses. A client’s strengths are typically easy to document: clients tend to be cooperative in developing evidence of their strengths. Documenting the other party’s flaws is harder and more expensive: opposing parties tend not to cooperate and most everyone tries to hide their problems. An attorney can be most effective and efficient when the client’s actions don’t undermine the client’s goals. A client with a serious drinking problem will find his or attorney “more productive” if that client stops drinking and gets treatment. A client with significant alimony exposure will find his or her attorney “more productive” if that client breaks off an extramarital relationship.

Encouraging a client to remedy problems that hinder his or her case can be difficult. Too often clients deny having such problems. Even when these clients acknowledge these problems their tendency is to minimize them. Finally, clients will often tell their attorney they are addressing these problems–cutting back on alcohol consumption; getting mental health treatment; ending an extramarital sexual relationship–without actually doing so. From their perspective, a nagging spouse or co-parent is what led them to family court: they don’t want a nagging attorney.

Possibly there is an ideal balance between pushing clients into remedying issues that undermine their goals and acting as though nothing these clients do is counterproductive to those goals. Likely the balance differs with each individual client. After 22 years of practicing family law I have yet to find that ideal balance and continue to struggle with every client whose behavior undermines his or her goals.

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