April 12, 2016

Choosing a Professional: Should Their Values Matter?


From my point of view, choosing a professional is the most important part of your divorce process because they are the lens through which your experience is processed. If they say the sky is falling, you’re going to experience the sky is falling; whereas, in the same circumstances, other professionals might say that challenges have arisen but there is a way to empathize and respond with surety rather than fear. Therefore, do not choose your professional lightly as they will influence the very heart of your divorce story and experience. Nonetheless, there is no ultimately right or wrong answer as to whether a professional’s values should matter because only you know what is the right approach for you, and just the simple act of asking the question, rather than finding a definitive answer, might enrich your choosing process.

After over a decade of observing and interacting with hundreds of family law professionals and the work product that trails in their wake, the following questions may serve you in evaluating your potential professionals’ values which might lead you towards professionals who are more likely to facilitate the kind of divorce experience you want:

  • Are they a person who is at the core money-driven or purpose-driven?
    • Consider asking this question outright or evaluate how they treat you and how their office interacts with you; ask yourself: will their services be more likely to bring out the best in me during these trying times or not?
    • Every colleague I have a close professional relationship is a purpose-driven person; they approach their professional practice as a craft, one in which they are constantly honing the arts of listening, self-awareness, compassion, and empathy
  • Do they see clients as equals in a difficult situation to whom they can provide guidance or do they see clients as victims who need protecting?
    • Consider asking the question outright, though remember their answer could be more nuanced than a simple yes or no
    • For instance, if one of a potential client’s first questions to me is: “Will you protect me?” I heartily and sincerely answer, “Yes,” and then follow up by explaining that I approach my professional relationship with clients as one of empowerment, education, and guidance; I think potential clients who ask this question as being understandably scared and under stress and that the deeper elements of their question are, “Will I be safe? Will you go to great lengths to ensure I make good decisions for myself? Will you care about the effect an outcome has on me?” and when I answer yes, I’m answering yes to all of those deeper elements, too
    • Keep in mind, professionals who see the divorce process as a battle more often than not cast themselves as the hero to your duke- or dame-in-distress, resting their self-image on thinking of you as child-like and unable to make your own assessments and choices
  • Are they running more of a huge-practice divorce-mill or are they more like an artisan craftsman?
    • At a divorce-mill law firm you are more likely to end up treated like a number and ATM machine or, best-case scenario, managed into their pre-set way of doing things
    • Big client rosters, minimum billing requirements, and high pressure cannot help but erode your professional’s ability to see you as completely new person with a completely unique set of needs which can hamper out-of-the-box problem-solving and providing personalized care
  • Lastly, does the professional fan any flames you might have of anger or bitterness?
    • Consider evaluating whether they align with you, which means they take everything you say as gospel; you may want to consider this a huge red flag
      • Alignment is a mental-health term which means the professional is prone to taking on their clients’ life view, and sometimes even stress-level, and hence loses the ability to be an anchor, a translator, or a grounding influence, as needed
    • When a client tells me his or her story I listen deeply and with rapt curiosity as I must understand it well to serve them well; but I also know that other people involved—their spouse, their spouse’s professional, additional professionals—might have a slightly different version of the story, and to serve my client I need to stay open to listening to everyone involved

She is even-handed, neutral, and unbiased in her counsel.

Unmani chose to practice family law and dedicates herself to resolving disputes with equanimity, respecting the emotional needs and wishes of each party at the table.  She is even-handed, neutral, and unbiased in her counsel. She also provided appropriate referrals to additional professionals. If you choose mediation – (the only sane way) – to complete your divorce from your once beloved, inviting Unmani Saraswati to facilitate is a brilliant choice.

- Mark S.
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