April 26, 2011
My Happiest Clients: A Road Less Traveled
I would like to be able to write that my most satisfied clients, the ones who expressed the highest level of happiness with their process and its outcome, were ones that I’d dealt with deeply, going every step of the way with them. But I can’t write that and be telling the truth. The happiest clients I’ve seen in my practice, who were able to laugh and hug at their last mediation session, after starting the mediation process polarized and being very angry with each other—well, they didn’t start in my office. They started with a family relations specialist—sometimes referred to as a divorce coach—who is a mental health professional trained in family dynamics and the underlying effects they have on family disputes like divorce and probate.
During their work with the other professionals, they did not meet with me; they didn’t ask me about the law, they didn’t want to know what their rights were when it came to their stuff. They spent many months having mediation appointments with their family relations specialist working through how they wanted to shape their future co-parenting relationship, how to respect the other person’s grief and life choices, how to integrate the new person they each where into their children’s story of their family, and practicing how to talk to one another as co-parents rather than as spouses.
Did they come to me, their mediator-attorney, then? Still no, as then they went to their financial specialist to gather all their financial data, examine it, develop options for potential settlement, and negotiate one scenario that worked for them both. This, too, took many months of mediation meetings with their financial specialist, during which time they did not even call my office or send me an email.
And last, but not least, they came to my office, the mediator-attorney piece ready to be dealt with. We reviewed their settlement terms and financial disclosure documents. We talked about how a few elements might have been dealt with differently in a traditional legal process, and they asked me to write up their agreement. The second time we met we reviewed the agreement and made some slight adjustments, and the third time we met they were signing their agreement and court paperwork finished with their mediation process.
I offer you this to consider: lawyers are quick to tell you that they’re essential to the resolution of family disputes, like divorce and probate, because the culmination of the process is an agreement with legal consequences. But I don’t think that view is centered on fostering a quality resolution of a family dispute, which can rarely be described as being dominated by purely legal issues. In contrast to a traditional lawyer’s view, I see my role as a mediator-attorney as an important one, yes, but hardly the professional that should automatically take center stage and then stay there. I make sure clients’ agreements are drafted with expertise which ensures their legal interests have been considered and memorialized; I communicate their agreements with the court so they never have to appear; I’m a resource to aid people in deciding if they’re going to get their best possible outcome in mediation or in a traditional legal process. But is a family dispute a situation where we want to have the legal professional take center stage? That’s up to you to decide.