We are all familiar with the primary role of attorneys as portrayed in the media. This character is often depicted as the lawyer, armed with knowledge and well-suited, standing in front of a jury giving an impassioned argument on his or her client’s behalf. This attorney is wearing his “advocate” hat. The role of advocate is critical to a democratic society. However, this role isn’t always the role that will achieve the best result for a client.
Family Law clients are often best-served when the attorney wears his or her “counselor” hat.
You’ve probably heard judges refer to attorneys as “counselor,” but have you ever stopped to consider what that really means. Not to be confused with “counselors’ in the mental health field, attorneys are called upon as a matter of ethics and professionalism to educate their clients and to assist them in making the best decisions given their set of circumstances. There is no area of law where the calling to provide counsel is greater than in the area of family law.
Often clients arrive at their divorce attorneys’ office burdened with a tremendous amount of emotion: guilt, betrayal, fear, just to name a few. It doesn’t take a mental health professional to know that making important decisions when flooded with emotion can lead to decisions that one might regret later. This is where wise counsel comes to play.
An experienced family law attorney will work to discover the client’s real goals. Client’s stated goals are often to “destroy” the other side or to “take him for all he is worth.” Typically, their actual goals are very different. Their real concerns are more often to provide stability for the children and/or oneself during the transition or to be assured that there will be sufficient funds to provide for the same. Sometimes the goals are more specific, such as wanting to remain in a family home for a certain length of time.
Once these real goals are identified, it is the attorney/counselor’s role to remind the client of these goals when it comes time to make critical decisions. The client should be educated regarding how each decision will either help or hurt their efforts to achieve their real goals. At multiple points in family law cases, clients are called to make a decision whether to resolve an issue such as custody or support or to take the matter to a hearing. At each one of these points, the decision to move toward trial versus working out a resolution should be measured against the client’s actual goals.
The client should be challenged to consider the long-term affects on the children, the client and his/her ability to co-parent with the other party if a matter is taken to trial. Even if a client has the best evidence to support their position and the law is in their favor, the client could find himself winning the battle but losing the war if the long-term affects are detrimental to the children or to the client, himself. This is where the wise counsel of an attorney wearing his “counselor” hat becomes invaluable.
“A fool despises good counsel, but a wise man takes it to heart.” – Confucius