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What To Do When Your Client Is Wrong

As I have written, we always want to represent the good guys. Our strategy always starts with a good guy approach. Representing the good guys is consistent with our MO. It is who we are known to be. We are honest and problem solving, not deceptive and problem creating. Judges know this. Opposing Counsels know this.

But sometimes we might find ourselves representing a client who, while they might not be a bad guy, is still wrong. Maybe their perception is wrong; maybe their conduct is wrong; maybe the way they are going about things is wrong or maybe the result they are seeking is wrong, but they are definitely on the wrong side of the case. They definitely need to be brought to the right side of the case to have any hope of a successful conclusion.

So what do you do when your client is in the wrong? How do you take a client who is certain to lose and change him, his disposition, his perception, his expectations, maybe even his conduct, to bring him around to being right?

Time is a great element of change. Time, along with a little water, forged the Grand Canyon. Obviously you don't have that much time in a family law case, but relative time can forge its own Grand Canyon to create needed family law change. When parties are in the heat of the moment, loaded for bear and ready to vent all their anger in court, a tremendous salve can be time, just the simple passage of time, and as a result, distance to let cooler heads prevail and perhaps even other interests take hold. A little time can create an opportunity for acceptance which can open space to resolve the case.

Another approach is helping your client get to a better place emotionally so that they can listen to their better angels. Perhaps they are looking for revenge right now, but this too shall pass. If you can help them reorganize their priorities, refocus on their goals, remember who they are when they aren't hurt, you can help move them to a far more productive, more peaceful place so that they can resolve the legal issues without getting retrenched in the emotional ones. They can get to a place of forgiveness which might go a long way toward resolving their case.

Sometimes, you can help your client reassess their unexamined drive to remain in relationship with the other party. For some, it seems that if you can't be in love, at least you can remain in relationship if you are in hate. Usually, people who are engaging in this behavior have no idea that they are stuck there. "Are you kidding me? I don't want to be in relationship with that SOB anymore! I hate him!" But when they realize that their conduct is stoking that relationship, keeping them hanging on and attached, they are shocked. Only when they realize what they are doing can they reform their conduct and move along to a successful outcome. A little understanding can go a long way.

Unfortunately, sometimes, you just can't help them. There will be no acceptance, forgiveness or understanding any time soon. Despite all your effort to help your client fix the problem that makes them wrong, that makes them destined to fail in court, you still can't stop the train wreck. Time doesn't help. Re-prioritizing doesn't help. Insight refuses to find its way into their consciousness. When that happens, the best you can do is get off the train before it wrecks and wish them a speedy recovery from the catastrophe soon to come.

So, you can take a wrong and make it right. A truly skilled family law attorney uses these tools and can navigate the legal, emotional, moral and ethical complexity that is family law. A truly skilled family law attorney can help a coach-able client re-calibrate to go from the wrong side of the case to the right side of a case, to go from failure to success, to go from war to peace.

Here's wishing all our clients peace.

Michael Manely

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