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Does Your Attorney Fit Your Particular Genotype? Part II

Rachel Alexander Aug. 22, 2018

{4:12 minutes to read} In my last blog [Does Your Attorney Fit Your Particular Genotype? Part I], I looked at the importance of a “good fit” between attorney and client. In this follow-up, we take a look at a particular case study that benefited from a “good fit.”

Very recently, a client, let’s call her Jane, came to me for a second opinion. She had been working with several attorneys in a reputable firm for a good length of time. Jane’s experience, however, was that of inadequate or distrustful attachment.

In her case, certain financial issues had created a breakdown. In particular, one marital asset was unusual and complex. It was both difficult to conceptualize and impossible to value. Jane had a lot of questions. She needed a fuller understanding of this asset before she could confidently enter into any agreement. Until this was accomplished she could not move forward with settlement.

Jane’s attorney needed to acknowledge and respond to this deep need to fully discern the particulars, and needed to facilitate this without shaming, overpowering, or pressuring Jane to bypass this in order to bring the matter to speedier resolution.

In psychology there is something called “process skipping” — I (perhaps incorrectly) understand this as the shortcutting of a necessary step in one’s fundamental process for the purpose of getting to the finish line faster, cheaper, etc. The problem with process skipping is that it deprives the individual of some of the distance they have to traverse in order to get to terra firma.

Clients should be encouraged to take the lead in expressing their preferred method of processing. For example, some clients might need the reassurance of slowing down with a particular point, backing up when something isn’t being grasped, while another client might need a streamlined, athletic approach to carry them through.

This might be understood not merely as idiosyncrasy, but as what each person needs in order to adjust, organize and make sense of difficult and important choices. In fact, we might say that we each have our own way of growing forward. When attorneys can responsively mirror the communication styles of our clients, we can offer a deeper form of support as we accompany them through their process.

In Jane’s case, we responded to her need by including the forensic expert in a mediation so that information could be exchanged openly and immediately. The attorney took on the active role of insisting on simplification, explanations and re-explanations, reframed things into the vernacular, always checking whether she, the attorney, understood, as well as checking to be sure it was clear to the client. The attorney took on this role not only to get elbow-deep into the material herself, but to alleviate the client from her prior, discomforting role, of having to repeatedly assert her lack of understanding. The client could both have her questions answered and her need for mastery acknowledged. She could have this while also feeling sheltered by her advocate. This process, though it took several hours, was crucial in moving resolution forward.

Whatever a client prefers is valid. The more specific the client is about what is most important in their own attorney-client relationship, the more likely they are to find the best attorney for them. This can make the difference in how a client abides and later carries (or sets down) the whole experience of their divorce.