Divorce can be complicated, confusing, and difficult to navigate, both for the client themselves and the divorce attorney. More often than not, divorce clients are already under a great deal of stress before they ever make the first contact with an attorney.
In divorce cases, it’s not uncommon for a client to be overly emotional, angry, or stubborn. After all, chances are they’re at their lowest point when they enter their attorney’s office.
Yet, regardless of how difficult the client is, learning to handle them and their case comes with the territory of being a divorce attorney. Whether you’ve experienced a difficult client recently or are just preparing for the future, the following methods could come in handy in the future.
Best Ways to Handle Difficult Divorce Clients
No matter how challenging a client may be, it’s important to remain as calm, compassionate, and understanding as possible when they’re in the office or on the phone with you. Here are the best ways to do this.
Identify the cause of the client’s concerns
Figuring out what type of client you have and what’s making things so difficult will go a long way in making it easier to handle their case.
There are all sorts of divorce clients. Some are impatient and want things done yesterday. Others are indecisive, which can drag out the case. Then, there are clients who want to be involved in every part of the process. Some clients may even try to take control of the case, thinking they know a better method or are more knowledgeable than their attorney.
Still other divorce clients are reluctant to share information or key details their attorney needs for their case. If they’re not reluctant, they may take their time in providing information, which can also slow things down. Some divorce clients may also involve their relatives or close friends in their case, which can complicate things further when it comes to timelines and attorney fees.
Since there are so many different types of difficult divorce clients, one solution doesn’t fit all. Figuring out what’s going on with the client – and why – can make the divorce case that much easier.
While it’s never a good idea to get emotionally invested in a client, a little bit of empathy goes a long way to helping them feel heard or important. Take a moment to acknowledge where they’re coming from and show them you understand. Don’t ignore a client’s concerns for the sake of hurrying the case along.
Communicate and own up to mistakes
Even attorneys make mistakes now and again. They may forget to send an important document or they may not inform their client about a new development in their case. Even if the mistake is small, it could still cause the client to become agitated or doubt your skills as an attorney.
Own up to and apologize for any mistakes you’ve made as soon as possible. If necessary, gently remind the client that this was a one-time thing and it won’t happen again. Depending on the client, they may easily accept this and move on.
Set boundaries and realistic expectations
Many divorce clients, including those who want to micromanage everything or get off track easily, benefit from having some boundaries. As gently as possible, let them know what’s okay and what isn’t.
Most clients come with existing expectations or desires. These might include things like how long the divorce process will take, the divorce terms, or attorney costs. Even the most easygoing client could become agitated if their attorney doesn’t meet their expectations.
Let the client know what they can expect from the get-go to help prevent them from becoming difficult. Be prepared to manage their expectations and demands throughout the case.
Sometimes, a divorce client wants something that just isn’t in the cards. However, telling them no outright doesn’t often go over well. Instead, use some negotiation tactics. If you must tell them no, try to soften it with an alternative solution or a realistic compromise.
Difficult clients may not want to negotiate, and they certainly aren’t likely to accept rejection or bad news. Yet, some of these things are unavoidable during a divorce case. Make sure the client knows what you can and can’t do for them, but try to emphasize the positive.
Stay focused on the goal
Since many divorce cases take months or even longer to finalize, it’s not surprising that a client may get off track at some point or another. Keep them focused on the end goal or result whenever it looks like they’re becoming impatient or upset about things taking too long. For clients who are easily sidetracked, reminding them of the timeline and process can help ensure everyone stays productive throughout the case.
Get ahead of the situation
It’s not always easy to get – or stay – ahead of a challenging situation, but there are usually triggers or warning signs that things are becoming worse. For example, a client may suddenly become unresponsive or start lashing out without apparent reason. They may start to question your capabilities as their attorney or try to push their boundaries.
Monitor the client’s habits and behaviors. That way, it will be easier to determine when things are starting to take a turn for the worse and why. If there’s a simple reason, determining what it is can help prevent things from escalating. Try to de-escalate these situations as early as possible.
Ask for help
Sometimes speaking with a more experienced colleague can help with managing difficult divorce clients. Other attorneys may provide the necessary insight you need to help smooth things over with your client and keep the case moving along.
Regardless of why the divorce client is being difficult, it’s ultimately up to the attorney to assess the situation and try to resolve things as calmly and efficiently as possible. Determine what’s causing the client’s aggravation and use de-escalation or negotiation techniques to help resolve the situation.
Establish boundaries and make sure the client is aware of what they can expect from working with you early on. Throughout any interaction with them, try to get on their level and maintain clear communication. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask another Birmingham divorce lawyer for insight or advice on particularly challenging cases.
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