How to Keep Divorce Clients Happy

The divorce process can be slow-moving, frustrating, expensive, and filled with disappointment for family law clients. Pile onto that contention with their soon-to-be-ex, and you may find yourself with an anxious, angry client on your hands. But how much of that anger is justified or necessary?

Well, that depends. How good are you at turning the lens on yourself? Too often, as family law attorneys, we become so consumed with filings and deadlines and going through the mechanics of a divorce that we neglect to fully address our clients’ emotional needs, namely those rooted in fear and uncertainty, two emotions that can breed unhappiness, especially about what will happen after the divorce.

To lawyer and lawyer well, to attract clients and then keep them, and to get referrals as a result of a job well done, we first need to understand what it is that makes a particular family lawyer the one clients want to retain. In my experience as a law firm owner, much of that involves the practitioner’s reputation for keeping clients happy. And by happy, I mean secure enough to sleep well at night, even during the process, because they know their lawyer is addressing their needs — all of them.

So what are clients looking for from their family law attorney, and what is required to keep a family law client, especially divorce clients, happy? Read on.

Knowledge (about more than just family law)

There are many knowledgeable divorce and family lawyers among us. Those skilled at using caselaw to turn a statute on its head. Those who can write an exceptional memorandum. And those who are gifted orators. I have incredible respect for many of my peers’ legal prowess. Indeed, there are many of us out there and, consequently, many divorce lawyers for potential new clients to choose from. So how can we present ourselves in such a way that clients can decide between us?

After years of family law practice and experience as a divorce client myself, what I understand distinguishes one family law attorney from the next is our knowledge of divorce beyond the letter of the law. In other words, the recognition that the divorce process doesn’t end with a divorce decree and that our clients’ success post-divorce depends very much on how well we prepare them to be divorced.

The first step in preparing divorce clients for the future is to help them overcome any fear they may have about their future. The best way to do this is through education, specifically by providing them with resources about how to step by step create the life they envision post-divorce and by offering them referrals we personally vet, such as certified divorce financial analysts, mental health professionals, support groups, and mediators, to support them during the divorce process and beyond it. This collection of tools and people is not only a safety net but the building blocks of a strong foundation.

Attention

There is no substitute for individual attention, and during a difficult life change such as divorce, clients are in need of a lot of it. Of course, the realities of legal life exist. There are only so many hours in the day, and we often have other clients to attend to as well as personal lives. Not to mention the actual rigors of practicing law — the writing, the researching, the preparing.

Nonetheless, our clients deserve our best and the best of us. The solution? Responsiveness. Even if it is a fast acknowledgment that you received an email or voicemail or taking a few extra minutes to hop on a call and provide reassurance, a little communication can go a long way.

No one, not even us, like when we are met with radio silence. It makes us wonder if our communication was received and does little to make us feel seen and heard, which is human nature to want. This is all the more reason to build with your clients …

Rapport

To attain and retain clients, we need to cultivate strong interpersonal relationships. Our clients are people like us who just so happen to be going through a difficult time. None of us are immune to that.

So don’t be afraid to learn about who your clients are, what they stand for, and how they like to spend a Saturday in the summer. Not only are you placing yourself in a position to bond over your commonalities, but you are also positioning yourself to understand what makes your clients tick.

The more you are able to get inside their heads, the better you will be at helping them prioritize what matters to them most — in their divorce and, accordingly, in their life. Such knowledge can help you honestly communicate to them about their situation and the realities of it, allowing them to make truly informed decisions.

Honesty

Sometimes being honest means telling our clients not what they want to hear but what they need to hear. For instance, information about new developments in a case, such as the likelihood the marital home will need to be sold, may be difficult to deliver for us and difficult for the client to reconcile. Another area where conversations with clients become difficult — personal finances.

When you are invested in your clients’ lives post-divorce, honesty is one area where cannot compromise your standards. Having those truthful conversations, even though it may initially cause your client to become angry, distressed, or both, is, in reality, the biggest service you can offer them.

Delivery matters, too. A lot. It is helpful to put yourself in your clients’ shoes whenever having these tough talks. As family lawyers, it is certainly not the goal to become a sponge for our clients’ problems.

Having boundaries at work, especially when working in an emotionally charged area of law like family law, is critical. That said, your clients want to know you feel for them and that you understand, maybe even from your own experience. If so, it is OK to share some of your own stories if you are comfortable doing so.

Honesty builds trust between a lawyer and their client, regardless of your approach to being the bearer of bad news or the straight shooter. Not to mention, trust also builds …

Respect

As much as your clients want you to see them as real people, family lawyers would benefit from giving their clients a birdseye view of their humanity. Let’s face it; divorce lawyers get a bad rap. And often, it is well deserved.

Not surprisingly, stereotypes abound. Recall the late Ray Liotta’s epic performance as the aggressive divorce lawyer, Jay Moratta, in “Marriage Story,” as he counsels his client about creating “crazy” in the divorce. Pro tip: Don’t do this.

Amicable divorces can grow from the tone of the attorney-client relationship. Engaging in self-serving behavior under the guise that it is good for clients demonstrates a lack of respect for them, the institution of marriage, and everything else that comes with it, including and especially the co-parenting relationship, which is very much a determinant of post-divorce success for families. If you are standing in your clients’ way of civility in their divorce, you will not have happy clients.

Final thoughts …

Family law clients may come to us, their lawyers, uncertain about how the divorce process works, unsure of what they want, and very often fearful of what the future holds. Everything — the past, the present, and the future — is on the line for them. But one thing they are usually sure of is that the choices they make during their divorce will shape their post-divorce life in a fundamental way.

One of the most strategic choices for potential new clients is who they will pick to be their divorce attorney. When you get down to it, should it really be so hard to give them what they want?

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