Monday, February 13, 2017

Why are clients willing to pay for coaching during divorce litigation? Because feelings really do matter to our clients

"You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free..." John 8:32

For more than 35 years now, since my third year in law school as a clerk in a boutique family law firm, I have had the privilege of listening to family law litigants tell me their stories. Most are disturbing and sad, tragic for the children involved, some are funny, and all involve the clients expressing their deepest desire to "tell their story" in their own way, and have someone really understand what they have experienced and what they fear.

As a pioneer and innovator in this unique niche in the litigation consulting industry, I frequently have to help family lawyers figure out a way to explain the value of my services to their clients. As litigants have become more and more cost conscious, lawyers have become more and more reluctant to talk to their clients about how a talented and experienced coach and consultant could help them and their families navigate a very trying and expensive process. This reluctance is a combination of prudent business and professional judgement and of a failure to understand the depth of the emotional strains faced by their clients who feel victimized by a system they don't understand and can't control. Some of my more empathic lawyer friends have truthfully told me they call me because they "really don't want to listen to that ..." and they know I will not only listen and help the client, but then provide them with legally relevant information that will help them win victories for their clients.

As a shrink who operates in a world full of trial attorneys, I have taken a fair amount of mostly good-natured ribbing about being interested in our client's' "feelings".  (To be honest, there are times when the attorney part of me doesn't care much about those feelings either.)  Now, advances in brain imaging and monitoring have provided the scientific foundation for why "feelings matter" to our clients. The research exposed participants to a very confusing and stressful set of unfamiliar circumstances (sounds like family law litigation to me-just saying). The imaging and monitoring technology showed a brain clearly in chaos: rapid, spiking EEG waveforms, and an overall chaotic pattern of brain over-activity (recognize any clients yet?). Only one intervention was required to completely change the brain wave patterns to normal, rhythmic, stable, modulated, and calm: correctly labeling the "feeling" being experienced. Even I was impressed with the speed and the totality of the measured and experienced effect. 

Who knew? I do now, and so  do you. Labeling feelings helps the brain organize itself. Knowing the truth about what the feeling is (an accurate label) allows the brain to change the way it functions and return to normal, and it happens fast!

The other value that skilled coaching brings to family law litigants (and their lawyers) is the developing the ability to perform relevant and critical litigation tasks at a high level of skill.  Lawyers seldom remember that the most widely experienced fear for 2/3 of our clients is: fear of public speaking (testifying). And as my clients have told me, this fear is magnified because they believe that if they fail to perform, they will lose their children (and that could actually happen).  

Teaching people the rules of evidence relevant to their testimony, the psychology of non-verbal persuasion in the courtroom for witnesses, cross examination and direct examination skills, and replacing fear with confidence provides clients with just the value that the credit card commercial claims: it's priceless.  

For parents in custody litigation, knowing they did their part in contributing to putting on a good case, even if they didn't get exactly what they wanted, provides peace of mind that eludes litigants who do poorly in a deposition or in court. More of my clients have wished aloud that I had been hired sooner than have complained about my fees or that I was hired at all (the ratio is about 1000 to 1--there's always one). 

As lawyers, even family lawyers, it's easy to ignore, minimize, or brush off those messy "feelings" that come with family conflict and the resulting chaos. Just remember, it's not the client's "will power" that needs adjustment, it's their brains.  There's help for that. 

Now you know the truth...Call me.


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