Dealing with obsessed clients, empathizing with all clients, and getting to zero limits
In the past, when people asked me if I did family law, I sometimes would respond that I am more than happy for other lawyers to have to deal with levels of obsession among their clients that apparently are much higher than among criminal defense clients. Underlining this view is the day I waited to argue a simple motion in court, and witnessed a soon-to-be divorced husband and wife bickering in full voice at each other from counsel table, with their lawyers next to them and the judge on the bench.
Had I stepped back more from such bickering, I would have asked myself what types of dynamics and pain had led to this soon-to-be-divorced couple’s courtroom bickering, and what types of dynamics had taken place between the lawyers and their clients for the lawyers not to have had better fortune in convincing their clients to stop bickering in front of the judge and for the clients not to have placed more confidence in their lawyers so as not to have bickered.
Obsessed clients can be found throughout the practice of litigation. Except for government litigants, and wealthy corporations and individuals for whom legal fees are drops in the bucket and for whom litigation is a way to increase wealth without risk of losing too much wealth, remaining litigants are going to include many who are obsessed about their cases.
How can a lawyer enjoy the practice of law if s/he has a whole bunch of heavily obsessed clients? Fortunately for me, most of my clients do not act overly-obsessed with their cases. They have chosen me to fight on their behalf, and most realize that I can fight the most effectively for them when we work and move forward together, rather than getting stuck at square one again and again.
Perhaps criminal defense lends itself to less obsession among clients than with discrimination plaintiffs, injury plaintiffs, family law clients, and small business owners at risk of losing their livelihoods. However, once a lawyer decides to take a client, the lawyer should drop the heavily-obsessed client only as a last resort, and instead try to find a way to work with the client successfully.
Perhaps some lawyers prefer non-litigation work and corporate litigation for the very reason that they stay further away from human drama in the process, other than any drama of the pressure of their employers and clients to perform well.
I accept the human drama aspect of my work as an essential part of my criminal defense path, and my welcoming finding calm in the eye of the storm.
I have grown tremendously by fighting for criminal defendants, and have learned that the level of calm or not in my clients is sometimes a partial reflection of their confidence in me, not only in my abilities but in my empathy for them and in my own drive to get good results for them.
Whenever I feel that a client is being overly obsessed or difficult with me (e.g., ranting and raving without seeming to care about my own reaction to their rants and raves; seemingly sending me on a wild goose chase; and repeatedly starting from square one in discussing their cases), at my best, I include looking inward and do the following, most of which are vital to working with all clients, including those who already are on the balanced road:
– I reflect on the extent to which my client’s behavior is a reflection of what is going on inside of me, or what my client perceives is going on inside of me.
– I try to reverse roles with my client to see, feel and experience what is going on inside of my client, and then come back to myself and use what I have learned in the process, returning in the future from experiencing situations from my client’s vantage point.
– I make the time to have patience with my client and to help me and my client as a team find a solution to my client’s feeling of imbalance, beyond merely being fully prepared with my part of the litigation process. Before seeking a solution, I listen deeply and actively to my client, and often take off my lawyer hat and put on my just-human hat to bathe both me and my client in humanity, and for my client to be able to be more open to me in talking to me as a human rather than feeling intimidated or otherwise blocked in talking to me as a lawyer.
-As I work with my clients, I do my best to listen deeply and actively, not to put up barriers to communicating, to encourage positive brainstorming as we work towards victory, and to seek ways to transform negative energy to positive energy.
To deal with my client as human-to-human rather than as lawyer-to-lawyer, sometimes it makes sense to get out of my office with my client for something as simple as taking a walk, and to proverbially get out of my suit and tie sometimes by doing things as simple as sharing some personal anecdotes and jokes with each other, and learning more about who my client is as a human, where she has come from, where s/he is now in life, and what his or her dreams are.
– I direct myself to my own center of calm, balance, and zero, both to enable me to more productively help my client, and for my client to feed off of such positive vibrations.
– I ask what my mentors Steve Rench and Sunwolf would do in such situations, visualizing and feeling their seemingly boundless positive energy.
– I sometimes arrange a psychodrama or other group workshop session with my client to help us move closer to victory in their case, to help me do so, and to help my relationship with my client.
As I further explored three weeks ago in blog form, criminal defense can be a healing art. I fully agree that before one can apply a healing art, one needs first to work on oneself. In working with and for clients, at my best I keep doing my best to reach zero limits, and, before even starting a conversation with a client or stepping foot into the courthouse, I visualize and internalize every person (including judges, jurors, prosecutors, courthouse personnel and witnesses) and inanimate objects that I deal with as being devoid of negative energy and having positive energy. When I do that, my client and other people have less reason to see me as a threat or obstacle (of course I want my opponents to see me as a threat in terms of motivating them to accept my settlement proposals), and can be more open to listening to me, working with me, and being persuaded by me.