“I don’t think her attorney has the same conversations with her that you and I have.”

April 23, 2024

“I don’t think her attorney has the same conversations with her that you and I have.”

I heard this from my client a few weeks ago. I didn’t think much of it at the time he said it – I’ve heard this comment before, many times in fact. Over the course of the last couple years, however, it seems that I’ve heard this comment even more often. That started me thinking, what conversations should a good family law attorney have with their client?

The hallmark of a great family law attorney is they tell their client what the client needs to know, not what the client wants to hear. The term “counselor at law” is extremely relevant to this area of law – an attorney has to guide the client through a myriad of moving parts in any given family law case. The single most important thing an attorney can do is give their client an honest, objective assessment of the client’s situation and keep the client’s focus on making the best business decisions possible.

So in practice, what does this look like?

  • It can mean bringing professionals in with different skill sets or backgrounds in finance, investments, real estate, tax, child development, mental health, and health/medical. Beware of the attorney who seems to be an expert in everything.

  • It means clarifying for the client their strengths (personal strengths and strengths of the case), as well as their weaknesses (personal weaknesses and weaknesses of the case) – and then directing the client to sources that will help them improve upon their weaknesses. Beware of the attorney who finds nothing that needs to be improved or corrected. Either they aren’t spotting the issues, or they are holding back in telling you.

  • It means setting realistic expectations for the client of what a judge can, and cannot do. A large part of this is realizing not only the procedural limitations of a judge, but also what I call the “net effect” – a judge and/or trial will not change who your spouse or child’s parent is. It will not make them more responsible, more communicative, more trustworthy, less controlling, less harsh, or less volatile. This conversation is extremely relevant in the context of timesharing and parental responsibility. Beware of the attorney who believes that litigation and judges “fix” family issues. Attorneys who have been practicing family law for a long time know this couldn’t be further from the truth.
  • It means fact-checking the client. Not in an aggressive, offensive or adversarial manner, but in a way that explains that even in the best of circumstances, people will have different perspectives on the same issue/event. A good attorney is going to drill down and explore how accurate the client’s perception of an issue is. A better attorney will not only spot the discrepancies, but coach their client in how to improve this skill. Beware of the attorney who accepts everything you say, no questions asked.

  • It means calling BS and having high standards, even when the other side doesn’t. Courts don’t look kindly upon excuses, and it’s important to not let excuses get in the way of the client’s progress, or their case’s progress. Litigation is extremely stressful and overwhelming for the vast majority of clients. Honest discussions of how to keep the client’s head above water and how to be best prepared for litigation are imperative. Good attorneys will offer systems, advice, and specific examples of how to keep up with the amount of work a family law matter requires. This doesn’t mean an attorney can’t empathize with the client over the lengthy to-do list for the client that litigation generates, it just means the attorney can’t let the client fall behind. Beware of the attorney that doesn’t keep you on your toes (and harass you from time to time).

The best attorneys have kind, but firm, direct conversations with their clients. They aren’t afraid of being fired or their clients not liking them. They put their client’s best interests first – always.


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