May 7, 2013

What Kind of Divorce Attorney Do You Want?

Categories: Collaborative LawDivorce
Everyone needs a little coachiing sometimes, like my granddaughter in her first soccer game.

This photo of my granddaughter getting some advice about soccer obviously shows more disparity in size than we see between collaborative attorney, but we can all empathize with her uncertainty about how to proceed and need for a coach.

If you’re contemplating a divorce or legal separation, you might benefit from exploring this question.  I’ve been reading Motivational Interviewing—Helping People Change by William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick and have been thinking about their discussion of helping styles.  (The book is intended for helping professionals, especially those working with addiction and other mental health issues.)

Miller and Rollnick place helping professionals on a continuum of communication styles from ”directing” to “guiding” to “following.”  These styles correlate with different types of divorce attorneys I’ve known.

The “directing” style describes the old-fashioned but not extinct lawyer who knew what was best for their clients, explained it to them, and then tried to get it for them.

The “following” style is only rarely seen in divorce attorneys; I see this style in an attorney who asks their client what they want and then works to get it for them.  In this case, the client may benefit from the attorney’s skill but has not received the benefit of a professional’s knowledge and experience.  Sometimes these attorneys are called ‘hired guns’; there is no discussion of whether the client’s wishes will actually get them what they want long-term.  I believe that clients want to hear an objective view on what they’re considering.

In the guiding style, a client chooses a guide or coach to help them move through unknown terrain and depends on their knowledge and experience as well as their skills, but keeps the ultimate decision-making power.  Collaborative attorneys don’t decide what their clients need but do act as guides/coaches and offer their knowledge and experience with the goal of achieving resolution of issues in a way that best serves both clients and the family as a whole.

I think of the client-attorney relationship as a partnership in which I contribute my education and experience to help my client think carefully about what’s best for themselves and the entire family in the long-term and then guide them through the process.

Mary Antonia WilmesABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mary Antonia Wilmes

Mary Antonia Wilmes’ career has been centered on families. She has been an attorney handling family law cases since 1985, has mediated family cases since 1993, and has handled collaborative cases since 2003. She is the mother of two and grandmother of six. Both Mary’s family and her clients continue to teach her how to best serve family members’ needs. Learn more about Collaborative Law also known as Collaborative Practice or Collaborative Divorce at our MN Institute website and at our international organization’s website.

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