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Four Key Strategies for Managing Stress as a Family Law Professional

April 15, 2016

Family law and litigation not only takes its toll on parents and children, but  on the very lawyers who practice it too. Theirs is a particularly stressful job. Even if winning a case, when the client gets the bill there is often little customer appreciation. Win or lose, the litigation lawyer is always concerned about a dispute over the cost and a complaint to the regulatory body.  Lawyers generally have a higher rate of stress induced mental health issues (depression and anxiety) and are at greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse. They are also less likely to see supportive services for fear of being considered weak in a profession that requires them to be aggressive and within the legal field, family law is perhaps the most stressful.

On that basis, I was asked to provide a workshop to a family law firm employing 10 to 15 family law lawyers. Included in the workshop were the administrative staff who often serve as the repository for the lawyers’ distress.  The workshop was titled, “Building Professional Resilience: The Key to Coping as Family Law Professionals“.

In anticipation of the workshop, staff were asked to email me their response to two questions: What causes you stress and how do you cope?

Of some 20-25 staff overall, there was a response rate of 50% which is remarkably high. Therein the replies mirrored what is reported in the social science research which only made this group of people normal in the context of their profession. Interestingly though, there were also several references to management that were remarkably positive, indicating a very supportive environment. Their supportive environment is also evidenced by the fact that I was brought in to address these issues.

In terms of coping strategies, I discussed the concepts of contracting, debriefing, self-care and boundaries.

Contracting has to do with setting reasonable and appropriate client expectations right from the beginning. While most lawyers do discuss what the client can or should expect, in my experience, rarely does the lawyer actually check in with the client in terms of what is heard. I offered strategies to improve the effectiveness of this contracting stage and client engagement including having the client recite back what was heard to confirm they received the information.

Debriefing has to do with sitting back after a meeting or at least upon case completion and examining: how things went; how one performed; and what one could have done differently along the way. Debriefing can even take place with the client, but at least with one or more peers. The debriefing allows for self examination and provides for the benefit of collegial input and support and minimizes the isolation often experienced by the family law lawyer. Clearly one needs a safe and supportive environment where this is encouraged.

Self-care is a broad concept and includes everything from learning to manage stress with pro-social and healthy strategies to having one’s own relationships in order. It also includes finding some balance in one’s life between work related and non-work related activities. As you work, so too should you play.

Boundaries can be as difficult for many as it can be elusive. Boundaries is about recognizing and separating one’s own issues and responsibilities from others. It is also about the ability to reasonably assert limits and expectations on what others may hold for you so that you are not overwhelmed with tasks or responsibility beyond your role or ability to manage.

This was another enjoyable meeting and workshop. The participants were remarkably candid which only supported the learning. This was an interesting group to work with as clearly they sought to perform well on behalf of their clients and were quite open to seeking those strategies that in turn would help them be more effective in their role.

Are you a family law lawyer? Is your firm supportive? Do you and your colleagues manage stress well? Could you or your firm benefit from counseling or training in these matters? It would be my pleasure to be of service.

Know someone who might benefit from this information? Please scroll down and share this article. To view my full list of peacemaking strategies to facilitate settlement, check this out.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships

One Comment
  1. Pendael permalink

    the information given is helpful

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