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Q: I am a psychologist and I've been reading the material on your website. I know that you are mostly addressing lawyers, but I think psychologists who work with divorcing people need to know this stuff too. Anyway, my question is how I can find the names of lawyers to refer clients to. I get asked a lot, but I never know where to look or how to tell who is good. Any suggestions?

A: While we are addressing lawyers most of the time, we agree that the information we discuss is relevant to every type of divorce professional. Thanks for your support. There are several sources to consider in finding family lawyers in your area. The best way to find lawyers to whom you can refer and the only way to determine that you want to refer to specific individuals is to meet lawyers in your geographical area. Developing a network of referral sources is best done through recommendations by colleagues followed by personal meetings. Watch also for networking opportunities that bring together family lawyers and mental health professionals at meetings or conferences. Psychological associations and family law organizations will sometimes offer such meetings, as will GAL associations, the AFCC, and similar groups. It might be a good idea to contact your own professional organization and suggest such joint networking.

Q. I'm not sure I understand what "divorce coaching" is. Is it like therapy? Can you explain?

A: Your question prompted me to write a brief piece explaining the concept more fully, including how it can benefit both the client and the attorney. Click here to read it.

Q. Any advice on client management that will help more with my collectibles?

A: Absolutely. There are a few simple rules that can go a long way:

  1. Manage client expectations. One of the most important reasons clients don't pay is their disappointment in the lawyer for failing to "deliver." Often that disappointment is due to the client's misguided expectations of what the lawyer can do, abetted by the lawyer's failure to track and address those expectations. Always ask yourself what the client's expectations are, note when they seem off the mark, and talk about them.

  2. Bill regularly. Simple enough advice, but it is surprising how many lawyers don't. When you are representing a highly emotional client, structure and predictability are essential in keeping the emotions tamped down and the client focused. Regular billing is a very important ingredient. If it is less regular and especially if you allow the receivables to run up between billings, you run the risk of inflaming the client.

  3. Never accede to "special" requests. The client who insists on meeting with you at off hours or in a different location, or the client who needs a different billing policy than your regular one may be a client who is going to be problematic. Simply put, someone who sees himself as special... sees himself as special! This includes when it comes time to pay.

For more information on client management, click on the article, "Client Reactions to Legal Fees: Meanings and Management" More detailed information is contained in my book, The Family Lawyer's Guide to Building Successful Client Relationships, published by the ABA Family Law Section.

Q: How do I get clients to go to therapy when they are resistant to the suggestion?

A: It requires patience and repeated suggestion sometimes, but the important thing is to make the recommendation. Some lawyers are hesitant to do so for fear that they will antagonize clients. The fact is that once a successful contact with a therapist has taken place, the client feels more grounded and appreciative of the referral. Besides, I wouldn't want to be a lawyer trying to work with a highly upset client who is not in therapy. Try the following steps for a more successful referral:

  1. Offer to make the first contact with the therapist yourself. This extra little effort on your part makes it harder for the client to refuse.

  2. Next let the client know the therapist is expecting his or her call. Now there are two professionals already engaged, and again the client is drawn a bit more into it.

  3. Don't be afraid to make the suggestion more forcefully if you have discussed it several times and the client has not followed through. Again, it tends to settle clients once they've done it.

It's probably a good idea to have a few therapists you are comfortable referring to. That way you will have better luck finding one available and you can give the client more than one name if you prefer. When possible, try to hook up with mental health professionals who are familiar with the legal process and the psychology of divorce.

Q: I find that one of the most difficult things to do during settlement negotiations is to get my own clients to agree to reasonable terms that we previously worked out. Instead they get all upset and often want to change things. Do others experience this? What do I do?

A: It is often helpful to step back a bit and think of your client as another party with whom you have to reach an agreement. From that perspective think of the strategies and negotiation techniques you will need. The advantage in this case is that you will have been working with the client for awhile and will know something about his motivations, expectations, and how his emotions interact with legal demands. This in turn enables you to thoughtfully select your questions and suggestions to enhance the client's receptivity.

As to whether others also experience this difficulty, please note that I will be participating on a panel on settlement agreements at the ABA Family Law Section meetings in Vancouver this October. Given that I was invited to speak about exactly the question you raised, I would say no, you are not alone in having this difficulty.

Q: How do I contact Dr. Portnoy about speaking to my organization? What is the cost?

A: For speaking engagements, workshops and institutes, and consultations to individuals and firms, please click on the "contact" icon and you can reach us by any of the means provided there: mail, email, telephone, or fax. Fee structures for all services are available on request. We can individualize most services to fit your needs or those of your organization.

Q: Who do most family lawyers find to be the most difficult clients?

A: Probably personality disordered clients, especially those on the borderline or narcissistic end of things. But who the problem clients are also depends on who the lawyer is. It's a question of tolerance and best match. One of the important things for lawyers to sort out is what their own styles are and the clients they can work with more easily vs. those who will require more effort (or whom they don't want to work with at all). It doesn't mean you have to forego large numbers of clients. It may inform you about how to use different parts of your interviewing skills with different types of clients.

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