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A client said he was thinking about a divorce, but he wasn't sure.
"I'm confused because I still love my wife," he told the lawyer.
Sensitive to the client's feelings, the attorney asked what happened to their relationship. The straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak, was when the wife pinned the man against the garage wall with the family car.
True story, and yes, the lawyer recommended divorce -- and a restraining order. As fishermen say, sometimes you have to know when to cut bait.
Telling a client to take drastic legal measures is a risky business, especially when they aren't sure about it. But a good attorney gives an opinion, and that takes even better judgment.
In family law, lawyers sometimes become counselors-not-at-law. They become consolers, friends or shoulders to cry on. The relationship is something in between lawyer-client and lawyer-confidant.
That's when the line between personal and legal opinions must be very clear. Ethics rules set the boundaries on the potential conflicts.
Family practitioners can take a page from business lawyers, who more often give legal opinions in writing. It's the best way to keep thoughts and communcations clear.
Here are some pointers, especially when settling, to help clients make the tough calls:
For family law clients, hand-holding is often part of the legal process. You may have to walk them to the altar that sacrifices their marriage, and then help them cross the divide.
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