Posted By Kevin L. Cadora, Esq.
This article addresses client expectations during a family law matter and the attorney’s job and duty to set those expectations in a way that is practical and reasonable. All to often, clients come to attorneys relying upon what is portrayed in TV Lawyer dramas when the reality of family court is quite different. The fact of the matter is no attorney, no matter how experienced or how good, can predict the outcome of any given case and any attorney who guarantees a client an outcome should be avoided at all costs.
Attorneys who guarantee to take the other side for everything they have or to obtain a certain level or support or obtain a certain custody arrangement are merely selling a future that may or may not come true because the only one who has control over the outcome is the judge. Attorneys are not fortune tellers and should avoid coming off as such because so many factors are considered on any given family law issue so to guarantee anything will almost always result in an unhappy client. Clients should always be told that they have a 50/50 chance of getting what they want if a matter is taken to trial because those are the appropriate odds when giving the decision making power to a judge.
There is good news, however, in that achieving an outcome the client can live with can be achieved if one thing is present – both parties’ willingness to come to the table and settle the case between themselves with the assistance of competent counsel. Only when parties have a willingness to settle is there a guaranteed outcome because the parties, not the judge, dictates the outcome of the case.
The question then becomes how to reconcile the parties’ highly charged emotions with a common ground settlement. That is where experienced unbiased family law attorneys play an integral role in the resolution of the case. Experienced family law attorneys are objective and unemotional so as to provide sound legal advice to a client, which serves both sides into reaching an agreement. This is not to say family law attorneys lack compassion because good family law attorneys are driven by their compassion to help people through their family law matter. A good family law attorney can have compassion for a client while detaching from the emotions the client is feeling so the parties can reach a settlement.
There are, however, certain cases that cannot be settled in which case the only alternative is to litigate such as when one of the parties has a mental health problem, substance abuse problem, anger management issues or cases involving domestic violence. Notwithstanding, good family law attorneys with good client control can still work out various agreements that benefit everyone and reduce litigation costs.
In closing, clients must be weary of attorneys who make guarantees and promises because most of the time, the outcome is different than what the attorney predicted giving rise to unhappy clients. Therefore, setting client expectations at the very beginning of a case and guaranteeing nothing is the very foundation of a good attorney/client relationship and should be how every family law attorney should approach their cases.