We each have our own set of ideals, and what I consider to be the perfect client may not be true for another attorney, but generally here are some qualities that most of my clients tend to possess, which makes for a good working relationship:
1. Respectful of boundaries– these clients understand that there are other cases that also require my attention, and they do not expect a return phone call within 10 minutes. They do not leave 10 messages in one day or bombard me with 20 emails at a time. They understand that a true emergency requires one to call 911, and they are not trying to reach me between the hours of 6pm and 8am.
2. Timely payments– none of us like to work for free, and having to help people through stressful/traumatic events in their lives is not easy. Financing a person’s divorce is not the responsibility of a divorce attorney.
3. Follows advice– nothing is more frustrating for me than giving a client excellent advice and watching them completely ignore it. I would be a very rich person if I would have just collected $10 from each client that later told me, “you were right, I should not have done that.”
4. Seeks appropriate help– some clients are so overwhelmed with emotions that they cannot focus on the crisis at hand. When clients don’t return my calls, don’t respond to emails, and don’t do what they are supposed to in a timely manner, I am very limited in my ability to help them. When clients cannot control their anger and blow up at me, I politely hang up. These people need to get professional help so that I can help them, otherwise it may be necessary to terminate the attorney-client relationship.
5. Sees the bigger picture– I often tell people they need to pick their battles and learn to let go of some things. A client that wants to turn every argument into World War III and cannot see beyond his/her own needs or desires is not going to appreciate my philosophy. Luckily at this point in my career, it has become mostly a self-selective process, such that clients seek me out because of my reputation for promoting amicable settlements either through mediation, Collaborative Divorce or a respectfully negotiated agreement.
My best clients trust me, respect my judgment, and appreciate the hard work and honest advice that I provide to them. It is a very intimate relationship, where I learn all about a person’s life– how they grew up, why they fell in love, the issues in the marriage, how they fell out of love, all issues of addiction, mental health problems, phobias, etc. Unlike most of my peers, I am quite open about the fact that I have been through the divorce process myself and that I share joint custody of my son. I understand the pain my clients are going through because I have lived it, and this helps me normalize the process for them.
The perfect divorce client understands that the divorce is an unpleasant setback in life, but finds a way to keep things in perspective and persevere. So many of my clients have told me that they are so glad they met me, they just regret the circumstances under which we met. I too believe it is unfortunate that they have to come to me in a time of such great loss, but I also feel quite privileged. Their confidence in my abilities is an amazing compliment, and it is an honor to see their human spirit triumph at the end of our journey together.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.