The following article was recently published in a major Bar Association newsletter, and offers a rare glimpse into the developing world of law and life coaching.
Stressed Clients Make for Stressed Lawyers: What to Do?
By Catherine Stuckart
Major stress accompanies major lawsuits for clients and, often enough, their lawyers. The win-lose model of litigation is inherently a stress-maker and worry-creator. Reducing client stress can help to provide relief for their attorneys as well.
In my experience as an appellate practitioner over several decades, clients often seek interactions with their lawyers beyond simply legal services. Some clients want to unburden themselves to an authority figure, for example, or perceive the attorney as a parental figure. Simple anxiety may drive some clients to desire frequent contact with their lawyers. We have all had the clients who call every day, and can become offended if their calls are not taken or promptly returned.
When these situations arise, the lawyers must then balance maintaining good attorney-client relationships against the demands on their time and consequent stress. Attorneys can refer the clients who seem to need it to therapy. However, this may be inappropriate for clients simply trying to deal with lawsuit stresses, and even add to the emotional burdens these clients are carrying. In addition, therapy still has a negative connotation for some clients, not to mention additional costs.
What alternatives to client-induced lawyer stress exist? What is appropriate for attorneys to suggest to their clients? Proper nutrition, sufficient sleep, daily exercise and use of social networks? These, I submit, extend far beyond the lawyer’s role. In addition, clients may be reluctant to implement suggestions which, in and of themselves, can be challenges requiring support networks people increasingly lack. Confidentiality can be an issue in client use of social networks like family and friends. Clients may also be dependent on work-related social networks, and then be reluctant to discuss sensitive legal issues with people connected to their jobs or businesses.
One relatively new way of dealing with client stress is to suggest life coaching. The dictionary defines a life coach as “an advisor who helps people make decisions, set and reach goals, or deal with problems.” Life coaches typically accomplish this through the use of skilled questioning to help the client find his/her answers, and, in a highly encouraging way, provide candid feedback and suggestions to the client. Life coaching is big business. One report estimates that, world-wide, it is a two billion-dollar industry – and the need is great. One study showed that two of every three Americans want help in dealing with their stress levels.
The use of life coaches has increased greatly over the last 20 years, and is widely accepted. Coaches can attend to the client’s reduction of stress, leaving attorneys free to attend to their client’s legal case. This in turn lessens stress on their lawyers.
Coach Deborah Brown-Volkman has this to say about such stress: “As a veteran career coach since 1998, I have worked with many lawyers and people in litigation. In my experience, effective coaching, with its combination of action-oriented feedback and homework, helps people reduce stress significantly.”
BAEC members are familiar with Buffalo attorney Daniel Lukasik, who has this to say about legal clients: “When people have been injured, they experience high levels of stress. There are three factors involved in the stress. First, they go from working to not working, and worry about their families. Second, they go through medical treatment and pain. Third, injured people have often not been involved in lawsuits before. They need people to guide them through that long and uncertain process. I think a life coach would be a real help.”
Life coaches are widely available locally, as a search on Google quickly shows. However, according to Lisa Pisano, life coach and Director of Admissions at Coach Training Alliance (a life coach school), the telephone is an even better vehicle for coaching than in-person meetings. In her experience, the telephone opens people up more in their sharing. In the era of free long-distance calls, this creates a wide area of search for specific needs in life coaching. This is important as life coaches often occupy particular niches.
How does coaching work in practice with lawsuit-involved clients? Recently, for example, I coached a Family Court father through a custody proceeding. The one child involved, a daughter, was only three. Having been awarded sole custody in a prior action, the child’s mother was being difficult about visitation. The father was devoted to his daughter, and had concerns about her treatment at the mother’s residence. He really suffered distress about each negative incident his daughter experienced, and the lack of much time for visitation.
I bolstered both his confidence in his position as father and stable influence in his daughter’s life, and in his attorney. We talked as his needs arose rather than sticking to a rigid schedule. I educated him generally on legal proceedings as well preventing misunderstanding about what his lawyer was doing for him
When the hearing date finally arrived, I talked with him both before and afterwards. He got substantially more time with his daughter, but the mother reneged in court on part of the out-of-court settlement, and he was upset about that. I successfully encouraged him to realize he did have more time with his daughter. That encouragement completely turned his attitude from negative to positive about the results his attorney had achieved for him.
Your questions and comments are welcome.
The author can be contacted at 607-798-1074 or www.lawyerfindcenter.com. Deborah Brown-Volkman can be reached at www.surpassyourdreams.com and Daniel Lukasik at www.yourdepressioncoach.com. Lisa Pisano can be reached at www.coachtrainingalliance.com.
“This article was originally published in The Bulletin, the official publication of the Bar Association of Erie County. It is reprinted here with permission.”
Catherine offers lawyer selection and lawsuit mentoring support services.