A perfectly reasonable result may be perceived as a total failure if the client’s expectations were unrealistic from the start.
I read an article in the latest Family Law Journal from the American Bar Association about education as the way to reasonable expectations for what will happen in a family law case. (Read When the question is alimony, the answer is client education by Kathleen A. Hogan, editor.) Ms. Hogan pointed to the often misunderstood issue of alimony entitlement by way of example. Clients often think they understand the issue of alimony before their case begins, but are mistaken as to how it really works. Sometimes these mistaken assumptions come from “lay-lawyers” – those who expound on the law as if they were lawyers but really don’t know what they are talking about – or, increasingly more often, clients who attempt to educate themselves using the internet but fail to understand the nuances of the information found. Mistaken assumptions often result in the client failing to listen to the attorney when the lawyer’s explanation does not fit with their preconceived notions. Or, a client may refrain from asking questions because he or she thinks she knows the answer already.
Ms. Hogan points out that if the client had asked the necessary questions, he or she might have heard things like “yes, real men can get alimony” or “yes, the court will expect you to get a job” or, “no, the fact that she cheated does not affect the outcome”.
In many cases in divorce, a client’s perception of success or failure will be influenced largely by his or her expectations. A client may have little or no knowledge of what a reasonable outcome will be unless the lawyer provides education as to what to expect. Emotions in divorce and negotiating a settlement can also intervene in perceptions. Instead of approaching alimony as a transaction to transfer money to a spouse that provides tax benefits, feelings of hurt, anger, fear, betrayal, and the like often come to the forefront. It is challenging to keep focused on the after-tax cash flow when emotions are running rampant and the client lacks accurate information upon which to base a decision.